Review: Tawiah and Michael Kiwanuka at O2 Guildhall Southampton

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Enchanting

The brilliant Tawiah stepped in to support Mercury prize nominee and new Southampton local Michael Kiwanuka for a sold-out show at the O2 Guildhall.  

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Stepping in last minute as support to replace Celeste, Tawiah took to the stage of the O2 Guildhall on Monday night. Although she seemed relatively unknown to the crowd, they quickly became captivated by the London-based singer’s full voice and powerful presence.

Kicking off her 30-minute set with ‘Knock Down Ginger’, a melancholic but upbeat tune which slowly warmed up the crowd. She rounded the song off by confessing her yearning for simpler times playing childhood games before growing older, concluding “adulting is hard”. This juxtaposition between her profound songs and laid-back charismatic persona continued throughout the performance, as she light-heartedly touched on childhood, long-distance relationships and family, in-between songs.

Contrasting with Kiwanuka’s substantial set up, Tawiah was armed with just a guitar and keyboard. And I must not forget talented guitarist Alex Reeve who was poised by her side, seemingly enjoying Tawiah’s music as much as the crowd was. During her five song set, it became clear that the real star of the show was Tawiah’s enchanting voice, with all other instruments designed to merely frame the flawless vocals.

Mimicking the conclusion of debut album Starts Again, Tawiah finished her set with the emotional song ’Mother’s Prayer’. The song begins with a recording of Taiwah’s late grandmother singing a favourite song and graduates on to a soulful ballad hoisted up by the organ sounds of a vast church. The anthem was interrupted halfway through by the singer pausing to ask the spectators: “Can I take you to church, is that alright?” Although this may have been enough to make any atheists in the crowd sweaty-palmed, it was hypnotising to view an incredibly talented artist capture a room with such passion and grace.

Kiwanuka followed… Delightfully punctual, with a four-piece band and two backing singers accompanying him. Large semi-circular frames housing lights stood concentrically surrounding the musicians, who stood in front of a psychedelic backdrop, making for a spectacular visual display. ‘Piano Joint’, from Kiwanuka’s eponymous third album opened the show. I’d like to believe this was a nod to the former North-Londoner’s new home of Southampton with the very first line being “Walking down the Avenue”. A stretch perhaps, however, later in the show a beautiful rendition of his 2012 single ‘Home Again’ was dedicated to his “new home town”. Of course, this was met with a huge cheer from the crowd.

Huge hits from his second album ‘Cold Little Heart’ and ‘Love & Hate‘ closed the show. The former being whittled down from a 9-minute track (Kiwanuka must have had a lot of practice in doing that by now)! The latter hypnotised the crowd with the catchy vocal hook “Ba baba de dum dum”, undoubtedly stuck in the crowd’s heads on their respective journeys home.

Although Kiwanuka’s tour has been sadly cut short due to illness, Tawiah is not slowing down as she will be supporting Jamie Cullum during his UK & Ireland tour beginning this week and has a couple of her own headline shows in Faversham and Sheffield this month. She is certainly one to keep an eye on!

Keep posted on Tawiah’s upcoming tour dates here

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