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Pa Salieu is still a relative newcomer, but already has the standing of an artist far beyond his years. This Wednesday saw the Coventry native appear at his headline show on the London stop of his Afrikan Rebel Tour. He’s already an artist of high acclaim outside the live setting; he’s spent most of the year bagging Brits and MOBO nominations amongst others and topped this years’ BBC Sound Of poll. But his incredibly spirited performance at O2 Shepherd’s Bush suggests promise of an even greater talent to come.
The night saw the performer channel his vibrant, high octane energy into a powerful set that drew on his Gambian heritage and musical influences. Salieu’s performance followed on from opening by artist Backroad Gee, who is still visibly learning the stage, and struggled with slightly muffled delivery and technical issues. Still, his set was fantastically suited to the eager crowd, who reacted enthusiastically to the point where you’d be forgiven for thinking he were the night’s headliner.
All notion of this was dispelled with the arrival of Salieu himself. He set the mood right away, opening with Lit, accompanied by a four-piece band and friends all clad in balaclavas, stoic save for occasional swaying. In terms of stage set up and visuals, Salieu pushed things outside the box of live rap shows; dance was as integral to the performance as the vocals, and the later appearance of a kankurang masquerader, a traditional West African dancer attired in stunning red frills was a highlight, while more performers appeared for Salieu’s Aitch collaboration Bad to a buzz of excitement from the crowd.
Other peaks included Informa, where the artist’s relaying of fellow rapper Millionz’s verses had the crowd jumping, and the resounding B***k, where the stage lighting was lowered to the point that Salieu could only barely be seen through eerie white smoke.
For someone so well-received he’s a humble performer; the artist held back on crowd interaction for most of his set, bar repeated urging for the audience to provide “more energy.” It was gladly given straight back to him, and towards the end of the night attendees were moshing to the point where it seems like every song could be a fan favourite.
Cameo appearances too were well chosen, with brief appearances from Mahalia, Obongjayar, and an incredibly top-of-form return from Backroad Gee who accompanied the rapper to close the show with a fearsome rendition of My Family. By this point the venue seemed to be struggling to contain the crowd as both Gee and Salieu’s entourage made their return to the stage - the number of people performing stretched maybe into the forties. Even then though, all eyes were on Salieu, who held his own within the vast spectacle, visibly aware of his power to entertain.