After almost a year of anticipation, on Thursday night in a dingy pub in Kings Cross I used to frequent for ‘garage’ raves at university, circa 2000, I finally got to see one of the UK’s finest musical talents…. Not Norris ‘Da boss’ Windross but the shell suit wearing (she gets automatic props for taking shell suit from chav to chic), afro rocking, weird accented (later found out it was
Blackpool – who knew they spoke like that?) Karima Francis.
The quest began when I (the technologically inept sibling) new to Facebook, passed my computer to my sister and asked her to decorate my page; by that I meant adding groups/ artists/ friends; but back then I wasn’t au fait with FB ‘language’. She left and I played around pressing some random buttons – MISTAKE.
Weeks on and one particular artist stood out by her incessant presence. I’m all for a good yarn, but this woman commented on every moment of her waking life; her entire existence was documented on my newsfeed. After months of propaganda she informs her audience of a forthcoming performance at jazz club I love. I muster a friend to come along; which isn’t an easy feet these days, as with age comes babies, long hours in demanding jobs and most significantly repulsion at the thought of a night bus home and less than six hours beauty sleep. I used the credibility of my sister as the hook. Even among my friends my sister is renowned for having excellent music taste.
In passing I mention the forthcoming gig to my sister. “You’re going to see who? Who is she?” she drawls nonchalantly, head down staring at her Mac thingy. I’m forced to remind her of the artist she recommended via FB whom I’ve since been following. “No my friend” she says pitifully, “I recommended Karima Francis. I have no idea who this joker is.” Too late to tell my friend, we go along to our beloved jazz club, she none the wiser to see an okay singer perform. Only as we are leaving when my buddy questions my sister’s musical taste, the shameful truth emerges. Laughing hysterically with the same pitying tone, my friend corroborates my deepest fear.. “My God you are getting old! How could you confuse Karima with Kadija? That’s what my mother would do. Was it the K that confused you?”
When the day finally arrives, tickets sought and bought by my sister (to be on the safe side) I go with baited breath to see Karima (not Kadija or Kayana or Keisha) for the first time. And it is worth the wait.
This little woman with a huge afro, which looks like it’s never been cut or styled, and simply grown, wild and free from her follicles since birth, bounds on stage with (sorry about the cliché, but sometimes nothing says it better than cheese) ‘a smile that lights up the room’. Wearing skinny black jeans on her boyishly thin legs, she’s wearing footwear reminiscent of the
Clark’s shoes I resented my mother for making me wear in the 1990s, and a shell suit top. She looks amazing – androgynous but amazing nonetheless. She’s accompanied by a white boy on the drums with his own distinct hair, which she later jokes was the sole reason for giving him the job, so they could both sport matching afros. She’s so at ease with her audience, even spotting a few loyal fans and humbly commending their commitment. She’s learnt some lessons in her young life following the critical success of her first album. She tells us, ‘that things can happen so fast one must savour every moment and be grateful and remain humble as it can all so quickly be gone’. For all her jokes, and she has many, she appears deeply touched that the 200 or so people in the room know her name. For who is she? but a woman from Blackpool singing songs she loves. In her own words, “if it wasn’t for the singing, I’d be a tour guide showing off the (questionable) ‘attractions’ of Blackpool.”
She sings for over an hour, nearly all the material being from her forthcoming album. Her voice is haunting, intimate, engaging and powerful. It’s music for contemplation. She has traits of so many artists (the ethereal Tracy Chapman, powerful presence of
Lennox, modern rock sensibility of Kings of Leon) and yet has carved a unique sound of her own. As she sings my eyes go fuzzy from the intensity, my mind wonders to a place of purity, a place in which I feel happy. I felt the same when I saw Jose James, who although a completely different style, engendered the same stillness in me, the sense of immersion and consumption in their sound. It’s a blissfully harrowing experience to be so utterly consumed by music.
I’ve bought the album and have set it aside for the times I need to think, to find clarity, to speak to myself (in the non mad way). She is intoxicating and brilliant! Hers is the true art form of music.
See for yourself…..