My first encounter with Dave’s music was entirely by accident. I had left YouTube in the background to mix music, when I was suddenly struck by a voice I had never heard before delivering moving and vulnerable lyrics about the dangerous life of an up-and-coming rapper. over a sparse but powerful piano accompaniment. The song was ‘Panic Attack’, from Dave’s very first EP, ‘Six Paths’. He was performing it live in front of a studio audience for Future Festival 2017, and they were just as impressed as I was. Not only did he rap every line with an emotional intensity that made you feel every word, but he did it while playing his own instrument on an upright piano.
Dave delivers the final verse of “Panic Attack” a capella in this jaw-dropping performance from 2017YOUTUBE/BBC RADIO 1
As the tracks end, the accompaniment stops and Dave delivers an a capella verse that blurs the line between rap and spoken word – and the crowd doesn’t make a sound. In fact, watching it, you forget for a moment that there was a crowd there, until Dave finishes the song with a sigh of satisfied exhaustion and they burst into thunderous applause.
It was unlike anything I had ever seen before in the UK rap genre, or, indeed, hip-hop at all. I walked out of the video with the giddy excitement of discovering something entirely new – and I couldn’t wait to see more.
“For a moment you forget there were people there”
Luckily, I wouldn’t have to wait long. In the years since that performance, Dave has skyrocketed into the British rap hall of fame. His second EP, “Game Over”, was released later that year, successfully capitalizing on the momentum built by popular singles like “Wanna Know Remix” featuring Drake and “Samantha” featuring J Hus. Two years later, Dave released his stunning debut album ‘Psychodrama’, which won the BRIT award for album of the year and cemented his status – at just 21 – as one of the greats.
During this period Dave produced a number of memorable live performances. He delivered impressive studio sets for ‘Later… with Jools Holland’, BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and performed for thousands at the Reading and Leeds Festival and Glastonbury. It wasn’t until 2020, however, that I got the same feeling watching Dave perform live as I did in 2017.
“An emotional resonance that can only come from live music”
At the 2020 BRIT Awards ceremony, ahead of receiving his Album of the Year award, Dave stunned the nation with a rendition of his song ‘Black’. It begins with Dave alone on stage, seated in front of a strikingly minimalistic black and white piano, above which are impressive projected 3D visuals to accompany his lyrics. After delivering his first verse with characteristic prowess, Dave is joined by another pianist who sits across from him on what we now realize is a two-sided piano. As the two pianos come together in glorious harmony and Dave continues to rap one of his most lyrically powerful songs, we realize we are witnessing true greatness.
Dave’s 2020 performance of ‘Black’ at the BRITs is his strongest yetYOUTUBE/SANTAN DAVE
And then, just as we think the song is coming to an end, Dave gets up from his piano stool and performs an extra, never-before-seen verse. Condemning institutional racism and paying homage to the heroic Jack Merritt, this verse gives the song’s powerful message an emotional resonance that can only come from live music. Currently sitting at nine million views on YouTube, this performance sits alongside previous BRIT appearances by Skepta and Stormzy as one of the defining moments of the British rap genre.
This show-stealing act set a precedent for live performances that seemed nearly impossible to match, even by Dave himself. But on February 8, that’s exactly what he did. For the 2022 BRIT Awards, Dave, along with British rap royalty Fredo, Meekz, Ghetts and Giggs, gave a historic performance of the song ‘In the Fire’ from his second album ‘We’re All Alone in This Together’ – that surpasses all that came before it.
Right from the start, we know we’re in for something special, as Konyikeh delivers a beautifully moving rendition of the gospel song the track samples, while Dave accompanies it with a wonderfully fingered guitar part. Then the track begins, and there is an uproar from the crowd as Fredo appears to perform his verse. Each of the featured artists deliver their verses impeccably – with no backing track in sight – and it’s all accompanied by the enchanting harmonies of a choir full of gospel. The performance gets better and better, with each artist truly rising to the occasion, until we come to Dave’s final verse which is, of course, masterfully delivered. And then, as if all that weren’t enough, Dave grabs an electric guitar and plays a dazzling solo, while flames shoot from his neck. As the solo ends, and Dave stands on a fire-lit stage alongside four of Britain’s finest rappers, one can’t help but think, “He’s done it again.”
Last week, Dave stunned BRIT audiences once again with his theatrical performance of ‘In the Fire’.YOUTUBE/SANTAN DAVE
Once again Dave went above and beyond to show us all that live music could and should to be. After a pandemic forced the shutdown of live music, Dave is at the forefront of its resurgence – and, personally, I can’t think of a better man for the job.
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