According to her social media bio, Kadhja Bonet was born around a decade after The Castle Hotel came into being as a public house over two hundred years ago. Situated on Oldham Street in Manchester’s vibrant Northern Quarter, the venue is a big part of the city’s rich music scene, particularly since its 2010 restoration. The Castle is also famous for an interview conducted by the legendary DJ John Peel with Ian Curtis of Joy Division, further cementing its place in the musical history of the city.
Embarking on her first European tour after the re-release of her debut mini-album The Visitor last year, Kadhja Bonet was tipped to be among 2017’s “ones to watch” by a number of music publications, with The Guardian and GIGsoup included in that list. Monday’s sold out show at The Castle Hotel only served to confirmed that the San Francisco-born multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, producer and arranger is one of the most unique talents to appear in recent years.
Her studio material contains a seamless blend of styles including classic soul, orchestral pop, jazz, folk, funk, R&B, psychedelia and electronica, all tied together by her spellbinding vocals. However, still being relatively early days in her career as a solo artist, it hasn’t yet been possible to re-create the fuller arrangements heard on several of her tracks in a live setting.
With barely space for more than 100 people at The Castle, it’s probably just as well that she didn’t bring turn up with a chamber orchestra in tow because there wouldn’t have been room for them on the tiny stage. Instead, Kadhja Bonet treated those lucky enough to attend this very intimate show to something a little more stripped back, playing with a conventional four-piece band which included the multi-instrumentalist Grammy nominated engineer and producer Itai Shapria on guitar, keys and backing vocals.
Opening the set with perhaps her most well known track, the celestial soul of ‘Honeycomb’ perfectly set the tone for the evening. Playing a mix of songs from her debut (‘Fairweather Friend’ and ‘Portrait of Tracy’), alongside non-album singles (‘Tears For Lamont’ and ‘This Love’), as well as some yet to be released material (‘Free Girl’ and ‘Delphine’), the stripped-back approach to many of her more elaborately arranged tracks worked superbly. ‘The Visitor’ being most notable among these, with two guitars doing a brilliant job of filling in for the lush strings of the original version.
Aside from some of the brilliantly subtle musicianship, the star attraction was always going to be the spellbinding vocals of Kadhja Bonet. It’s a voice that would be capable of stunning even Donald Trump into silence, with the two tracks which close her debut standing out the most. The delicately played ‘Nobody Other’ allowed her sweet falsetto to stage centre stage, while ‘Francisco’ was also something to behold. A cover of a Milton Nascimento track, originally written in 1976, her rising and falling wordless vocals were utterly mesmerising.
Likened to Minnie Ripperton and Roberta Flack, as well as Julia Holter and Haitus Kaiyote, none of those comparisons quite fit even if you can sort of see what they’re getting at. There’s just something so original and organic about her music, simultaneously managing to sound like she’s from both the past and the future. Anderson Paak perhaps said it best, describing her music as “the real shit”. With an new album believed to be in the works, we’ll no doubt be hearing more from Kadhja Bonet later in the year.