thu 18/07/2024

Say She She, Koko review - flawless, pizazz-filled show from rising stars | reviews, news & interviews

Say She She, Koko review - flawless, pizazz-filled show from rising stars

Say She She, Koko review - flawless, pizazz-filled show from rising stars

The Paul Weller-approved soul sensations set Camden Town ablaze

Say She She at Koko. From left: Piya Malik, Nya Brown and Sabrina CunninghamMarc Sethi

Back in 1979, Koko operated as The Music Machine. As such, the Camden Town venue lent its name to the film Music Machine, marketed as the British equivalent of Saturday Night Fever. Buying into this vision of the North London setting as a hot-bed of dance-floor action required a suspension of belief: at the time, the then-grubby Music Machine’s staple bookings were metal, punk, post-punk and the emerging Two-Tone bands. This was no disco.

Flash forward to 2024, and the New York-based Say She She are headlining the recently refurbished Koko. With their roots in late Sixties soul, mid-Seventies disco and the danceable side of US post-punk, it’s not hard to envisage them as integral to the fantasy the Music Machine film was trying to promote. As they execute synchronised but not-quite co-ordinated dance moves, there's a rough edge in keeping with the post-punk spirit.

Say She She are as assured as Labelle and The Three DegreesBut, gosh, nothing jars when they sing – this is top-notch ensemble soul. As much so as, say, Labelle or The Three Degrees. Not that Say She She sound like either, more that they are this assured. Paul Weller, who is at Koko and knows a thing or two about what’s great, features them on his forthcoming album. Judging by the non-stop enthusiasm of the audience at this sold-out show, everyone present agrees with his assessment of their class.

Say She She – whose name modifies a line by Chic – are Nya Brown, Sabrina Cunningham and Piya Malik. They formed in New York, where Cunningham had studied at Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. Brown is originally from Washington DC. Malik from London. Like Cunningham, each has an academic musical grounding; Malik’s original goal was to be an opera singer.

This London show comes in the slipstream of last September’s release of their second album Silver. Recorded live in the studio, it was completed in Los Angeles with the four-piece funky soul-rock outfit Orgōne, who are also on stage: Samuel Halterman (drums), Daniel Hastie (keyboards), Dale Jennings (bass) and Sergio Rios (guitar). As the members of Orgōne appear in the songwriting credits of 12 of Silver’s 16 songs, there is a collaboration going on here. While Say She She’s 2022 debut album Prism was impressive, Silver is more solid.

On stage, apart from when they play a couple of instrumentals, Orgōne limit their presence to the music – Jennings smiles a few times, as does Hastie, but heads are kept down. The glittering frontline of Brown, Cunningham and Malik is what reaches out to the audience. That said, these players are arresting. Halterman is a groove machine and Hastie appears to be a one-man band. The expressionless Rios – who produced Silver – balances a clipped funkiness with tossing off Eddie Hazel-esque lines. Jennings has a way with a stomach-rattling bass line.

Each time Say She She play London, the venue is bigger than before

On album, while it’s clear Say She She like The Jackson Sisters (whose "I Believe in Miracles" is covered in the encore), baroque psychedelic soul outfit The Rotary Connection, Tom Tom Club – the nod to whom is underlined by a live run-through of parent band Talking Heads’ “Slippery People” – and the spluttering early Eighties punk-funk of New York’s Liquid Liquid, it’s not obvious who sings what when it’s not an ensemble vocal line. Here, the trills which evoke The Rotary Connection’s Minnie Riperton are revealed to be mostly sung by Cunningham. But what’s mind-blowing is that everyone does everything – Brown is the gutsiest of the three singers, but as each of the trio sings lines in-turn, tag team-style, it becomes clear Say She She are a true collective.

Despite this co-operative approach, also revealed are hints of who might be the most outgoing members of Say She She. Malik speaks a fair bit – she is overjoyed as members of her family are in attendance. Brown introduces “NORMA” by saying it was written as direct response to the US Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade. The tambourine-wielding Cunningham keeps her counsel, limiting contact with the microphone to singing.

Ultimately, this consummate, pizazz-filled show felt like another step on a ladder that’s heading upwards. Each time Say She She play London, the venue is bigger than before. They were openly jazzed by this, the audience was also thrilled and the spell cast this Thursday evening didn’t evaporate afterwards on arriving at the bus stop over the road. This, then – albeit belatedly – embodies the spirit of what 1979’s misguided Music Machine film failed to capture. If Say She She are in town, catch them before the size of the venues they play puts them out of reach.


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