Jorja Smith review – euphoric, intense and soulful

Jorja is a vocal powerhouse for a new generation.

Jorja Smith performing at The Velvet Underground (August 2017)

“This one is basically about how crap the government is,” Jorja announces to the audience, before launching into her song ‘Lifeboats’. She stands tall and proud on the stage, as the crowd chants her lyrics back at her. Having been mesmerised by the gigantic stage presence of her supporting act, Mahalia Burkmar, I was surprised by how stripped back and minimal Jorja’s choreography and interaction with the audience was during the first half of the set. Rather than trying to hype up the audience to a state of rhythmic frenzy, she simply walked up to the mic, smiled at us, and launched into ‘Something in the Way’ – a soulful tune off of her 2016 EP Project 11 – with her silky, sultry vocals.

It was in this spirit that the first 45 minutes of the set proceeded; she moved through the slower songs of her oeuvre, taking us on an emotional ride as she progressed through ‘Goodbyes’, ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’ and ‘Beautiful Little Fools’, so intently focused on perfecting her stunning vocal manoeuvres that she barely looked at the audience. This wasn’t an issue, the opposite in fact; as the entire crowd watched, entranced in the moment of musical expression, it felt as though each of us had been given access to some deeper part of Jorja’s life, some moment that we were privileged enough to witness as she relived it on stage. Her slight raspy undertones, combined with her characteristic alto smoothness and soft R&B lilt, were perfect for articulating the messages of loss and heartbreak that permeate her works. As she performed one of her new songs, ‘February 3rd’, she gave the audience a taste of the intimacy that is to dominate her upcoming debut album.

Jorja rounded off the slower, soulful section of the set with a hypnotising rendition of Frank Ocean’s ‘Lost’. Once ‘Blue Lights’ came on, however, the crowd were no longer able to contain their excitement to simply swaying and singing along. Electrified by the stunning performance of her most popular song, everyone in the venue was dancing along, echoing Jorja’s lyrics word for word. Despite this, Jorja’s vocal powerhouse still resisted being drowned out. She proceeded through all of the fan favourites: ‘Teenage Fantasy’, ‘Imperfect Circle’ and ‘Let Me Down’, to name but a few. Her upcoming ascension to musical stardom was evident in the way that she commanded an audience with nothing more than a melodic voice and some heavy beats.

As she closed the set with her track ‘On My Mind’, produced in collaboration with the UK grime authority Preditah, it was clear that this was only the beginning of a long, incredibly prosperous musical career. To everyone in the room, it felt as though we were witnessing the birth of a new kind of voice. A voice which was able to express the concerns, heartbreaks and euphoria of this generation with a soulful simplicity and undeniable intensity.