Arriving without warning onstage in a lengthy black coat, tall and slouched with his hood up, London’s Obaro Ejimiwe AKA Ghostpoet launched straight into a set consisting of tracks from his two albums to date. Backed by three band members, Ejumiwe uneasily imposed himself at the very front of the stage above an expectant Saturday evening crowd at the Deaf Institute.
His debut album Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam was Nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2011 and his music crosses genres; essentially introspective spoken word backed by down tempo electronica to create woozy lo-fi dub-poetry. Soon enough, reflective Ejimiwe is shying from his self imposed limelight, his lyrics stating he is not “Wise” and not to “Follow Me” from the track ‘Garden Path’ lifted off his debut. Immediately he portrays the idea that he is an inhibited leader and an unwilling front man.
With his twisted poetic style that transcends topics and subcultures, Ghostpoet is effective in the live arena. His echoed and slurred Southern accent reverberated around the room as he writhed and moved intriguingly to the live electronic soundtrack provided by his band. His lyrics express a compelling narrative of modern living, satirically touching upon contemporary subjects that are both engrossing and heartfelt. Either the onlooker can get lost in the rhythm of the live drumming and bass lines or hang on the lyrics in songs such as the triumphant ‘Liiines’; there are several layers to the act and many emotions are triggered.
Manchester is no stranger to spoken word performances with its rich history of wordsmiths such as the celebrated John Cooper Clarke, who mixed poetry with live music during the 80’ and 90’s to impart his personal take on Northern living. The Coventry reared now London based Ejimiwe’s ramblings are looser, a stream of consciousness affair. His lyrics create the image of a man fighting with temptations of drinking in ‘Cash & Carry Me Home’ (watch another live performance of this above), and his struggles to maintain consciousness whilst those around sleep through the ordinary day to day life on the caffeine powered 9 to 5. The music is euphoric while the lyrics are somewhat reserved and refer to the everyday, an interesting contrast.
The track ‘Meltdown’ off his latest album Some Say I So I Say Light received the strongest reaction of the evening, its sing-a-long chorus making it arguably the most immediate moment on the album. Elsewhere there was the occasional lull in intensity, but as an aspiring writer, it is inspiring to see lyrics so introverted and with such subtle but relatable references. His stories carry the same significance as lyrics from Mike Skinner but communicated with less command, he is reserved and withdrawn but no less passionate.
The other well received tracks on the night were from Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam such as ‘Survive It’ where he breaks into a sort of pessimistic hip-hop. Its references to Gill Scott Heron are bolstered by a favourite lyric; “Been shown the door cause they talking 'bout cut backs. And you think what next, left or the right”, showing Ghostpoet’s writing style is both culturally and politically awake.
Finishing with ‘Us Against Whatever’ and repeating the lyrics “I aint been paid and I ain’t Got A lot”, in an era of low paid work it certainly struck a cord with the crowd, unifying those present via an optimistic crescendo to end the evening, whilst remaining true to real life in Modern Britain.
Gesturing to the room to make noise on a number of occasions and rousing those who were sat at the back of the room, the set was ultimately victorious and ended robustly, the band laughed and looked to be enjoying themselves all night. Consisting of a live drummer, a bass player and keys / vocalist, we witnessed a great deal of loops and echoes as the soft purple lighting shrouded the band and venue.
His live shows and his music are an entry into the diary of a man who is still perfecting his performance art. And after this tantalising glimpse, we’re sure there could be a lot more in the way of interesting work in the future from the man currently known as Ghostpoet.