When buying tickets for a concert, you sometimes have to fight for the scraps with other unseen and unknown buyers. You may very well find yourself to be at the losing end after having spent 15 minutes trying to access the website and then spending an additional hour refreshing in the hope that the words on the screen reading, Sold Out are not real. You may also be one of the lucky winners of the privilege to get to buy a ticket for +£70 PLUS booking fees and post about your good fortune of having secured yourself a ticket on your choice of social media.
And then there are those gigs at the other end of the spectrum. The free ones. And the unexpected ones. Like this afternoon, just around 1 pm when I found myself wandering into my local record store, Rough Trade East. I was looking for a record that they didn’t have. Instead, I found a gig. So I took up a position near the stage with about a few dozen other people who, like me, wanted to see what this afternoon gig might be like.
Azekel is an upcoming singer from east London, trying to get a break into the music industry by the looks of things. An afternoon gig in front of about 20-30 people may not be a sold-out O2 or Wembley Stadium, but it’s what you have to do to get your name out there and show people who just a few minutes earlier, might not be aware you existed.
But a look into Azekel online after the concert reveals that he’s not as new and unknown as I thought he was. He released his debut album in 2013, and he has worked with bands like Gorillaz and Massive Attack. On his latest record, Our Father, he presents songs about being a father, the challenging relationship with his father, and being the only father in his group of friends.
It’s R&B in the form we’ve come to know it in the last few decades, smooth and poppy, alternating between romantic and sexy. It’s not R&B the raw old-school way; it’s the new-school kind of R&B. The music itself doesn’t offer much originality. Still, the lyrics contain observations about fatherhood and relationships that lift the songs to another level than your average song in the R&B genre, with lines like: ‘Young and married, The only family man amongst my friends, Although I’m happy, Sometimes alone would nice by ourselves’ (Don’t Wake the Babies).
On Black is Beauty (Daughters), which seems to be a conversation with his young daughters, Azekel sings: ‘Remember what I told you, Black is beauty, Always my special girls… For too long, Black has been a negative term, Blackmailed, blacklisted, blackballed, black magic. From here on today, we reclaim that Black is beauty.’ It’s a touching song.
A drummer and guitar player join Azekel at this afternoon gig. The trio has got their sound down, and their frontman performs the songs, not just with his voice but his whole body, writhing his way through most of the songs, which suits the wriggly songs great.
Fittingly, the last song, Wetty Betty, urges the listener to grab life and live it while we still can, ’You better let it play, We’re too young to go into the cemetery, Bang Bang, Yeah’. Leaving the record store, going into the grey London afternoon, the feeling of holding on to youthfulness even when you’re past it, and the urgency of making the most of this life is what I take with me.