tue 18/02/2020

Laura Mvula, Festival of Voice, Cardiff | reviews, news & interviews

Laura Mvula, Festival of Voice, Cardiff

Laura Mvula, Festival of Voice, Cardiff

The girl from Birmingham feels right at home in Wales

Phenomenal woman: Laura Mvula performing at Festival of VoicePhotograph by Polly Thomas

Laura Mvula talks almost as much as she sings. Between songs she confesses to rambling, but her musings – on heartbreak, on “toilet analogies” for the recording process, on meeting the Duke of Edinburgh and then falling over – are never less than disarmingly engaging. At times it verges on stand-up comedy. Mostly, she simply reveals aspects of herself: charismatic, sassy, down-to-earth, a girl from Birmingham with an incredible gift. The show begins with “Who I Am” and all but ends with “Phenomenal Woman”. It’s pretty easy to see the middle of the gig as an equals sign.

There’s a kind of contrast between the sweet, funny, self-deprecating woman of the between-songs wittering and the prodigiously talented singer whose sophomore record The Dreaming Room is set to make her an even bigger star than her critically acclaimed debut Sing to the Moon. It’s a winning formula – and makes it easy to predict, even in the week before its release, a slew of awards.

Mvula revels in the lofty surroundings of Wales Millennium Centre’s showpiece Donald Gordon Theatre, home of the Welsh National Opera. “It feels like home… I wish all my gigs were here,” she says, to huge cheers. It doesn’t take long for Mvula to mention her long-time champion and “homegirl” Charlotte Church, who has obviously had a lot to do with her appearance at Cardiff’s first biennial Festival of Voice, and is as vocal as anybody else in the auditorium in her appreciation of her friend’s high notes.

After a couple of new tracks, Mvula is keen to know what we think. “I’ve worked so hard on it,” she says, her London-inflected vowels almost belying her Birmingham upbringing. “Are you feeling the new sound?” “People” is a powerful, uplifting tub-thumper, tonight set to the beat of producer Troy Miller’s drums. “How glorious,” Mvula sings, “this life in us / we are a wonder.” We are most definitely feeling it; by the end, people are dancing in the aisles.

Despite her obvious humility, Mvula is unafraid to court comparison with the greats. She calls her “ironing board” keytar Nina after Ms Simone and admits that “sometimes I pretend I’m Prince.” Last night Mvula certainly looked as striking: electric-blue blazer with 80s shoulder pads complemented by extreme-cropped hair and big gold earrings. But Mvula’s brand of dreamy electronic soul is mostly in a different register to the Purple One – until we reach a joyous rendition of “Green Garden”, on which her ambition to “channel” her hero is almost fulfilled.

For her encore, Mvula has a go at Michael Jackson too: an achingly sweet rendition of “Human Nature” with only her little brother James backing on the electric cello. And, this being Cardiff, she finishes with a flourish: a bombastic version of “Make Me Lovely” with a dollop of Shirley Bassey on the side. Other highlights include a deliciously dark a capella take on the spiritually raw “Father, Father” and a new one called “Angel” that provides further proof, if any were needed, that Laura Mvula is effortlessly becoming a superstar.

Despite her obvious humility, Mvula is unafraid to court comparison with the greats


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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