Remember when you were in high school and there was that girl who always seemed effortlessly cool, was super duper talented and also (as if you didn’t hate her enough already) was really genuinely nice? Well I found her. She’s back. She’s cooler than ever and she can sing like the love child of James Brown and Erykah Badu. Excuse me while I kill myself.
Mariam Sawires might not just be cooler than you, but also cooler than me! Coming from a self-interested music blogger*, you know that means a lot.
Mariam Sawires has an immediately identifiable voice; steeped in soul yet playful in delivery, it’s no surprise that when she was 19 she won a competition to sing John Lennon’s Real Love for an Australian television series. Even more impressive is that her voice was chosen by none other than Yoko Ono herself (citation needed)!
She has travelled the world performing and collaborating with artists such as Frontier Live at SXSW Austin and more recently you may have heard her on the Five Coffees single, Sell You Out. She’s shaken it in Uganda and pumped it in Germany and now she is back to break all our hearts.
Feed your ears with Sawires’ beautiful song Together that was written for her sister (who is, you guessed it, super talented and gorgeous as well). It’s the type of song that has you unconsciously bobbing your head whilst drumming your thumbs and biting your lower lip.
Her voice slips and slides over notes and across octaves as she melts into an irresistibly soulful rhythm. For all the softness communicated through the simple R&B-esque base line there is an attitude reminiscent of Lauryn Hill that punctuates the fluid pace and builds towards the song’s conclusion. It is an attitude that teases the listener and connects with them on a visceral level.
Last Sunday night I disinfectant sprayed my way into The Valve and got to see this talented lady live. Supporting funk mother and indigenous soulstress, Gambirra, with an hour long set, the eager crowd got to hear a number of new songs expected to be released on Sawires’ forthcoming EP.
Familiar with the old material, I can say there is evident growth and increased confidence both in the composition of the music and delivery. Seated behind her keyboard Sawires was joined on stage by a guitar, Cajon (played by her sister) and a Tabla drum (played by her father).
It wasn’t entirely a family affair but the unmistakable familiarity and safety of being surrounded by loved ones shone through as Sawires joked with the audience, dropped her scarf as she tried to tie back her hair and got cheekily told off by her sister, “stop talking in that voice!” as Sawires insisted on singing explanations and song introductions.
The visceral elements of her music returned as the old smooth-as-butter-sound was interwoven with her signature attitude now manifesting in grunts, clicks (with her mouth, think African tribesmen) and heavy breathing.
More than one person in the audience was guilty of subconsciously contorting their face to match that of Sawires as she produced these experimental sounds. My favourite track of the night was a new one entitled Wow and that is exactly how I felt whilst leaving the understandably packed venue.
So watch out for the EP to drop because when it does you can expect to be schooled Sawires style.
*referring of course to Editorial – not the lovely Antonia Harding who wrote this piece.
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