In what could easily be described as one of the most exciting co-headline tours we’ve seen this year, hip-hop heavyweights Remi Kolawole and Sensible J (collectively known as REMI) and Sampa The Great joined forces this winter for the Fire Sign national tour. The duo are no strangers to collaborating, most recently teaming up for J’s debut single, “Fire Sign”. With both artists having cemented a unique presence on the scene respectively, these shows promised some powerful and brilliant performances.
Opening the night for us in the basement of Fat Controller were the colourful, funk-heavy sounds of Melbourne’s Man Made Mountain. Comprised of beat-maker Billy Hoyle and vocalist Cazeaux O.S.L.O., the posi-vibes were kicking off left, right and centre. O.S.L.O’s playfulness radiated into the grooving crowd, more than happy to raise their arms and boogie with the person next to them when requested.
As well as providing the beats, Hoyle worked a saxophone for the better half of the set while O.S.L.O impressed with a silky trumpet solo- exploring the irresistible marriage between jazz and hip-hop, nodding to a distinct J-Dilla influence.
REMI slid on through next, both himself and Sensible J carrying with them an air of effortless style. Kolawole donned his typical polo shirt/tracksuit/Nikes get-up, while J sipped on coconut water coolly in the background, capturing these guys perfectly. What REMI proves gig after gig is his ability to throw a party, while telling some of his most personal and affecting stories. Amidst dance-floor fillers like “XTC Party”, were tracks that explored Australia’s thriving racism problem (“Ode To Ignorance”) and how raising social and political issues can be dismissed as acting crazy (“Lose Sleep”).
With J’s clean and effortless percussion and Kolawole’s tight verses that switched to R&B vocals seamlessly, it’s hard to imagine this duo not going anywhere but up from here. Before humbly declining a fan’s request to do a shoey on stage by simply replying, “Nah man, that’s a different show,” REMI wrapped up with a sad but necessary ode to mental illness, with “Substance Therapy”.
Zambia-born, Botswana-raised Sampa The Great conducted the rest of the evening with a clear message in mind: to celebrate inclusion, cultural identity and women. And celebrate we did, as Sampa delivered cuts from her 2015 LP The Great Mixtape as well as her most recent collection of singles recorded earlier this year with singer/songwriter Estelle. Accompanied by J’s percussion and electronic beats skipping to her urgent flow, Sampa demanded the attention of everyone in the room, especially the ladies. “All my queens to the front row, I’m not asking,” called Sampa, summoning the girls to the barrier for a passionate and electrified sing-a-long of “F E M A L E”.
And the empowerment didn’t stop there. Inviting friend (and Editor in Chief of The AU Review) Sosefina on stage for a brief interlude of traditional island dancing, the duo exchanged a genuine warmth and gratitude for one another as they embraced. With a new energy injected into the crowd and senses heightened, Sampa carried the rest of the set in an especially unapologetic, fiery fashion, exposing the rawness of her song-writing and the musical-charisma in her delivery.
All the artists on that bill lifted this gig from more than just an evening of entertainment, to an opportunity for insightfulness, awareness and presence. These are the types of shows that get people talking, and about what so desperately needs to be put to the table. Hip-hop has proven to be the perfect platform for these guys to do that through and with the three of them now truly united, the future’s looking pretty bright.
The Fire Sign tour continues on to Hobart on July 1st (The Waratah Hotel), before finishing in Darwin on July 8th (Beachfront Hotel).
Photos by John Goodridge.