Live Review: The Swet Shop Boys @ Scala (01/06/2017)
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The Swet Shop Boys consist of New York rapper Heems (Himanshu Suri), Brit-Asian icon Riz MC (Riz Ahmed, yeah, from Star Wars), with producer Redinho (Tom Calvert). They released their first full length album, Cashmere, last year, and this tour follows the release of their second EP Sufi La.
Each new song they release swiftly defines itself as a new anthem for the South Asian immigrant experience. Heems is Hindu-Punjabi-American whilst Riz is Muslim-British-Pakistani, so together they manage to connect to a huge audience of second and third generation immigrants in the West, whose connection to their cultures both South Asian and Western coexist in harmony in this music.
Political activism plays a huge role, especially calling out and challenging negative attitudes towards Islam in the West. Their songs give voice to a huge diaspora who connect equally with South Asian and Western cultures, but perhaps struggle to feel accepted by either.
The boys were in London for one night only on their tour at the iconic Kings Cross venue Scala. Unfortunately, only one of the two opening acts was bearable. The Last Skeptik proved sceptics wrong and got the crowd pretty hyped with some tracks off his new album. DJ HVAD on the other hand didn’t manage to impress with his hour long set of Danish experimental grime.
Luckily for us, Swet Shop Boys didn’t disappoint! Their sick English/Urdu/Hindi bars never fail to pump up a crowd, and Redinho’s skill as a producer really shines as he mixes traditional South Asian Qawali and Sufi folk melodies and tabla beats with hip-hop and grime.
Riz’s bouncy energy contrasts Heems’ sinuous vibing, and the two together have an electric stage presence as their raps bounce off one another. They added some showmanship by switching off all the lights and playing ‘Half Mogul, Half Mowgli’ in absolute darkness which only heightened the atmosphere.
Fans will by now be familiar with their classic move of kicking off their sneakers and holding them up throughout ‘Shoes Off,’ the chorus of which chants “Shoes off at the airport/Shoes off at the Mandir.”
Fans at the barrier (myself included!) certainly weren’t disappointed as Riz came right up close and sang ‘Aaja’ to us, and Heems passed his mic into the crowd and let us sing it right back. They ended their set with their biggest hit ‘T5’, and it was so explosive (ha) that they got Redinho to rewind and play the song again!
The Swet Shop Boys are really in their element in a small venue such as this, where the crowd is full of dedicated fans who really connect to and understand their music. The most powerful moment of the night was certainly when Riz put down his mic and just rapped ‘Sour Times’ into the totally silent, mesmerised room.