Tonight, at the Royal Festival Hall, Ghostpoet mumbles, shuffles, self-depreciates at a rate of knots, like a boy with a girl or the modest at thoughts of the future. That’s not to say, though, that Ghostpoet is undramatic.
Obaro Ejimiwe has fun with the mic, fanning it as though too hot to hold. Where it shies on the record, his voice swaggers with a road-hardened liveness. Ghostpoet’s jumpy, strong band echoes him, all plainly-spoken bass and fretful, skilful snares. The synths may sometimes sound like something you’d hear in a supermarket, but powerful conversations are had in confined spaces. You just have to listen. And it’s that ordinariness Ghostpoet does so well and so personally.
Ejimiwe isn’t interested in “happy-slaps and ‘how big’s your gat?’ and all that crap.” Other MCs may want to talk about crime, but Ghostpoet wants to talk about life. He’s there for everyone who’s watched MasterChef alone. Where Ghostface Killah uses the supernatural as a power thing, Ghostpoet is about a physical absence. In ‘Run Run Run’ he plans to “run away, be a real mind and fight another day” because he heard the TV say he should. The confrontation comes in justifying the avoidance of confrontation. Ejimiwe repeats “right” so many times that a single word becomes thought, assertion, question, celebration.
You’re meant to sit down in the Festival Hall. But that’s not why we’re here. The beautiful ‘Survive It’ – slow, sad on the CD – is taken at speed. Its shift to bigger bass and drums halfway is so simple and so effective that people start standing. Then, remarkably, a new song makes the place erupt. It’s accompanied by the horn section of Orchestrate, adding stabs to an afrobeat guitar part that lift the mood, even if the lyrics are still about loneliness, figures by fires, by windows. Ghostpoet is widening his horizons around these isolated people, and the crowd love it.
‘Garden Path’s title suggests his swagger is conning us even as samples of birdsong hang onto the peace and breath of a garden, a route. The audience waits for the last bird before cheering. This is where Ghostpoet catches his audience, where over-ordinary things become new and powerful. A choir remakes ‘Us Against Whatever Ever’ into an a capella wonder, complete with the slightly dorky sound of ten-odd singers making record-scratching noises. In such a context, lines like “I love you like chicken strips and biscuits and lemonade” do more than charm. They stop the heart.
Ghostpoet keeps thanking us, like he should be alone here. He shouldn’t be.
Words by Freddy Syborn
Photos by Olivia Ford