Tems review – Afrobeats darling has riveting star quality

Koko, London
With fiery jamming and belted notes, the Nigerian singer is so vigorous she has a wardrobe malfunction – but is even more powerful in pared-back moments

Tems is Afrobeats’ current golden girl, playing a summer of sold-out shows in the capital. The only way to see the Nigerian singer on stage is to cock your head and close one eye; her crowd full of early twentysomethings all jostle to get to the front, handheld fans in tow, determined to brave the tail end of the day’s heatwave.

When she arrives she appears pleasantly coy, even coquettish to her audience. She glows under mood lighting: “It’s so hot but you still came out,” she says sweetly. But when she sings any shyness is quickly put to bed; songs like Vibe Out become more like fiery jam sessions than their soothing originals, complete with guitar solos and copious hair-swinging.

She belts out notes from Crazy Tings and Free Mind with divine clarity, winding her waist to screams in response. At one point her vigour thrusts her out of her dress, and her flowing teal two-piece momentarily leaves her exposed. But the artist handles it well, even to the show’s benefit: she calls for a pair of scissors to be brought onstage, cutting off her sleeves. “Now I can shake my body,” she laughs.

Further highlights include Mr Rebel, a track dressing down a supposed romantic partner with lyrics delivered ferociously as if the subject is in the room. For the resounding Try Me, Tems goes into choir mode, setting up an energetic call-and-response with her backing singers. The crowd also sing along as the room is lit by the venue’s twirling disco ball: a magical moment.

Tems does the seemingly impossible: making her crowd focus on her rather than the heat. She performs Higher, an original song recently obscured by an interpolation by Future and Drake, and her stripped back, downtempo rendition silences the venue – we are reminded that the song is firmly her own. As she darts off the stage to thunderous applause, larger crowds to come will likely be her own, too.


Christine Ochefu

The GuardianTramp

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