The Mic takes a trip to Sheffield as Izzy Morris reviews Mahalia's stellar performance at The Foundry.
After a stressful ordeal getting to the gig (as someone who finds it difficult to travel on her own and navigate a reasonably unfamiliar city, especially when met with delayed, then cancelled, then delayed trains), I walked into The Foundry reasonably on edge, very much hoping that the gig would make the journey worthwhile. I was not disappointed. On the day of the release of her latest EP, Letter to Ur Ex, Mahalia wrapped the sold-out Foundry audience around her finger with her blend of smooth, mellow rhythms, classic R&B melodies, dancehall grooves and emotive songwriting.
The night started with a wonderful set from support act Ruti, who charmed the audience with her warm tone and pretty, delicate melodies that brought me back to a state of ease, with an especially impressive cover of Kelis’ Acapella which provided a major contrast filled with life using loops and beats that made the room erupt into dance. Offering a unique softness that I very much needed personally at that moment, I knew for sure that Ruti would be an artist for me to dive further into the arms of. As every good support act should lead to, I was completely warmed up for the main event.
From the start of Mahalia’s set, where she opened with her fan favourite hit Sober, we were all in the palm of her hand. Completely commanding the audience, the room reverberated with her lyrics sang back to her. She then went on to completely spin the track with a reprise of it, adding a layer of funk I wasn’t quite expecting that successfully raised the temperature and had us all even more ready to dance the night away with her. You wonder with some artists like Mahalia, that have stellar production on their tracks, if perhaps they may not translate as well to live performance, but this was not the case; her band completely brought the tracks to life, in some cases adding twists and turns, as was the case with the Sober reprise.
Completely commanding the audience, the room reverberated with her lyrics sang back to her
Of course, hits like Do Not Disturb and What You Did were completely well-received, but even beyond that, the atmosphere amongst the crowd was off the charts. What I particularly loved was the number of girl groups I saw in their own little circles, singing back at each other. This completely illustrates what so much of Mahalia’s work is all about; embracing the stuff that’s happened to us, owning it, and lifting each other up.
It was made abundantly clear from the moment that she walked out from behind the curtain that Mahalia was always meant to be on a stage, which is unsurprising given her roots as a Leicester creative and her involvement in acting and music there. She took on the persona of each song with full force, embodying her so-called ‘denial phase’ during Whenever You’re Ready, a personal favourite of mine, and the confidence of her position despite meddling ex-girlfriends in He’s Mine.
This is how she captures an audience so entirely, and how she’s captured the attention of the likes of Ed Sheeran, who tweeted about her when she was 13, projecting her to a record deal at such a young age. That performance quality and pure talent for songwriting has always been apparent in the singer, and that buzz remains to this day. She’s just as exciting to watch, especially now where she’s leaned even more into soul-pop than her more balladry past. The genre shift has entirely worked for her, with her retro R&B sound creating a signature style that suits her so perfectly.
In between songs, the Leicester-born artist shared stories from her childhood, past relationships, friendships and what she’s learned over the years, almost like a big sister to the young women filling the room. She acknowledged her predominantly female fanbase during one such break, where she took a moment to celebrate the men in the room, inviting them too to continue to look after themselves and open up more, given the state of men’s mental health in this country. Mahalia understands her platform and her position as a role model, especially in that moment on stage, to an audience that were listening with complete attention. The vulnerability and personal touches within her lyrics are given even more context in a live setting, which brought me back to the first time I saw Mahalia at Simon Says festival in Leicester, performing her second EP, Never Change, where she captured an early daytime crowd with her stories and just her guitar.
Mahalia understands her platform and her position as a role model
These memories were revisited when she brought a guitar out for Grateful, which provided a nice tonal shift from some of her other songs that evening. This acoustic version of the already beautiful love song created a moment for the crowd to cherish. The love could really be felt right there and then, which was heard in the voices of the audience.
All in all, the night provided me with some much-needed mellowness, filled with dancing, relatability and atmosphere from an artist that offered oodles of charisma, empathy and a down-to-earth quality that allowed me to be pulled into her world. Ending the night on one of her early tracks, 17, I left the gig with a renewed spirit, completely smitten in the same way that I was all those years ago back in Leicester.
Edited by: Amrit Virdi