Energy, sass and rebellion

Energy, sass and rebellion
The Brand New Heavies’ vocalist Dawn Joseph wows the crowd.

The final evening of this year's Singapore International Jazz Festival showed how much Singapore had, and had not changed.

Lead vocalist Dawn Joseph, of Britain's funkmeisters The Brand New Heavies, told the audience right after their 12th song that festival organisers were signalling for them to cut a song from their 45-minute set.

But however good a reason the organisers may have had to make that request, they should have known better than to curtail musicians whose culture is rebellion, even as their music is meant to foster harmony.

Joseph, for one, wore an over-sized T-shirt emblazoned with "Over 17" and urged the audience to "do what you want to do".

So it was that Joseph and her bandmates - drummer and vocalist Jan Kincaid, bassist Andrew Love Levy and guitarist Simon Bartholomew - defied the direction by adding, instead of subtracting, a song to their set.

The audience whooped when they did so, but the ensuing numbers - Sweet Freeek from their 2014 album Sweet Freaks, You Are So Beautiful and a shudoodoodoodoo scat to finish - had a more pedestrian vibe than their earlier scorchers.

The band had burst onto the stage and from the get-go, kept pumping up the energy with their cohesive blend of sass and inventiveness.

The bopping audience seemed to cheer most whenever they launched into their earlier hits, such as Dream On Dreamer, We Won't Stop and Sometimes.

All things considered, Joseph evidently enjoyed herself as she inserted the name Singapore in her scat, in between calling the Republic and the audience "amazing".

That had much to do with the four fans dancing their hearts out in the audience. Joseph invited the three guys and a girl up onstage and each of the nattily dressed quartet showed some slick moves.

Their compatriot, brass instrumentalist Courtney Pine, had earlier remarked that Singapore "seemed to have energy" now, compared to how it was on his last visit here 10 years ago.

But his joyful jags of rhythm could not rouse the crowd to jive, perhaps because his manic pace was awkward to dance to.

Pine and his merry band were hyperactive throughout their set despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that they had been up since 4am.

They made like it was happy hour at the beach, their brand of calypso a flurry of scurrying as Pine piped out impossibly high notes on his saxophone.

Malaysia's Yunalis Mat Za'arai, better known as Yuna and who came on between Pine and Brand New Heavies, was ever-coquettish as she cooed out 13 past and present hits, notably the hypnotic After Midnight and the pile-driving Lights And Camera from her new album, Nocturnal.

Her voice had shades of Dolores O'Riordan, the lead singer of The Cranberries, but she came into her own with her effortless blend of very Malay rhythms and melodic hooks and a plaintive pealing delivery.

Hers was music that transported one to tranquillity amid an insistent upbeat.

That was a neat foil to The Brand New Heavies, who really got the joint jumping with their tribal pulsations.


This article was first published on March 10, 2015.
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