Ahead of this show I’d never heard of Onipa, I was planning on going mostly to see local rapper Kay Greyson and DJ/producer Xaatu perform a rare joint set, as well as catch newcomer MiqyP perform his first ever solo set away from rap collective 243. However, by the end of my night at Cobalt Studios, Onipa had given me one of my favourite live music experiences of the year.
A few days prior to the gig I’d listened to Onipa once or twice, but as for opening act Radikal Queen… she was a complete mystery to me. Making her way through the smoke to the dimly neon lit stage, Radikal Queen had a mystique about her; from the way she dressed, to way she scanned the room whilst introducing herself, her speech smooth and measured, everything about Radikal Queen screamed vintage diva.
Accompanied by bass player Ojay (often found pumping out funky tunes on Northumberland Street), Radikal treat the still arriving crowd to some meaningful spoken word poetry, mixed with soulful vocals, backed by some smooth freeform jazz, thanks to Ojay and a drum machine. Tackling issues like sexual harassment, racism and politics, Radikal is an artist not afraid to voice opinion in her music. Her messages will surely divide opinion – love it or hate it, she’ll make you think.
Next up was local rapper MiqyP; I’ve seen him perform live before as a part of the collective 243, but its hard to get the read of an artist’s ability when they’re on stage with about 7 other people, so, I was excited to see what he could bring to the table.
Despite being a bit frozen to the spot at times, MiqyP’s short and sweet set was still very entertaining. Given it was his first ever solo performance, sonically MiqyP was on point, keeping the crowd hooked with a good mix of radio friendly drill, straight up grime and bouncy trap. With the right direction, time and experience, MiqyP has the talent to grow into one of the most exciting rappers in the region. Keep an eye on him.
The original reason I came to this gig was to see one of the most interesting producers in the North East, collaborate with one of my favourite rappers in the North East – Xaatu and Kay Greyson did not disappoint.
The other reason was that I had no idea if it would work, it seemed such a strange idea on paper that I had to see how it went down. I didn’t find out until interviewing the pair afterwards that this was the third time they’d done this, and apparently only the third time they had even met each other – needless to say no real preparation had went into this set, other than ‘fuck it, we’ve done this twice now, I’m sure we’ll manage again’.
I suppose you could say ‘surprisingly’, it was great. 30 minutes of constant beats from Xaatu’s experimental and unpredictable back catalogue challenged Kay’s freestyle skills to the limit. Kay would quickly try to find the pocket of the beat as it built up to a massive bass filled drop that sent the crowd into a frenzy each time.
When it hit the mark, it really worked, you’d think Kay had written some of these bars specifically for the beat. At the end of the day, this set is a bit of fun and a bit of a novelty, but if these two got in the studio together for a joint project, there’s potential for it to be incredible. Either way the set was was a joy to watch, getting the Cobalt crowd pumped for headliners Onipa.
From the off, the London based four-piece set the room alight with their visceral, energetic sound, described by frontman K.O.G as “a fusion between an African and modern electronic English sound…” – reflected literally by the instruments on stage, ranging from bongo drums to a Back To The Future style keytar.
K.O.G was truly the focal point of the entire performance. His erratic movements and palpable onstage presence was overshadowed only by his extraordinary vocal ability; soundboy-esqe garage quips, chanting, rapping, K.O.G had it all, he would switch from operatic tones to Skindred style roars in the blink of an eye. Having only recently formed, releasing their debut EP ‘Open My Eyes’ this month, Onipa have a bright future ahead of them. They’re doing something different, fusing two high energy styles of music and creating something that fills you with happiness and the sudden urge to let loose.
However, listening to Onipa’s record pales in comparison to experiencing them live – and it is an experience – they’re one of the most exciting live acts I’ve seen in a long time.