Ronika, Harleighblu, Nina Smith – Nottingham Bodega, Friday March 23
Three of Nottingham’s finest female talents took over the Bodega on Friday night, demonstrating once again that this is an exceptionally fertile time for the city’s steadily rising music scene.
First on the bill was singer-songwriter Nina Smith, accompanied by ace beatboxer Alex “MotorMouf” Young. Jettisoning the four songs on last year’s Lonely Heart Club EP in favour of unreleased tracks and a couple of covers (Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love), Nina charmed us with her frail yet assertive brand of acoustic R&B-tinged pop, while Motormouf beefed up – and occasionally subverted – the arrangements. This was a relaxed, easy-going performance in front of a supportive home crowd, punctuated by quips and giggles, and all the more delightful for it.
Instead of trying to squeeze her vast band onto the Bodega’s compact stage, Harleighblu opted for stripped-down simplicity, appearing with just a backing singer and a keyboardist-slash-guitarist. This bare-bones approach allowed us to focus all of our attention on her smouldering, soulful vocals, which draw inspiration from the neo-soul of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, as well as the classic stylings of Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald. Wreathed in smiles, and displaying an impressive vocal maturity for her years, the 19-year old’s sheer love of performing radiated from the stage. Her recording debut is promised for later in the year, and its release date can’t come soon enough.
Looking every inch the pop star in shades, denim cut-offs and shredded black leggings, Ronika commanded the stage from the moment she made her entrance. Having made significant waves nationally, this was a long-awaited homecoming for our so-called “Madonna of the Midlands”, who brought glamour and guts to her Eighties-influenced, yet fully contemporary brand of glittering dance-pop.
Opening with Wiyoo from her second EP and In The City from its follow-up, Ronika introduced her forthcoming single Automatic halfway through the set. It’s a chunky, funky “summer jam”, based on a sampled riff from a 1982 Odyssey track, played by none other than Chic’s Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers (who was quick to tweet his approval: “pretty dope”). As Ronika and Rodgers are both scheduled to perform at London’s Lovebox festival in June, would an onstage collaboration be too much to ask for?
The set finished with two storming tracks from the forthcoming album: the ridiculously catchy One Thousand Nights – surely a future hit single – and the crunchy, rock-tinged Sister Mary. The album doesn’t yet have a release date, but Automatic is due out on April 9th, and Ronika will be back with us for the Splendour festival in July, sharing the bill with Dizzee Rascal, Razorlight and Katy B. Her future’s looking so bright, that it’s no wonder she’s wearing shades.