Posts Tagged ‘calyptro’

[Update 1 Dec 08: published here]

Having been promised an ‘electrifying stage show’ from ‘a performer unlike anyone else in Godzone’ by practically every events website in town, Sheba Williams had a lot to live up to when she took to the San Francisco Bathhouse stage on Saturday night (November 22nd, 2008) to support the debut of her self-titled first album.

However, it would have taken the most hardened cynic not to sense, as the pulsing drum beats were joined by guitar, trumpet, saxophone and bass, that something very special was about to happen.  And then, there she was, replete with headdress and various leotards throughout the night, commanding the stage with the graciousness of some majestic African queen.

Not just another singer behind a microphone, Sheba Williams is a writer, musician and performer extraordinaire.  Quite appropriately, she has coined her own genre to describe her music: ‘Calyptro’ – a sound unlike any other, a fusion of hip-hip, soul, funk, electro, afrobeat, and then some, calling on influences as varied as her Caribbean heritage, her Aotearoa upbringing,  and her extensive travels, ranging from Berlin to Kyoto to Shanghai.  This merges into an exotic and vivacious sound unable to be boxed into any particular place or time.  Standing in the San Francisco Bathhouse on Saturday, you could have been anywhere in the world, and were somehow being taken to a place quite beyond it.

For example, what Kiwi girl couldn’t sympathise when she prefaced her song ‘Shy Guy’ with the dedication “This is to all the Kiwi guys – so dear to my heart, so far from my ass”, before launching into her song about the reticence of Kiwi men in their (lack of) amorous advances.  But far from leaving it there as a witty little ditty, the song progressed into a tour de force of the world, the afro-Kiwi diva singing verses in Chinese, Korean and German.

With music that was like Fat Freddy’s mixed with Cabaret mixed with afro-carribean funk, and a stage performance that was a patchwork quilt of theatrics, dance, amazing instrumental solos, and uniquely Sheba monologues and stories from her travels, this really was something else – a true show, and one unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.  Did I mention those leotards?

While Sheba owned the stage like some kind of worldly African queen, she never let you forget that “My grandmother lives in Parnell, bitch!”  A Kiwi girl who grew up in ‘the KKKs: Khandallah, Karori and Kelburn’ and yet made belting out Chinese rock ‘n’ roll in a red silk cape and leopard print leotard into an art form.  A gracious regent of her avid crowd and minions, she ended the show by thanking pretty much everyone under the sun, and had seemed just as happy to gyrate her fantastic figure to the skilful funk of her superb supporting band or hand over the stage to the antics of her supporting dancing act, as she was to take the microphone herself with her powerful and playful vocals.  Later in the night she could be found cavorting in full costume at the back of Mighty Mighty, a royal gracing the masses.

Her debut album can be seen as a metaphor for herself, a wide-ranging collection of pieces into an eclectic whole.  It comes in two parts: the 12-track studio-recorded Black Album, and the White Album, consisting of a live performance recording, three music videos, and an excerpt from her as-yet unpublished book Shanghai Sheba and the China Monologues, some of which she has read on Radio New Zealand. 

This was a true performance by a true performer, a unique and yes, I would even say ‘electrifying’, experience.  I would go so far as to say that Sheba Williams is not just ‘unlike anyone else in Godzone,’ but that you would be hard-pressed to find any one comparable in the world.  A world and law unto herself, she really must be experienced to be fully appreciated – but until she graces a stage near you, you can just do as she suggested and ‘buy my CD, then rip it and give it to someone for Christmas.’  Really.  She’s cool with it.

Seeing her emerge from backstage at the end of the night, I couldn’t resist grabbing her attention to praise the awesomeness of her show.  Her response – to kiss me graciously on the cheek and then admonish ‘Don’t wash that off!’ – really summed up the whole experience:

Sheba, the down-to-earth diva.




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