Roots Manuva, The Sage, Gateshead (The Independent – 2005)

tumblr_ljy4rpRrY51qd2p8b

Roots Manuva, The Sage, Gateshead

Wednesday 02 March 2005

Roots Manuva’s raps are delivered with the kind of gravel-distressed, ganja-soaked growl that takes years of larynx-burning inhalation to achieve. Strange, then, that he should open his latest tour in a no-smoking venue. But then, Rodney Smith (as Manuva is known to his family) is well used to playing the fish-out-of-water act. When he emerged as a part of the mid-Nineties UK hip-hop scene, his lyrics and delivery stood out from those of his Highbury-obsessed associates. Where they perfected their cock-er-nay drawl, Smith delivered rhymes that drew as much on the parlance of Jamaican back-a-yard culture as on London slang.

Through the course of his three albums, Smith has continually subverted the hip-hop form. Not for him simple funk breaks – instead, he has drawn on old soul, free-form jazz, contemporary dancehall and Eighties Sleng-Teng reggae, and contorted them through the filters of British techno. The resulting sound paved the way for Dizzee Rascal and the rest of today’s east-London grime movement.

Roots Manuva has just delivered his third album, Awfully Deep, to huge critical acclaim, and his recent single, the stunning “Colossal Insight”, gained round-the-clock Radio 1 support. So, at tonight’s show, Smith is riding a wave of near-hype. After an electrifying support set by MIA, Smith appears with an air of nonchalant bemusement. Just as his lyrical style has him delivering words slightly tardy of the beat, so his on-stage gait is a lazy shuffle. With hands constantly hoisting up his white tracksuit pants and his huge smile flashing nervously, he presents a vision of pure discomfort. It’s only when he looks up at the venue’s three circular tiers that he finally engages with the source of his outsider feelings. “Man, this place is so clean,” he laughs. “And no smoking.”

But far from being a negative force, the unusual (and quite beautiful) setting quickly draws out of Smith and his band a performance that is little short of inspirational. The robotic funk of “Chin High” develops into a scratch-a-delic showcase for DJ MK, the band turntablist, before the jump-up chorus has Smith and Ricky Ranking throwing hands in the air, and even threatening to throw down some breakdance shapes. The soul lament of “The Falling” evolves into a raw, aching expression of love lost. “Too Cold” becomes an exploration of Brechtian dislocation, its oompah beats exaggerated nearly to the point of burlesque. The crowd favourites “Dreamy Days” and “Witness” bring with them hip-hop’s obligatory call-and-response audience interaction. Not that you can imagine the likes of Eminem demanding shouts of “cheese on toast”.

“This could be my last album,” Smith sings on the set highlight, “Colossal Insight”. But on tonight’s showing, any suggestions of early retirement would be a huge loss to the musical landscape. For Roots Manuva is emerging as a unique voice and one of Britain’s most important artists.

 

Advertisements

About stateofbass

Dr Martin James is Professor of Music Media Industries and course leader of BA(hons) Popular Music Journalism at Southampton Solent University. Martin is an internationally renowned music journalist who worked on the editorial teams of some of the biggest magazines on the International market. Over the last twenty years he has regularly contributed to almost every major music and lifestyle magazine, and numerous daily broadsheet newspapers. Martin has also written several Internationally published and critically acclaimed books about music. Since 2008 Martin has coordinated Southampton Solent University's associations with some of the UKs finest independent festivals including Glade, Bestival, Camp Bestival and Blissfields. In 2009 Martin organized the University's first music industries conference 'Solent Music Industries Live Event' (SMILE), featuring some of the biggest names in the world of music sharing their knowledge with students. SMILE is now an annual one-week event in Solent's calendar. Martin has also played in numerous bands to varying degrees of success!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s