Fehdah at The Sugar Club, Dublin, 15th August 2017
On Hipdrop Record’s Bandcamp page, they claim to cater for “soul, funk and world music”. Luckily for them and for everyone in attendance at Fehdah’s (formerly Feather) ‘Like No Other EP’ launch, there’s soul, funk and worldliness in abundance.
Emma Garnett (Fehdah) hails from Maynooth (via Sierra Leone) and is the younger sister of Loah who, herself recently celebrated the launch of her EP, ‘This Heart’ at the Sugar Club. Loah now joins her younger sibling onstage as backing vocalist for the occasion. Also accompanying Garnett, are Michéal Quinn (Meltybrains?), Johnny Taylor, Niall Hughes, Thomas Garnett and Zeenie Summers – an enviable force.
Fans of Fehdah will already be familiar with Kathmandu which can be seen performed at Teeling’s Distillery in a YouTube clip from nearly two years ago and Like No Other which, in six minutes manages to create a whirlwind jam lifted in equal parts from the oriental sounds of her West African roots and more modern leanings such as the type of neo-soul produced by the likes of Kali Uchis.
The EP’s (which was released earlier in the day) titular track is a charging and delectable melody, all mesmeric wordplay and pan-African doo wop. Kathmandu meanwhile, an initially slow and teasing harmony ultimately progresses to a sweetly jangling pop number by the chorus.
Live, they capture that unique, raw, communal spirit borne out of the plains of Africa and transport it to the more modern and chic surroundings of The Sugar Club. Each vocalist, percussionist and guitarist is almost racing eachother to dizzying new heights, yet at no point does the set feel fragmented.
Love for one’s family is at the heart of what Garnett does (both her sister Sallay and brother Thomas play in her band on the night). And not just those who are blood-related, the set is interspersed with tributes and anecdotes, not least to their mother and father who were both in attendance. After the gig, in an Instagram, Garnett refers to her bandmates as “family”, something which could easily lose its validity said by anyone else, but something that actually reinforces just how collected Garnett and her band were on the night.
The largeness of her band (six to be exact) adds to the frenetic beauty of Fehdah’s sound. And this truly rarefies the crowd below who are in high spirits and those crammed up the steps desperately eager to stay on their feet so they can move with them.
Neo-soul is a sound which over the course of nearly three decades has developed (quite well may we add) into something slower and dare say post-dubsteppy and meditative (we’re looking at you Frankie!). For a genre whose roots lie predominantly in Africa and the raw funk of instrumentation, it is refreshing to see it get lifted from its feet again and in turn us from ours.
Fehdah will no doubt draw comparisons to Australian outfit, Hiatus Kaiyote who follow in this mould. But there are far too many idiosyncratic layers to them for that. Of the other two tracks from the EP, Money most immediately grabs our attention, Garnett’s velvety voice combining perfectly with percussive whorls and driving guitarwork to crescendo to a hypnotic finish, much like its namesake for that matter.
Garnett is somebody who knows the value of structure and leadership having formed a covers band in her early teens. But she also knows what it means to decompress that structure and the unlimited bounds thereof. Several bands have graced our shores this year but Fehdah’s synergy may be topped only by the orchestral brilliance of a certain Montreal band.
There is plenty of noise being made from a fresh forward-thinking contingent of African-Irish musicians, not least Super Silly who with their own blend of hip-hop and sultry RnB provided brilliant support for Fehdah earlier in the night.
But nobody has made quite the noise Garnett made last Friday night. A performance woven as majestically as a feather.