Laura Mvula, Somerset House, gig review: Both empowering and vulnerable
Mvula is not a musician who goes on stage expecting adulation
If confidence is largely an illusion, Laura Mvula must be the master pretender. Had the Birmingham singer not spoken openly of her struggle with stage fright, you’d never have guessed that nerves raged under her fierce makeup and charisma.
Opening her performance with Martin Luther King reading the lyrics to black rights protest song “We Shall Overcome”, it is clear she has something to say. Her gig at London’s beautifully lit Somerset House comes after the fatal US police shootings of two more black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and, although she does not reference the racial tension directly, her emphasis on empowerment is pointed. “Take your broken wings and fly” she commands on the uplifting “Overcome”, sadly without featured guitarist Nile Rodgers (“I tried to get him to come and play but he said no…”).
Mvula is not a musician who expects adulation, so when she heads to her piano for atmospheric post-divorce tearjerker “Show Me Love” only to find a note from her manager telling her the gig has sold out, emotion bubbles over. Balletic interpretative dancers accompany a soaring yet deeply vulnerable rendition of the hymnal highlight from new album The Dreaming Room, from which she is playing every track, before the spiritual “Father Father” continues in a similarly angelic synthesis of classical, R&B and jazz sensibilities.
“She” is dedicated to her mum, its stunning building harmonies washing over the courtyard, before a soulful cover of Nina
Simone’s “Be My Husband” has everybody clapping along. “That’s Alright” is a feisty, upbeat climax before the exultant “Phenomenal Woman”, inspired by Maya Angelou’s triumphant poem of self-acceptance. Closing the show with sprightly, carefree Sing to the Moon hit “Green Garden”, Mvula waltzes off the stage beaming and, hopefully, no longer feeling the need to fake self-assurance.