Sandra Nkaké bewitches with Bowie and Simone at ReVoice!

Arguably the unknown quantity at this year’s edition of Georgia Mancio’s excellent ReVoice! Festival, French singer Sandra Nkaké also has an uncommon stage presence. With a high auburn Mohawk figure, black halterneck and red trainers she recalls both the heyday of Neneh Cherry and Grace Jones, and certainly has much of the theatrical, choreographic prowess of the latter. Although stationed behind a keyboard-sampler with duo partner Jerome Dru, who also has the same electronic hardware as well as a flute, Nkaké extends long arms, tilts head and raises shoulder to visually underscore many of the songs and generally looks as much like an actress singing a script as a singer evoking the ways of an actress.

Interesting as this visual element is it in no way overshadows the wonder of Nkaké ’s voice, which has a weighty, full-bodied tone and an operatic upper register in which notes are thinned out and embroidered into existence like lengths of ornate silk. Generously, the singer gives a lot of space to Dru who takes several smart solos on the delicate woodwind instrument, often floating upwards in sync with Nkaké ’s voice. Among the original songs an untitled improvisation at the close of the evening is memorable but it is the string of covers that takes up the bulk of the set that really hits home. David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ is a touch on the flashy-cheesy side but enjoyable; Nina Simone’s ‘Four Women’ is harrowing and uplifting in equal measure; The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ slightly camp fun as the singer-keyboardists tuck into the slow moving backbeat with aplomb.

SandraNkake MG 3952

However the highlight of the evening is a brilliant reading of Terry Callier’s brave, uncompromising tale of prostitution, ‘Dancing Girl’, in which Nkaké’s subtle rephrasing of the melody gives the song a sunlit slant that is a vivid counterpoint to the sobering lyric. Musically all of the above benefit from good arrangements with the live playing and programmed beats working well against Nkaké’s delivery, though there are nonetheless limitations.

More variety in the drum sequencing and an expansion of the mostly minor chordal base would have been welcome. Yet there is sufficient character in the singer’s voice and enough chemistry between her and Dru to sweep along an audience more than happy to agree that the musique was magnifique.  

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photos by Roger Thomas ©

The ReVoice! Festival continues until Monday 20 October – for more details go to www.revoicefestival.com

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