The Silhouettes Project Are Making Space For New Voices

Behind the scenes at the collective's London show...

Even from just spending a few minutes sitting in on the rehearsals with The Silhouettes Project – in anticipation of their sold-out, headline return show at the Jazz Cafe – their ethos and the spirit of their music seem instantly recognizable. Conceived in 2019 as a new platform and space for up-and-coming hip-hop, soul, and jazz artists to connect and create, The Silhouettes Project released a number of singles that culminated in their self-titled debut LP in late 2020 which featured over 30 collaborators and included some of London’s foremost underground rappers and singers, including ENNY, Lex Amor, and Kofi Stone. Dubbed as an underground community project and collective, the project gained loads of hype over the lockdowns but never got quite the proper headline gig it deserved.

Despite the community spirit and ethos of the group, putting together a project of this size and ambition with so many collaborators in tow still required plenty of oversight. It’s clear that executive producers Asher Korner and Jaden Osei-Bonsu (who also rap as Asher Kosher and Eerf Evil, respectively) were the guiding spirits throughout the project’s inception and creation, with like-minded goals and an infectious enthusiasm for what they were putting together, plus the energy and nuts-and-bolts logistical know-how to match.

In the rehearsal period before the return show, the pair seem jubilant with seeing the Silhouettes finally coming together after so much time apart, and hearing the album carefully reworked by a full live band with all the rappers and singers involved. The rehearsals for the return gig were a long process (with so many collaborators to get through) but everyone was in high spirits. Occasionally, during break periods, the band would switch up instruments and players would toy with a new fill or a few chords that they were working on. When something sounded particularly good, the whole room would shout and holler in support. It seemed like the best possible ideal of what collaborative music making might look like, and was reflective of the creativity used for the project’s creation back in 2019.

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As Eerf Evil explains about their process: “It was all about relationships, you know? People knew where our hearts were at, so when we were reaching out to people in our network, saying it would be great to get you involved, it all came together. You can’t sleep on that, really – that’s the power of unity.”

Asher continues (the pair tend to finish each other's sentences):

“Really, it was also the idea of it, this collaboration and sharing; the fact that we love it ourselves – that’s something that others can buy into. It’s not like there was some big label or production house coming in like can you do this project for us; it was all ground up. People aren’t stupid, they want to have a nice time with other people that they care about, the people they came up with; the people that they share a vision with.”

Having the actual physical space for free-flowing collaboration and musical exchanges also played a big role. Much of the album’s 15 songs originated from weekly live jams, open-mics and production sessions that took place throughout 2019 at Root 73 studio, which is carefully nestled within the Total Refreshment Centre, the famous hotbed of London’s most open-minded and collaborative musicians.

As Total Refreshment Centre itself soon celebrates its 10th anniversary, and with the studio space having become something of a spiritual home to many of the UK’s most celebrated bandleaders of the last few years (such as Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd, and Emma-Jean Thackray); it makes the importance of collaborative spaces and free-spirited sharing seem self-evident. Still, Eerf Evil laments that there aren’t more such spaces and community-minded projects around the city and up and down the country.

“You know, so often brands try to come in and replicate this, what we’re doing with this space… But when it’s real, you can’t fake it. Why is it so hard to create spaces for people to come together and create? It’s such a simple idea, but I think the industry makes it way more complex than it needs to be. People tend to get in the way. I mean… just imagine we had more spaces like this?”  

It’s a sentiment that’s often echoed across the capital, in all sorts of scenes, and has been documented in-depth by Journalists like Emma Warren (who wrote a book about Total Refreshment Centre as a model for collaborative spaces) and Haseeb Iqbal (whose book Noting Voices speaks at length about London’s recent wave of live musical collaborations, which tend to be uniquely free-flowing and open-minded). The Total Refreshment Centre building itself was so important to the Silhouettes Project that it features prominently in the album’s unique artwork and vinyl packaging, designed by Colombian artist and illustrator SagaUno, alongside allusions to rising forces of police brutality, gentrification, and urban neglect.

The project’s debut LP was released in late 2020. “The word community gets thrown around a lot, but actual space is so important; and a place with relatively free access and facilities is actually pretty rare,” Asher adds. COVID also posed a significant challenge, as much of the Silhouettes Project’s music was released straight into the depths of lockdown and isolation without any live gigs supporting it, and the pandemic’s forced separation was antithetical to the Silhouettes Project’s ideal of artists sharing and collaborating in close proximity. 

But it may also have been a blessing in disguise, as the album racked up tons of streams and attention as listeners holed away and needed something a bit more conscious, jazzy and soulful to turn to. Collaborators like South-East London based ENNY, a rising star who got her start with the Project, also blew up and quickly gathered co-signs from heavyweights like Jorja Smith.

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With all this pent up energy, the ensuing headline show at Jazz Cafe (the first time the album was to be performed in full with a live band) was all but sure to be a success. From the off, everyone from the bar staff to the early birds were having a vibe, as a warm-up DJ played 90s and 2000s classics in the early hours as the room filled. Where one might have expected all the artists to be holed up in the dressing room, Eerf Evil was instead hanging by the entrance doors, handing out raffle tickets for a merch giveaway and dapping up everyone who came in, old friends and new introductions alike. Tickets had been sold out for weeks.

When the live band finally took the stage, the anticipation was palpable, as Eerf Evil and Asher told the story behind the project’s inception and warmed up the audience. Between each track, the duo also introduce the incoming MCs and singers, many of which seemed to have already become fan favorites based on enthusiastic reactions from the crowd. Everyone’s performance is filled with energy and joy, but the women of the project particularly shine – ENNY is a clear star-in-the-making, seeming cool and comfortable on stage in her ode to her native south London 'The South', and newcomers Stephanie Santiago on 'The Process' and Elisa Imperilee on 'Closer' both provide some of the most soulful parts of the evening.

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The instrumentalists themselves also shine; skillfully managing to turn an LP filled with more laidback songs like 'Free Your Mind' (featuring rappers Summers Son, Majical, and Slim.) into live, energetic cuts worthy of the stage. The Silhouettes Project also had a few tricks up their sleeve; just as the show seemed to be coming to an end with the album’s closing song, the band flipped to double time renditions of anthems ranging from Lauryn Hill to Skepta’s 'Konnichiwa', as everyone piled on stage and all the rappers traded freestyles, the crowd dancing along.

Finally, Eerf and Asher get on the mic, wishing everyone well and promising plenty more music in the pipeline; including a whole new project due in September, which seems eagerly anticipated. In the meantime, though?

“Loads of festivals!” Asher laughs.

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Words: Louis Torracinta
Photography: Lauren Luxenburg, Caitlin Molly

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