National Arts Festival 2016: Leomile

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Leomile live at Slip Stream, Grahamstown. Image: Thato Tsotetsi/Artsvark
Leomile live at Slip Stream, Grahamstown. Image: Thato Tsotetsi/Artsvark

I will admit to feeling trepidation when I headed down to Slip Stream to see Leomile; I mean how many black female afro soul/pop singers are out there right now? To say I was pleasantly surprised would be understating the fact. Leomile and her band are talented musicians.

The set opens with Leomile on vocals and Mpolokeng Chabane accompanying her on backing vocals. Their eyes are bright and full of stars as they sing with lamentation that Lerato Le Felile (Love Is Gone). There are heavy contemporary jazz and distinctly African influences in the sound. Her voice is lush and velvety betraying a previous heartbreak which seems real and urgent again for the length of the song.

Throughout the set they interact with the small, intimate audience. None of it comes across staged or disingenuous and I conclude it has to do with the songs being in her native Sesotho. Just when it starts seeming like all she ever talks about is love and loss, typical of soul music, she launches into historical narratives about myths and stories from the mountain kingdom of Lesotho.

Dancer, Sphilile Khumalo, joins the band for a captivating piece during the song, Pulana, Slip Stream, Grahamstown. Sphilile Khumalo
Dancer, Sphilile Khumalo, joins the band for a captivating piece during the song, Pulana, Slip Stream, Grahamstown. Sphilile Khumalo
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Dancer, Sphilile Khumalo, joins them during Pulana for an interpretive dance accompaniment. The dancing is beautiful and captivating without taking away from the music in the least. Zweli Mthembu’s (of The Brother Moves On) is heard throughout in how last minute addition, guitarist Cornelius Nortje plays the acoustic guitar without missing the distinct local flavour made famous by Zweli.

It is difficult to enjoy a show where one doesn’t know any of the songs but Leomile and her band remedies this when they get us to partake in writing a reprise with them. This had everyone excited as we all sang along to Your Ass Ain’t Shit. We felt very much a part of the process and in the fifty minutes which felt far too short, we experienced, went on a journey and left wanting more as brand new fans of the beguiling lady.

Leomile promises us all that there is an album in the works set for release in September of this year. I know that I cannot wait. She is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is filled with fleeting moments of brilliance or lack thereof. Their last show was at 13h00 today 09/07/2016 but you can follow her on social media for details on other shows to come.

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