Live Report: Tems – eventim Apollo, London

A celebratory evening with a sublime talent...

Giving fans a grand total of four days to learn the lyrics of an eighteen track album may backfire for some, but not for Nigerian R&B star Tems. Celebrating her twenty-ninth birthday, at a sold out show on the very night she kicked off her six-month world tour for her debut album ‘Born In The Wild’? There are worse ways to spend the last birthday of your twenties.

A vision in red as she swayed along the grass fields on stage, there was no doubt that we were witnessing a graceful victory lap. Having taken her time, building her craft and honing her sound enough to offer a mixed palette on her debut (entirely and solely written by her) – she fearlessly floats, from  baile-funk inspired in ‘Wickedest’, the afro-piano ‘Get It Right’ featuring Asake to hip-hop anthem inspired ‘T-Unit’. 

From coming on as a ‘new girl on the scene’ within the (then) fringe Nigerian alté community into a bona-fide superstar, Tems’ gradual ascent over the course of four years has coincided with the domination of African music,  but she’s far from riding a wave. Instead, she effortlessly blends her Nigerian heritage with nods to her predecessors that have laid the groundwork (‘Love Me Jeje’ contains a sample of 90s Afrobeats favourite of the same name by Nigerian artist Seyi Sodimu) with her own forward-facing songwriting and production (assisted by contemporaries GuiltyBeatz, London, Sarz, DAMEDAME* and Spax, all of whom are already making waves from the continent and beyond in their own right).

Building a cult following of Rebels who came out en masse (some even attending both nights of performances), her sold-out run at the eventim Apollo is a far cry from her last headline show in the city, which was two sold out nights in the 600-cap Lafayette. 

But her elevation on stage is simply a reflection of her growth as an artist, biding her time and building her foundation into a superstar. Whether she’s lending a feature to Wizkid on arguably one of the biggest tracks to come out of the continent in ‘Essence’ or lending her skills as a producer on the Black Panther soundtrack, Tems has kept herself busy over the past six years since the release of her debut single ‘Mr Rebel’ in 2018. The clarity of voice (both literal and metaphorical) and confidence she’s built up over the years has translated into her songwriting, production and performance – ‘Born In The Wild’ is as much a reintroduction to those tuned in from the beginning as it is a new chapter for those who have discovered her through her feature on ‘Essence’ or the Wakanda Forever soundtrack.

Her headline show was a celebration in many ways, not only of her accomplishments but of the growth of her and her fans, from a shy, introspective teenager growing up in Lagos who used to find solace in music, to a powerful woman and artist whose life changed when she took the leap and quit her 9-5 to pursue a career in music. 

Not a single detail was spared at the eventim Apollo, with set production mirroring the jungle theme down to blades of tall grass covering the stage floor. Opening  with the defiant Diana King interpolating ‘Gangsta’ before moving swiftly on to the Premier Gaou-sampling, self-assured ‘Wickedest’, there was no doubt that Tems was not going to let nostalgia swallow up her victory, and fans were already singing the lyrics back to her. By the time the title track was on, Tems took a breather and an on-screen montage documenting the album process was played, giving us a rare glimpse into the mystery behind the private woman. Effortlessly weaving in and out of her catalogue and her new album material, by the time she sang the anthemic ‘Love Me Jeje’, the call-and-response was almost deafening and the party had truly started. By the show’s tailend,the setlist rewarded nostalgic fans with  crowd favourites ‘Essence’, ‘Me and U’ and ‘Free Mind’ before closing on ‘Higher’. In between, her team carried a birthday cake on stage, celebrating her twenty-ninth birthday to her blushes.

Although born by candlelight, Tems is her own current – electrifying, spellbinding and intriguing in her songwriting and production. Refusing to be boxed into any expectations audiences might have her world-class run over the past couple of years. Instead, she pours into her craft, pouring equal parts vulnerability and defiance into both her debut and the performances on its accompanying tour.

Words: Rahel Aklilu
Photo Credit: Daphne Nguyen

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