Live reviews

Alma Naidu at Orania Restaurant, Berlin (XJAZZ Festival)

Alma Naidu, Phillip Schiepek, Lisa Wulff, and Valentin Renner

(Orania Restaurant, XJAZZ Festival, 7 May 2022. Live review by Izzy Blankfield)

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L-R: Alma Naidu, Phillip Schiepek, Lisa Wulff, and Valentin Renner

Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighbourhood played host to the XJAZZ! festival between 4 and 8 May, with more than 80 concerts over 5 days. On the Saturday night, Munich-based singer and pianist Alma Naidu performed in the rooftop salon of the Orania restaurant, joined by Lisa Wulff on bass, Phillip Schiepek on guitar and Valentin Renner on drums.

This was an ensemble with natural chemistry. From the opening number ‘Silence Plays Your Song’, Naidu’s ethereal vocals melted into the laidback foundation of the rhythm section, as the group invited the audience to share in their intimate musical space.

The set grew in energy as Renner’s skilful drum introduction launched the ensemble into the fluid, optimistic ‘Hold On to Me’. Naidu’s soaring voice was delicately complimented by backing vocals from Wulff, whose subtle yet emotive bass solo in the same track was a real delight to watch.

The third number ‘Heart Pace’ saw Naidu away from the piano, performing more freely in the flow of the music. The playful dialogue between guitar and voice gave space both to Naidu’s impressive range and to Schiepek’s creative and cool improvisations.

The centrepiece of the set, the folksong-like ‘Walberla’, felt almost like an incantation, as voice, guitar and bass meandered around each other in a mesmerising conversation. Here Naidu floated between wistful lyrics and wordless vocalising as she transported the audience to the Bavarian mountains that inspired the composition.

This thoughtful set was a quiet contrast to other high intensity performances taking place around the neighbourhood, including Berlin-based Afro-Soul group Jembaa Groove and the large ensemble led by German producer Leona Berlin

Against the backdrop of Kreuzberg at dusk, Naidu communicated with the audience – seated on rows of sofas and even invited to sing along later in the performance – with warmth and authenticity. The singer encapsulated the atmosphere in the calmy lit space in the word Wohnzimmergefühl: one of those great German expressions which describes the comfortable feeling of being in one’s own living room.

Naidu’s effortless, smiling presence on stage made the moments of real emotion in her performance even more special. One of the highlights of the evening was a solo cover of Billy Joel’s ‘And So It Goes’, a rendition imbued with melancholy and Naidu’s characteristic tenderness.

Throughout the set, the warm camaraderie between the band allowed Naidu’s personality to shine through. Naidu’s songs were interesting and exciting – harmonically, lyrically, formally – yet somehow also familiar. Blending sentimental lyrics with thoughtful harmonies, Naidu had a rare ability to connect with her audience by drawing on something highly personal in herself.

Alma Naidu’s debut album Alma is out now

LINKS: Alma Naidu’s website

Categories: Live reviews

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