We are family

Stephen Pennell watches Madi Saskia and co. at the Hare & Hounds.

Let’s talk about families. They can be complicated can’t they? Children don’t always follow the path you try your best to map out for them. Some of mine aren’t bothered about football for instance, although they know better than to say they’re anything other than Villa fans. No-one wants to be disinherited, after all.

Still, constant screenings of the Eminem film 8 Mile in my house when they were growing up helped turn three of them into accomplished and witty wordsmiths so keep your eyes and ears peeled for the music and rap battles of Loxy, Penance and Tydal on an internet platform near you. Their little brother and sister are, at six and seven years old respectively, a bit young for Grime clashes, but nevertheless they contribute to my Tuesday night out by squirting toothpaste into the shoes I was going to wear. Bless ‘em.

Every single year their mom, my wife, has the temerity to have her birthday the day after Valentine’s Day. Not only does this lead to the postman thinking she’s a woman of questionable morals, it often curtails my gig-going, review writing and football attendance.

Tonight’s volunteer to throw a family-shaped spanner in the works is middle son Tydal, who I’m supposed to meet in town. When I ring him he’s near the Square Peg and I’m waiting at Digbeth Coach Station. Twenty minutes later I’m still waiting. I ring him in a bit of a parental panic, thinking that he must have been mugged or something, only to find that he’s way over the other side of Digbeth in Fazeley Street. See what I mean about children not following the right path? Literally?

Anyway, he finally turns up un-mugged but carrying as much cash as if he had been, and we walk round the corner to the 50 bus stop, heading for the legendary Hare and Hounds. Another family-related problem occurs when Madi Saskia’s dad, on door duties, takes some convincing that I’ve come to the right show. I had the same problem at my last Lady Leshurr gig – I’m obviously getting a bit long in the tooth for all this malarkey.

Tydal is a bit star-struck when he sees Lady Sanity in the crowd, and is even more impressed to discover that she and I are on first-name terms as I give her a fist-bump and say “Hello Lady”. It makes a nice change for me to go out and see someone who doesn’t only recognise me as Tydal and Kurtis’s dad, although that does happen later when I saw the talented and lovely singer Janel Antonesha in the blazing area – I also met local legend Elektric at last and she was absolutely lovely, too. Try to understand that this is like being back-stage at Live Aid to me, only better because U2 aren’t here.

There’s a procession of impressive supporting acts, including poet Adjei and rappers Jiggs, D-Tox, Amiri and Yosei, followed by singer Reeceyboi and his beautiful dancers, and finally some intense and moving poetry from Aliyah Denton. The family theme is continued when I discover later that Yosei went to college with my sister-in-law Olivia.

Madi took the stage looking as stunning as ever and with a couple of dancers in tow, and won the crowd over before singing a note with some great choreography. She began her set proper with Rainbows, showing justified confidence in her own songwriting skills. Then came the first in a series of imaginative and brilliantly executed covers, as she gives us her sensual interpretation of Jhene Aiko’s The Worst.

Similarly well-suited to the headliner’s style was a fantastic mash-up of Kehlani’s Gangsta and Blu Cantrell’s Breathe, with the excellent Jabez Walsh re-imagining the Sean Paul bits.

Usually a percussionist in Namiwa Jazz’s band, Rochae takes on a more prominent role tonight on backing vocals, and further proves her versatility when performing her own song Life, complete with enthusiastic audience participation. This is followed by a couple more Madi originals, Saw You First and Tell Me What We’re Smoking, the appeal of which is apparent on first listen, and is one of the highlights of the set. If you’re reading Madi, please upload this song ASAP!

Ms Saskia is then joined by my long-time soul heroine Namiwa Jazz and the aforementioned wonderful rapper Elektric on Four White Walls, Find Your Way Out and Namiwa’s anthem Jungle, and I’m simultaneously nodding my head to the beat and shaking it in disbelief at how all this talent has only cost a fiver to witness.

Guitarist Ben Jones comes to the fore on a blistering cover of Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow, and the show is brought to a close with a couple more of the star turn’s own songs, the beautiful F.O.O.L.S followed by Madi effortlessly turning up the vocal power on the storming Runnin’, with the hyped crowd joining in on the hook. My one disappointment was that the set didn’t include the love song Depend On You, but that could have been due to the unavailability of Ashley Zeal, her partner on the gorgeous duet.

Throughout the hour-long show, the band and the various rappers and singers create a real feel-good vibe, and here is why I’ve been banging on about ‘family’ throughout this piece: this collective of musicians, including bassist George Foley, drummer Ashley Lawson and Jamael Jarrett on keyboards, can often be seen at each other’s shows, all contributing what they’re good at (which is plenty), supporting one another and inspiring each other to greater artistic heights.

They put on a great show and I leave with a warm glow and the lasting impression that they’re one big, happy family. It’s a genuine pleasure and privilege to see.