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Live review: Aisha Badru @ Blacks Club, 17/09/18

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Tucked away in the decadent, cosy confines of Blacks Club in Soho sits Aisha Badru.

Image credit: Aishabadru.com

She’s wearing a pink-ish red and white flowered shirt, and her braids are hanging loosely down her back. Candles light up the sound tech equipment, and hundred-year-old chairs squeak and squirm under the weight of a 20-strong crowd balancing booze on their laps.

In an event put on by the Society of the Golden Slippers, Aisha is supported by the beautiful and haunting Jack in Water. Alongside his friend and keyboard player, Jack stunned his intimate audience with perfect pitch control, heartfelt harmonies and gut-wrenching lyricism. His standout performance was found in the peaks and troughs of the conflicted ballad ‘Maggie’. We rode alongside him in his journey of heartbreak, euphoria and strength, feeling every emotion with him and shedding shared tears. His endearing stage presence and calm persona shone through his set, particularly as he chuckled at us staring while he tuned his guitar thrice over. It was a warming and welcoming opening to the evening.

Aisha took to the rickety wooden stage after a short break. Her UK debut, a half an hour set cuddled inside a warm, candlelit dining room surrounded by Jackson Pollock paintings and the smell of finely aged red wine, was nothing short of decadent. The richness of her tone echoed beautifully around the dark navy walls - small flecks of paint peeling in places - and we were taken on a journey. More than just a performance, this was a storytelling experience with anecdotes, personal stories and reflections on her past and present, interspersed with song.

Celebrating her debut album Pendulum released earlier this year, Aisha opened the experience with the first cut from the record ‘Mind on Fire’. Stripped back to the bare bones of an acoustic guitar and a single voice, Aisha’s bold lyricism shone brighter than ever: “Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire? She set out to tell the world how they suppress our desires / Said she wouldn’t back down ‘till the rules were amended / And she didn’t give a fuck who she offended.” It’s the tale as old as time; coming of age, learning to say no and following the path you feel, inside, is right for you. It also reflected Aisha’s ethical enlightenment; her decision to begin looking into who makes her clothes, questioning the status quo and asking why the system is the way it is.

In her own journey, Aisha came to a crossroads with her relationship with her father which turned sour after she prematurely left university. In turn, she battled with internal conflicts, the ever-spreading abyss of self-doubt and coming full circle to forgive and to build bridges. ‘Bridges’ depicts her cycle of conflict with her father; attempting to root out the grudges she held over the years, remove them, and reinforce the foundations of her relationship. Aisha reminded us that, yes, it’s painful and, yes, you’re allowed to be sad about it, so long as you persevere: There'll be oceans for us to tread / There'll be bridges for us to mend / But I'll stick through it / Oh, I swear”.

She spoke, softly as she does, about her relationships outside of family ties. About giving every piece of her essence to someone who couldn’t do the same for her and about losing someone she never really had. Here, we were treated bare-bones rendition of ‘Fossil Fuels’ - stripped of its clacking synths, instead replaced by a simple, mellow keyboard and her rich, full voice. “Flowers cannot bloom without precipitation / And lovers will not last without reciprocation" rung out around the room, touching buried feelings and exposed nerves. ‘Happy Pretending’ follows in the same ilk, tugging at heartstrings and giving space to Aisha’s sweet falsetto.

Closing out her UK debut set, at just over 30 minutes, ‘Splintered’ encompassed our own personal (and wider societal) decay. Aisha spoke about her journey to India and spending time as a student of yoga in the beautiful traditional temples; how the world is divided in two by this tangible barrier, with the side most privileged completely blind to it. “We try not to see with our eyes / We fill out plates with dozens of lies / We try to hard to keep it in / We turn away from what lies within” she lamented, after encouraging us all to search for what’s within us, and unearth the power we each old to make a difference in this world.

Aisha Badru's UK debut was nothing short of mesmerising. Unpicking the curtain to her soul, she exposed an approachable vulnerability, and in just a small slither of light came pouring out her frustrations, desires, past lovers, future endeavours, conflicts and resolutions. More than a performance, this was a healing and learning experience. It was a form of self-care.

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