by Wilfred Okiche
December is upon us and so are the glut of music concerts usually reserved until the last month of the year, when the mood is merry and everyone is willing to spend something extra. Music lovers in the East kicked off the end of year music season on November 19, with the now annual Phynofest held at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu. Lagos folks waited a week later for #SeeSimiLive, the first live concert to be headlined by fast-rising pop singer, Simi.
Put together by Eclipse Live Africa, and held at the Hard Rock Café in Oniru, #SeeMeLive commenced commendably right on time with Beat FM OAP, Osi Suave introducing the opening acts who each performed at least two songs from their oeuvre. Jeff Akoh seemed to score the biggest response as his lively act included a vibrant sing-along version of his song, Shokolokobangoshe. Maka was sultry, controlled yet impulsive while the duo of Funbi and Chike proved that having camera-ready looks and superb vocals are not exactly mutually exclusive.
After about an hour of opening acts, the star of #SeeMeLive was ready to work it and an excited Simi hit the stage alongside two energetic backup dancers who definitely earned their pay for the night. Backed by her band, the Banjos, Simi opened with her little-heard 2017 single, Outta My Head – originally a duet with label mate, Praiz – before segueing into more familiar territory with Tiff and Soldier.
It is important to note at this point that the Simi brand is still a work in progress.
She may have one of the year’s hottest albums plus some of the biggest singles, but Simi still has her challenges opening up on stage to an audience. The problem is less to do with her material (she has a solid discography), the audience (she had a very welcoming one) than her unflavored personality.
Promoted as a girl-next-door type, Simi with her awkward fashion choices (she wore distressed dungarees), taste for penning delicious lyrics and mixing records like a studio geek, isn’t the most obvious choice for superstar of the month.
Her label X3M music has ramped up promotional activities but Simi with her quiet, awkward reserve, often gives off the feeling that she is trapped in the headlines of fame and exposure.
This is all well and good, and perfectly understandable when one is a video artiste, content on making splashy music videos and minting hit singles by the numbers. But a career like what Simi is promising is built on a committed relationship with the audience. The crowd that gathered at Hard Rock Café, Sunday night, were willing to put in the effort – and indeed they did, singing along to her songs wholeheartedly and dancing merrily – but Simi wasn’t quite ready to match them passion for passion.
Sure she made some attempt; live band, backup singers, a Pidgin English version of Despacito in which the title word rhymes with Mosquito, chitter chatter, but there was a noticeable reluctance to sing the songs and take ownership of her own show. More often than not, she let the backup singers and audience do the heavy lifting while she took several indulgent mic breaks to avoid hitting the high notes.
#SeeSimiLive promised special guest appearances and anyone familiar with her creative process was not at all surprised when Simi trotted out rapper Falz and singer Adekunle Gold as her guest artistes. With Falz, Simi performed tracks from their brief joint EP, Chemistry before ceding the stage for him to thoroughly engage the crowd with his own material.
Confident and lively in ways that Simi can only dream of achieving, Falz soon had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. Ditto Mr Gold who gave off palpable chemistry with Simi on their two duets, Take Me Back and Don’t Forget before terminating abruptly with his own Call On Me.
Unusually generous with sharing her spotlight with her guests, Simi returned for the final, juiced up act with ready-to-perform songs from her debut album, Simisola. O wa n’be got an elaborate rearrangement accommodating Adewale Ayuba’s classic, Ijo Fuji and lots of dancing while Smile For Me, Aimasiko and Joromi proved to be reliable crowd-pleasers.
Some stars come fully made but clearly, Simi isn’t one of them. She has the material, she’s got the promise and the talent. But for the sake of more rewarding experiences, she still needs to put in the work.
The writer tweets from @drwill20