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Barbican x Boiler Room

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Arwa Haider talks to Boiler Room’s curator, Jasmine Srih, about the upcoming London artists they’re platforming.

‘Who are the most exciting artists that are based in London? Which of those artists could command a stage as prominent as the Barbican Centre, and haven’t been given the opportunity to do so yet?'

Boiler Room curator Jasmine Srih took a smart starting-point for tonight’s musical excursion, which brings six stand-out contemporary talents to the Barbican Hall. There are brilliantly familiar notes here, as well as exciting new territories, in a line-up that spans and overlaps genres including soul, hip hop, jazz and roots, and yields modern city soundtracks. Boiler Room has a long-standing presence as a cultural connector – collating and streaming live music and club sessions across the globe, and as Srih points out: ‘It’s rare to see these artists on the same bill, but there’s a synergy in the London underground community.’

Trinidad-born, London-raised rapper, singer-songwriter and producer BERWYN has summoned a steady buzz over the past year, with accolades including a 2021 Mercury nomination for his DEMOTAPE/VEGA mixtape, and a recent MOBO nomination as Best Newcomer. He’s also in the midst of a captivating creative flow, with tender, hard-hitting and wryly evocative explorations of identity, unity and society, including the new tracks featured on his latest mixtape release, TAPE 2/FOMALHAUT. In a recent interview with NME, BERWYN described ‘bravery, honesty and faith’ as the core qualities of his music: ‘tools relative to every human being inside of the matrix we live in.’ On his hook-driven single track ‘100,000,000’, BERWYN murmurs: ‘Tell ‘em I wanna spray paint my Grammy in black’; this rising star sounds primed to live the dream on his own terms.

Demae also arrives with a sense of legacy as well as fresh expressions. Formerly a member of acclaimed conscious hip hop trio Hawk House, Demae’s solo material is blissfully melodic and richly soulful, as demonstrated on beguiling grooves such as ‘Stuck In A Daze’ (featured on her 2020 album Life Works Out… Usually). Says Srih, ‘I’d seen Demae play in smaller venues with a full band, and her music just felt way bigger than the room.’

Originally from Cergy, northwest of Paris, and now London-based, Léa Sen isn’t strictly a newbie on the Barbican stage, as she proved a memorable guest when Speakers Corner Quartet took over the venue in October. ‘Léa Sen is going to be huge,’ enthuses Srih. ‘She draws from so many different musical strands, and she was a stand-out feature on the Joy Orbison album (Still Slipping Vol 1).’ Indeed, Sen’s gorgeous musical reveries embrace scintillating electronica, jazzy folk melodies and beautifully headstrong takes on rock classics, such as her mesmerising cover of Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’. 

Accomplished young Brixton multi-instrumentalist and producer Mansur Brown has been earning plaudits for his original compositions; his latest album Heiwa is the sequel to 2018’s much-praised Shiroi; released on his own label Amai Records, its tracks are inspired by ‘the journey of life’, and merge 21st Century spirituals, ambient jazz, broken beats and more. ‘Mansur makes largely instrumental music; it’s something that feels grandiose without a vocalist,’ says Srih. ‘Heiwa is one of my favourite releases of the year, and it's going to be such a moment seeing him play the Barbican Hall'

The splendidly vivacious singer-rapper NAYANA IZ has been making her mark as a solo star as well as a member of west London’s multi-disciplinary NiNE8 Collective. Her sound is both exhilarating and emotionally direct, merging influences from leftfield hip hop to nu-rave, and her Indian family heritage (Nayana has cited creative heroes from MF DOOM to her own grandmother, who had been a skilled Thang Ta sword dancer in her youth).

South-east London singer-songwriter Ojerime has established her rep for lucid, poignant contemporary soul, entwining influences from Y2K R&B to her neighbourhood’s febrile jazz scene, and delivering candid, resonant perspectives in distinctly mellifluous tones. Her 2020 album B4 I Breakdown is a gloriously heady and fearless collection, including contributions from Mansur Brown; her progressive material, including recent single ‘Jetset’, should propel her to even greater recognition.

‘All of these artists signify London to me - they take influence from such a vast spectrum of styles and spaces,’ says Srih. ‘London is not sonically binary, you could find the same people attending shows and clubs for a variety of genres and I think that’s why we were able to sprawl with this; people in London have very open ears.’

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Listen: Jazz on Spotify

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Listen: Contemporary Music on Spotify

Follow our regularly updated Contemporary Music playlist for a sample of the music you'll hear across our programme. Shuffle recommended. 

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