It’s hard not to like someone who admits to having wrote a song about their lost cat. When they have a voice that nods to Billie Holiday and a brashness that nods to Amy Winehouse then the like turns to love – and most of the Harmonie audience went away a little in love with Ndidi O on Friday I’m sure.
I’d never previously heard of Ndidi Onukwuluto to give the girl her official name, but a glance at Wikipedia told me her mother is from Berlin, her father from Nigeria and they met in Vancouver – little wonder then that their daughter came into the world with a cultural smattering of Berlin Jazz and Nigerian rhythm plus a splash of Canadian Blues. It had to be interesting to hear. The fact that she was fresh from an appearance with the wonderful Keb Mo in Hamburg the previous evening was a good sign too. I had high hopes, and as it turned out they were more than justified.
The evenings opening number ‘Under the Sky’ combined all the styles of her family upbringing mixing them into an irrestible foot tapping delight as the evenings music slipped more or less from one of these styles to another with consumate ease. Ndidi takes inspiration from some surprising places – She’s quoted as finding song inspiration from gravestones – but I rather wish she’d not gone to see the film version of ‘Popeye’, her version of ‘He needs me’ is fine enough, it’s just the song itself that plods along irritatingly. It’s a small glitch in a generally excellent evening of music with a girl who combines the boundless energy of Zaz with the irresistable intonation of Billie Holiday. Indeed I later asked if she’d thought of singing Holiday’s classic ‘Strange Fruit’ and was surprised to hear Ndidi wasn’t familiar with the song, instead citing Shirley Bassey as an inspiration.
Looking back at the show now I can see a lot of the hand gestures that Bassey displayed, even if Bassey didn’t (as far as I recall!) have a tattoo on her arm or leg. It’s this fusion of new with old that makes the likes of Ndidi O and French starlet Zaz so exciting to me. Bringing Jazz vocal to a new generation. I had to think about writing that because Ndidi, true to her International parentage, crosses a lot of boundaries. Chasing after her new CD in the local shop I found it under Jazz but it could equally have been under Blues. She delivered a devestatingly authentic Delta sound (with the excellent help of guitarist Vincent Martinez) on the self-penned ‘Water’ and opened the second set with an equally devestating tribute to John Lee Hooker, again with excellent support from Martinez.
Much of the evenings material came from the new CD ‘Escape’ with it’s tales of people “falling in love, falling out of love. Moving in together and moving out…” as Ndidi decribes them. All rather pessimistic it would seem. Human relationships can be tricky. So can feline ones. The tale of how a seemingly tender song about pleading for a lover to come back home is, she admits, based on losing her cat ‘Tuffy’ who – happy endings do happen – turned up months later at her neighbours house. “Your cat prefers living with the neighbour to living with you? Boy you must be REALLY screwed up!” On the other hand (or other paw?) men are no more trustworthy either – “Standing Lonely, a distant memory, you’re nowhere to be found” she agonizes in ‘Kissing on a Bridge’. Better to be in love with someone distant, as in “I wonder what you would do to me, young man” from the pop musak styled ‘On the Metro’ or “What would it be like to touch your hand?” from ‘Little Dream’.
Love may be uncertain, but death, like taxes, is a certainty. Hence the haunting ‘May Be The Last Time’ with it’s Field Holler Baptist Gospel chant. Simply sung, simply beautiful to hear. There was plenty of up beat material on hand too in case you get the impression this was an evening of sad reflection. ‘Waiting for a Sign’ for instance was an opportunity for Ndidi to show she can dance with the best of them, as was ‘The Escape’ with it’s jungle rhythm and ‘All Move Together’ a number tailor made for audience participation – and hands were happily clapping along to the bass drum. It was ultimately the ballads which stole the show though and numbers like ‘Goodnight’ make me wonder how amazing it would be to hear Ndidi O take a shot at the Holiday classic ‘Strange Fruit’. She signed her CD with “next time I sing Strange Fruit” so if you read this Ndidi – I’m holding you to that promise! A voice that we will hopefully have the pleasure of hearing for many years to come – Certainly we will be hearing more of Ndidi O for sure. Having bought one CD at the concert I chased down another at the shop next day – It was in the jazz section in case you might want to check her out. It will be worth it.
MORE NDIDI O PHOTOS HERE
FOOTNOTE: Ndidi sent me the following via Facebook:
“thank you for the fantastic review!! i promise, next time strange fruit it is!!!
So now it’s official – come back soon Ndidi!