Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Seinabo Sey at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall

Twenty-four-year-old Seinabo Sey (pronounced Say-na-bo See) was born of mixed ancestry in Södermalm, Sweden. Although born in her mother's homeland, she moved to her father's homeland of Gambia at age six, where she enjoyed her father's fame as a musician and where she learned to speak English. At age eight, she moved from an all-black community in West Africa to an all-white community in the small town of Halmstad, Sweden. At age 10, she attended a school for musically gifted teenagers, and at 16 she relocated to Stockholm, where she would launch a music career. A few false starts led to a string of soul pop hits, and Sey's profile rocketed in 2014: the Swedish Music Publishers Association named her Breakthrough of the Year; she performed at and won Best Newcomer at the 2014 Swedish Grammy Awards; she won Soul/R&B Artist of the Year at the 2014 Kingsize Awards; and she performed at the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize concert. Seinabo Sey's debut EP, For Madeleine, is now available in the United States.

Seinabo Sey is on her second tour of the United States so far this year, and the second stop was tonight at the Marlin Room at Webster Hall. While many female artists are inclined to wear revealing stage outfits, Sey wore the opposite -- a nearly formless burqa-like red frock that covered her from neck to wrist and heel. If anything was sexy, it was her sulky, alto Nina Simone-styled singing -- except that the plethora of heartbreak lyrics was not sexy either. Backed by a keyboardist, bassist and drummer who played a heady mix of bubbly electro-pop and down-tempo rhythm and blues, Sey sang almost motionlessly by her microphone stand. Her voice was big and passionate, saturating the sound waves and overwhelming the small room. Her lyrics were often raw with hurt and angst. Late in the set, Sey stepped to the front lip of the stage for an a capella song, booming her unvarnished vulnerability to the point where it almost crossed the line of defense in intimacy. The music felt weightless, but the vocal delivery could sink a ship. Perhaps Sey will usher in the age of unsexy songs, because what she did on that stage, she did extremely well.

Visit Seinabo Sey at