I first stumbled upon Kwabs (Kwabena Adjepong) about a year ago and was instantly bowled over by his deep, bassy, soulful voice, which sounds like it’s coming from somewhere deep within his being and the pared back, acoustic sounds of tracks, such as Getaway. Going through the few videos on YouTube, I then discovered SOHN had produced some of his tracks, including Last Stand, which only endeared him to me further. I was, therefore, understandably excited when I noticed Kwabs was performing at The Haunt in Brighton and bought tickets about 3 months in advance! SOHN played at the same venue in September and gave an intense, understated performance. With his signature hoody pulled over his head, accompanied by only a synthesiser, his high-pitched soprano, almost the antithesis to Kwabs’ deep baritone, were spot on. The marriage between SOHN’s crisp electro-synth sounds and Kwabs’ silky smooth vocals is one made in music heaven.
I only caught the tail end of the supporting act, Astronomyy, but enjoyed their dreamy, stripped down R&B. As we waited for Kwabs to appear and sooth our ears, there was a palpable air of excited anticipation amongst the audience; a mixed crowd, reflecting Kwabs’ broad appeal. The excitement increased as the musicians took up their positions on stage and the opening notes of one of my favourite tracks, Pray For Love began, hummed by the brilliant backing singers. As Kwabs made his entrance, arms outstretched, there was a huge uproar from the appreciative crowd and the moment he took to the mic, the room was filled with his uniquely powerful voice, which sounded even better live. Next came the insistent marching drum beat of Something Right from the Pray For Love EP and Into You from the recently released Walk EP. Produced by Chris Loco, this is a slight departure from the emotive, heavy tracks produced by SOHN, with a recurring tribal percussion which sounded a little dated to me.
In between songs, he seemed quite humble and gracious, saying ‘this is a really cool gig, cos we’re doing some new stuff and some older stuff.’ Referring to the forthcoming album he said vaguely that it’s coming… ‘soon’. Taking an unexpectedly upbeat turn, he readily admitted ‘we stole a drum hook from Michael Jackson for this one, get ready to dance, cos it all gets a bit heavy after this.’ I’m not sure what the track was called, but dance we did! Crowd participation continued with everyone swaying their arms left and right to the popular Walk. This latest offering is probably the most commercial sounding track yet and will probably get a lot of airtime, but is my least favourite thus far. He also played the older and in my opinion, better, Lay Back, which makes you want to do just that.
Other stand out tracks for me were the slow-building and beautiful Last Stand, the haunting Spirit Fade, co-written with Dave Okumu and Perfect Ruin, sung a cappella with raw emotion and reducing us all to tears; even the backing singers were visibly moved. He left the crowd chomping at the bit, shouting for more and didn’t disappoint, returning with Wrong or Right, which had been noticeable by its absence and closed with his heart-rending rendition of James Blake’s Wilhelm Scream, accompanied only by the keyboardist on a drum box and the guitarist, with whom he started out, leaving us all sobbing into our pints.
Until recently, Kwabs hadn’t put a musical foot wrong, but unfortunately, I’m not so keen on his latest offerings, which have a decidedly more cheesy, commercial sound. I really hope he maintains the musical integrity of his earlier output and doesn’t go any further down the poppy route, although I’m sure it will help him sell more records. Either way, at the ripe old age of 24, this guy has his whole career ahead of him and is definitely one to watch for 2015.