Writer & Photographer Maddie Cottam-Allan
It’s International Women’s day and a nasty blizzard has struck Birmingham this Wednesday. I’m at a Sofar Sounds gig curated by the immensely talented Madi Saskia.
The venue is a dimly lit modern office space where apparently creatives thrive, they call it Tricorn House. Huge windows, big open space, dangly plants, furniture that looks like a child drew it, and a cafe selling overpriced coffee. It’s not my thing and an odd spot for a gig but Sofar Sounds seems to pull it off nicely.
Upon arrival I see the snow hasn’t stopped these hump day babes from trekking across town, as it’s still early but packed. The gig is set up with folks on bean bags, sitting on blankets on the floor, or for the more conventional viewer there’s chairs toward the back.
There’s a clear sense of warmth and safety – it’s less a gig and more a corporate sleepover.
I’m a cheap bitch so I head to the ‘artists and crew’ section upstairs to see if I can steal a beer from the rider. No such luck. Back downstairs Madi Saskia casually walks to the mic to start the show.
Saskia is an RnB singer/songwriter. I’ve seen her many times and I can tell you she hasn’t disappointed me yet.
Saskia is also humble as all hell despite being so accomplished at her young age of 22. She’s very open and honest and tells us she’s “had a shit day” and “just want(s) to hear good music”. Don’t we all hun.
With that said we have our first act – Pheleba.
Pheleba like all the acts is a rising star; revered not just by locals but also the likes of BBC1Xtra, she’s accumulated millions of Spotify streams and countless other accolades. However, tonight she’s just Pheleba, a proud mom of two. Her first song ‘Love Is Out There’ is a candid look into a journey of self acceptance while reassuring us sitting on the bean bags we can have it too.
Pheleba now gives us a little backstory about giving birth to her daughter during lockdown in her home. What a fucking hero.
“She’s called Zen but she’s not very zen,” says Pheleba.
We all giggle. Then she closes her eyes and goes straight into ‘All I Need’ a slow sweet song inspired by her maternal love. Her vocals feel like a warm hug against the bitter cold outside. Her smooth voice sends us into a cosy trance that continues for the rest of her gorgeous set.
In the ten minute break Saskia encourages us to discuss our favourite “badass” women as if we’re not already surrounded by them. We all mingle in lulled tones in our snug little bubble.
Next up is Affiejam. She looks dope – bleached jeans, piercings and she’s holding some cool guitar so casually it’s like an extension of herself. Affiejam tells us: “the snow melted my eyebrows off and my edges” but she shrugs this off and starts playing – fingering guitar strings like no tomorrow. She’s fully immersed in the music and her voice sweeps over the intricate guitar notes seamlessly.
The next song she introduces is about the predatory music scene. As much as the song feels light and her voice is subtle, the dark undertones are very clear in her lyrics “no mercy, no mercy”.
Affiejam evokes such power that by the end of the song Saskia slaps the table in front of us and shouts “Tell them!”
Like a lot of artists she is no stranger to this topic.
Saskia returns, “I didn’t wanna be here tonight and why would anyone else?” This was said in an encouraging way. She’s right. The days are still short, the patriarchy is still thriving, why bother? But we all collectively sigh in relief knowing tonight was definitely worth the bother.
She thanks organiser Rohit Jepegnanam for creating safe spaces for women.
After another short break where I fan-girl a little with Saskia we have our last act – Eddy Luna.
Dudley born Luna, along with her cousin Jamal on guitar, fumble over some tech difficulties. But it’s totally chill and sorted in a couple of minutes. They begin with her first song ‘If I Died’. Luna’s commanding voice is juxtaposed with her vulnerable and passionate lyrics. This is mirrored in her body language as she sits casually on her chair, yet her head is tilted back, strong with the mic held high.
The way Luna grasps her mic feels like it’s the only thing tethering her to reality as she is, lost in her music (along with the rest of us). Her song ‘Favourite Song’ is like a soulful lullaby. The lyric “won’t you hold me?” lingers a while until it’s clear Luna can hold herself.
Next, she switches things up tempo with this jazzy guitar song that makes me feel like I’m on holiday and the sun’s setting but I’m in the middle of a shopping montage (stay with me here) it’s still snowing outside but somehow I’m feeling the hot Tuscan sun on my face; I’m feeling the fantasy.
After a Drake cover Luna is finished and so is the night. Saskia thanks everyone and reminds us all to be “unapologetically yourself” and to “celebrate our flaws”. This is what her I AM ME project is all about; empowering women through music.
Now where would we be without standing for some affirmations. We all shout “I am smart! I am strong! I am beautiful!” but ultimately, what Saskia has been communicating to us all night – “I am enough.”
I trudge through the snow to the bus stop freezing my tits off but feeling uplifted. The bus is twenty two minutes late, but I put my headphones on and dance while I wait.
Sofar Sounds’ International Women Day @ Tricxorn House / Maddie Cottam-Allan
For more from Madi Saskia go to: www.open.spotify.com/artist
For more from Sofar Sounds go to: www.sofarsounds.com
For more from Tricorn House go to: www.tricorn-house.co.uk