Jorja Smith + Ama Lou @ Corona Theatre – 8th May 2018

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After spending consecutive weeks in the indie band circuit, it can be easy to forget the sold-out frenzy of a show of a rising artist. The building excitement surrounding up-and-comer Jorja Smith, so great that a venue upgrade from l’Astral to the Corona was necessary, has an irresistible infectious energy. Approaching the throng of millennials outside the venue anxiously hoping for spots near the stage, the anticipation was indeed contagious.

Ama Lou

Ama Lou, Smith’s contemporary in age (she’s just one year shy of Smith’s 20), UK origins, and musical style, opened the night with a set that made the most of her still-growing repertoire. She was bolstered by a couple backup singers synchronously swaying in traditional R&B fashion and someone playing the beats. Though her current discography may be limited, with the endorsement of this tour and a precocious talent evident in an energetic performance, more can be expected to come.

Introduced by a cymbal roll and the choral intro for “Something in the Way,” Jorja Smith soon appeared, sidling up to the mic with an endearing smile to acknowledge the fans. Reserved body language that might have been either shyness or cool confidence clearly became the latter as she slid into the first verse of the song, which also opens her 2016 EP Project 11. There is a passing resemblance to “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child in melody and lyrics of the opening line, but the similarities end there. Whereas the 2001 classic saunters away from a failed relationship with a hair flip, Jorja first navigates the one-sided difficulty of revisiting such memories before reaching the resolve to never look back and proudly moving on. In many ways, the song is a microcosm of Smith’s appeal: she taps into a tradition of strong R&B songstresses, from there creating a singular voice that is at once timeless and fresh.

The next two songs “Where Did I Go?” and “Teenage Fantasy,” singles from past years now on the album Lost & Found slated to drop June 8th, also wisely reflect on past relationships. Following up with the unreleased track “February 3rd,” Smith showcased her upper register in a chorus warmed by a vibraphone-esque synth melody. After the empowering anthem “Beautiful Little Fools,” Jorja channelled Lauryn Hill as she melded another new song with Fugees’ “Ready or Not.” The next cover would be a crowd-rousing rendition of “No Scrubs,” but before this Smith paused to introduce the unreleased “Goodbyes” as inspired by the loss of a friend. All members of her band save the guitarist fell silent as Smith deftly lifted her voice from resonant chest to delicate falsetto to embody the lyrics of the refrain, “you belong to the stars in the clouds.”

After waiting for the crowd to calm from the TLC cover, Smith flexed the chops warmed up by the Fugees cover with verses from her unreleased freestyle “Lifeboats.” The song morphed into an interlude where the skills of her touring band, especially the drummer and guitarist, were fully displayed while the singer took a breather. From this instrumental break, the band transitioned into Frank Ocean’s “Lost,” thematically relevant to the upcoming album. Riding the wave of cheers from the audience, Smith then switched up her popular Stormzy-featuring “Let Me Down” by electing to swap out the grime artist’s verse for an sung alternate. Continuing with another collaboration, Smith launched into “I Am,” well-known from its spot on the Kendrick-curated Black Panther soundtrack. As the backing track of pitched vocals from the beginning of the song kicked in, I realized it was the first time Smith had used a track since the first song of the set, a testament to the fullness of her voice even without the harmonies from her recordings.

Nearing the close, Smith treated the crowd to “Blue Lights,” her debut single released when she was only 18. Stage lights strobed red and blue to mimic the politically conscious lyrics, “I wanna turn those blue lights into strobe lights,” coordinated with blinking overhanging Edison bulbs for the next line, “Not blue flashing lights, maybe fairy lights.” Reemerging for the encore, Smith shared a new piano-accompanied ballad before carrying over the acoustic vibe into a stripped-down rendition of “On My Mind.” Just as it seemed she might close on this mellow note, Smith smiled knowingly and the rest of the band joined her along with the Preditah-produced breakbeat. As the crowd danced along to the UK garage-influenced rhythm and shouted out lyrics, it was clear the hype around this emerging star is very much deserved.

Something in the Way
Where Did I Go?
Teenage Fantasy
February 3rd
Beautiful Little Fools
Tomorrow / Ready or Not (Fugees cover)
No Scrubs (TLC cover)
Lost (Frank Ocean cover)
Let Me Down
I Am
Blue Lights
Imperfect Circle
Don’t Watch Me Cry
On My Mind

Review – Dylan Lai
Photos – Arianne Bergeron

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