Photos: Bríd O’Donovan
With his debut Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam emerging quietly out of nowhere last year, Ghostpoet instantly became an artist to watch. His style is a flurry of trip-hop beats and electronic leanings fused with a looser blues band bite. As an act he is many genres at once, a claim the artist himself (real name Obaro Ejimiwe) readily admits, stating that his desire is to sonically name check as many influences as possible. Fortunately this wayward attitude is proving successful and he has managed to sidestep a “too many cooks…” fate due to the fact that this experimental approach never swamps the overall melody or showmanship on display.
The delivery he employs for the material is pitched in a strange sphere encompassing the fanatical energy of a preacher crossed with the swagger of a rock star. There’s a free-form rap aspect too thrown in for good measure and the chant-like atmosphere definitely seeps into his audience. It’s hard not to be swept up, the sing along charge of ‘Cash and Carry Me Home’, in particular, reaching a fever pitch one would have thought reserved for a far more established act.
Broken down into basics, the band consists of agile bass player Chris Lockington and drummer Florian Sauvaire who provide a steady bedrock for Obaro’s orations, ranging from the defiantly political to the humbly confessional. Attacking an urban disenchantment with a fresh perspective and at sly, novel angles, I had expected the night to be preachy and solemn but was pleasantly surprised at the joyous uplift of the music. It was a chaotic brew, which did obscure some nuance but what was lost in clarity was made up for in sheer emotional release. The energy was undeniable and the communal outpouring felt genuine and unguarded, letting some spiky sentiments pepper the more danceable asides.
His onstage banter was naïve and a little awkward which added to the endearing side of Ghostpoet. One gets the feeling that this is all still new to him. His breathless pronouncements on getting drunk and how fond he is of Ireland seemed authentic compared to the by-rote platitudes trotted out by many bands. Here is an artist still in touch with the initial throes of performance and the enthusiasm is perfectly evident.
Ably supported by his rhythm section, Obaro adds the experimental musical and vocal effects through a keyboard and one cannot overemphasise the difference this makes in the live setting. Too often a backing track can be distracting and obtrusive and it can rob the event of intensity, rendering it somewhat sterile. But having it as part of the performance lends an immediacy which is refreshing when dealing with electronica in general. This matches the urgency of the show itself, songs whizzing by as it feels like he’s trying to get a lot across in short sharp bursts.
Vocally he has a slurred approach, which can lose some listeners on record, but in the live setting it seems his voice is just another instrument to add further layers of sound rather than a conduit for words to be perfectly audible. Lyrics may be just another muffled sound in the mix but the zeal relayed here is real, not bound up in showy politics or bland moralising. It was this infectiousness that really stood out and gave Ghostpoet a spirit unto his own.