24 February 2013

Nigeria: From Maxwell With Love

Neo-soul, R'n'B singer and songwriter, Maxwell was recently in Lagos; headlining a Valentine's Weekend concert held by 97.3 Classic FM.

For a non- Maxwell (or neo-soul) enthusiast, the concert was shrouded in mystery. What to expect wasn't so clear, either. This was one artiste whose live performances did not (always) leave revellers breathless or awe-struck. More to the point, he hasn't released an album for about four years - the last one being BLACKSummer'sNight, 2009 - and had gone on an eight-year hiatus from music before that. His most familiar work to this reporter, therefore, was "Pretty Wings", a Grammy Awards-winning single, released in 2009, to critical acclaim.

The night, however, bore pleasant surprises. The venue, a tastefully-appointed marquee in Oceanview Restaurant, (and indeed the ticket price point) hinted that it would not be the kind of concert, now typical of Lagos, overcrowded with questionable characters, poorly managed.

And it wasn't. Guests were politely directed to the red carpet, on which was an attendant bar, for those who wanted to sate any hankering ahead of a long evening. Cocktails and shots of different liqueur were ordered and served in brisk fashion. The guests in question consisted of Lagos blue-bloods, music's cognoscenti, a rich conflation of different worlds - art, fashion, and politics - and connoisseurs of a good time. Also on the red carpet was a life-sized "Love Board" set up, apparently in tandem, with the theme of love and St. Valentine, on which guests were encouraged by ushers, to scribble what love meant to them.

Winds of anticipation blew freely on the open-air red carpet. Many were itching for the show to start. Unfortunately, their wish was not answered to, timely. The show did not start until three hours after the pre-announced time during which a large number of guests had gotten disgruntled, and in some cases, angry.

However, during the long period of inactivity, not a great number of people left. The fear of missing even a millisecond of the show was palpable. The show then started. Perhaps, because of having kept guests waiting for so long, the organisers made a last-minute call, and went against the grain of saving the best for last. The headline act, the evening's brightest star, the one who many had flocked to see, was to perform first. The gale of anxious screams and wolf whistles was unprecedented.

After a round of somewhat preparatory instrumental theatrics by the live band on stage, the man of the hour, Maxwell casually sauntered into view. A stronger gale of screams billowed around the marquee. He warmly, albeit a tad hastily, greeted all present and dived headfirst into the crux of the evening- the music.

Starting off with a selection of his more popular, upbeat tracks, he was able to - in a mere space of minutes - wean guests off their sour disposition as a result of the tardy commencement of the night's activities. A few lines into his very first song, everyone present was on his/her feet, some with their hands in the air, staring, starry-eyed, at the neo-soul maestro before them. The screams continued unabated.

After a short delivery of up-tempo renditions, he eased seamlessly into his slower and titillating love songs that left many a lady, and surprisingly, a few men, hot and bothered. One song, "Till the Cops Come Knocking" especially elicited sing-along chants and had many grabbing their significant others. "Gonna take you in the room suga, lock you up and love for days, we gonna be rockin' baby, till the cops come knocking...Pappa gonna have to leave a message on the telephone, baby. There won't be no stopping me, till the cops come knocking," the chants went.

A large percentage of those chanting were the female folk. Many held themselves tightly, others swung their hips tellingly; such was the command, his voice had on them. Their plight wasn't helped any by him touching himself suggestively as he sang. This reporter was mildly bemused. This was a performer, who did not have the star power and powerful stage presence of his contemporaries. However, it would seem it is his angelic falsetto, occasional baritone and unexplainable raw, sexual energy is what has endeared millions to him in his long career and has set him a class apart, as was the case, in this marquee.

Almost two hours of performances later, it was time for the curtain call. The ovation for the man of the moment was deafening. For many, if not all present, this was a show that will remain long in memory. At this point, a number of ladies were teary-eyed and some were screaming for him to keep performing. He wasn't in a hurry to leave, either. However, there were others acts waiting to take the stage - Bez, Omawumi and Black Magic. Sequel to his final bow and an offering of farewells and see-you-again-soons, quite a number of guests, made for the exit. They had decided, it seemed that his was a tough act to follow, one that could not be topped that night. They were right.

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