“The role of a singer is an interesting and controversial one," Nicky Schrire announces during the first set of her last SA gig at the Mahogany Room before she heads back to New York. What is meant, I presume, is that so often the singer is seen as the star of the show to the detriment of the band. Yet the band is vital, as Schrire was at pains to point out.
Every band member got their moment in the spotlight at this gig. A cover of a George and Ira Gershwin song, performed by Schrire and Bokani Dyer alone, allowed Dyer's masterly piano skills to shine. Judging by his facial expressions, it also demonstrated the effort and passion he puts into music. Bassist Shaun Johannes then stepped up for a Stevie Wonder cover, while popular drummer Jonno Sweetman covered the catchy 'Swimming Song' by Loudon Wainwright III.
And Schrire also sang duets with UCT music student Mikhaela Kruger: a cover of 'Simple Melody', by Avishai Cohen, and a very difficult cover of 'Moonshine' by Monika Heidemann. During the first set, they had to start the song over again, but the second set proved that practice makes perfect. Even a drunk middle aged man who had managed to join this rather civilized gathering loudly announced his appreciation on hearing the tune.
Energy levels were much higher in the Mahogany Room during the second set than the first, as is often the way on a Saturday night. Although many songs were repeated from the first set, fresh songs were introduced, including Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’. The New York-based, South African-born Schrire hinted that when she first saw the music video for ‘Paradise’ – which is set in South Africa – she felt a stab of homesickness. For those who don't know, the video follows a man in an elephant costume as he tries to hitchhike to South Africa. Once there, he sets out on a unicycle to find the rest of his costumed band mates, ultimately finding them in the veld. It’s a cute video but I had not been a fan of the song until I heard Schrire’s version.
Schrire also performed some originals from her recently released debut album Freedom Flight, including what she laughingly referred to as "a very mature song" about unrequited love. Not for a moment did she or the band cease to be anything less than mesmerizing. This was sheer talent and harmony, perfectly housed in the Mahogany Room which provided a small yet intense space for a very happy audience.
Nicky Schrire performed at the Mahogany Room on 14 July 2012.