The Hot Stepper promoters had a busy weekend, first presenting Detroit's Jay Dee at Roxy Blu on Friday, and then on Saturday bringing Philly soulful house diva Lady Alma to Una Mas.
Although she'd been in town relatively recently, the latter show still drew a good-sized crowd of house heads eager to hear her unleash her formidable lung power.
Standing on a makeshift stage next to the DJ booth, she belted out a set of gospel-infused garage that included her better-known underground hits as well as a few unreleased gems that are sure to become anthems over the next year. The crowd ate it up, hollering and cheering so enthusiastically after each song that you could almost forget this was Toronto.
An unexpected special treat was the surprise appearance of Jersey gospel house icon Kenny Bobien, still in town from his gig the night before with the Solid Garage crew. He stepped up to sing one song at Lady Alma's encouragement, but then took the opportunity to call local house diva Sasha over to sing a verse for him. She seemed humbled by the request but rose to the challenge gracefully, coming close to outshining the man himself.
Chicago house heavy hitters Mark Grant and DJ Heather are known for their superior technical skills and multi-layered approach to mixing bumping Chi-town house. Unfortunately, the acoustics at Klinik last Saturday reduced their sound to a muddy mush of booming bass and muffled melodies.
There are very few good venues for special events in Toronto these days, and the few decent choices are so overused that they're losing their appeal. Despite the lack of clarity, both DJs, presented by Pixelate, RNB and Ritual, managed to showcase their impressive talents well. Don't miss them next time around.
rub a dub
The dub and roots reggae DJ scene in the city seems to be gaining steam.
What used to be overly chill nights of hippy dreads sitting around bobbing their heads to King Tubby dubs are now starting to attract a much more varied audience who come prepared to dance.
A strange mix of bass fans converged Saturday at 56 Kensington for Super Heavy Reggae, featuring selectors Friendlyness and Jerms. Looking around the packed bar, you could see everyone from a handful of Rastas and the expected hippies to Queen West hipsters getting down to the beats. Well worth checking out next time they throw a jam.
dawn of shawn
Usually, this column focuses on music relating to dance club culture, or at least electronic music. Once in a while, though, I stumble across something too good to exclude just for the lack of beats.
Early Thursday evening at the Cameron House, young singer/songwriter Shawn Hewitt blew away the audience with an incredibly captivating performance.
Starting off solo on the Rhodes electric piano, he silenced the room with a unique fusion of economical, repetitive keyboard playing and raw, soulful singing. For the most part it was Hewitt by himself onstage. Luckily, he has great presence, oscillating between playful, aggressive and earnest in a natural, uncontrived way. Then he switched to acoustic guitar, which he used in a similarly minimalist style.
You could call this folk music, but only because he's playing solo and unornamented. He describes what he's doing as Afro-Kraut, a blend of the minimalism of Kraut rock with the desperate soul of Afrobeat. Of course, without a band to back him up yet, that description isn't entirely accurate, but you can hear what he's getting at.
The show-stopping moment came partway through when he stepped over to his organ and played a chugging instrumental that exploded into a Sun-Ra-inspired free jazz freak-out.