Hiatus Kaiyote: Soul Slinging Gangsta-gods

The Hiatus Kaiyote concert was bountiful with support acts, sweet crowd-vibes and, of course, Hiatus Kaiyote. Sampa the Great, Jaala, and Sex on Toast all graced the stage with soul-fire energy and enthusiasm. Special mention goes to Cosima Jaala whose ‘experimental bedroom punk’ and Gwen Stefani meets Courtney Love aesthetic had me near drooling with fan-seizures. I also have to give it to Sex on Toast, who remained staggeringly stoic as they punched our faces in with a high-octane melange of funk and soul. And Sampa the Great. Sampa the Great is, well, great.

After the parade of supports, Nai Palm and her collection of aficionados stepped on stage to an eager and raucous audience. It was clear that all of us had witnessed Hiatus Kaiyote’s rise to deserved success, following the release of their 2013 debut album Tawk Tomahawk. We had all fallen for what the band had called their “multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster shit”. Now, we just waited to be mesmerised. And that is exactly what happened, from the beginning song, Choose Your Weapon all the way to the set’s final song, Fingerprints. 

Before Laputa began a cursory, but respectful nod was given to Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Castle In The Sky. And then the distorted keyboard backing shook the air in the space above our heads. With the top of my crown tingling, I watched as complicated poly-rhythmic constructions materialised. Never too taxed, Nai Palm’s voice ricocheted like a liquid bullet through the spinning musical apparatus that had been raised before us. She never slips off centre; her keen razor-voice cuts with ease. She shows the same lean-lustre in Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, where she rides the bouncing bass line and beat, with a voice that falls and rises carefree. When the song reaches its rich-with-grit-and-grime crescendo, her eyes widen, her face sharpens and her voice is suddenly imputed with this fuck-off-I’m-a-goddess quality. It’s true though… she is a future-funk queen that has been sent from some far-off planet ruled by Badu, Bjork and Wonder.

Witnessing the long but elastic Breathing Underwater pushed me out of my skin. The band, in an almost Bruegel-esque union, begin with the song’s soft-toned soul-haze and then swerve between complex and varying time signatures. As excepted, Nai chases the tumbling rhythm, catches it with her teeth, and then sends it whirring in another outlandish direction. It is amazing to hear this vast sonic canvas splashed colourful with the whole sound-spectrum. At the end of every song, I felt like I had been shot at the speed of light through a Pollock painting. Despite the kaleidoscopic scatter of samba, Jazz, R&B and African influences, everything still feels accessible and safe. The single proof of this is in the way that my body is converted into a violent vortex of dancing atoms. Hiatus Kaiyote’s music and performance reaches into you and plucks you like a guitar string, until you are shaking your soul for them.