Nia Ekanem is an upcoming British soul singer, with his first single release at the beginning of only this year. Describing his style as soul with acoustic soft folk, Nia has been praised by BBC 1Xtra, Clash Music, The Beat London, SoulBounce and the Unsigned Music Awards, just to name a few.
The evening was presented by Soul Sessions. An events company started in 2015, Soul Sessions provide opportunities to young people to showcase their talent with open mic nights and networking in and around London.
Hackney Attic, situated on the 5th floor of Hackney Picture House, is a floor dedicated to local art events, as well as the music, there are also art evenings and film festivals taking place at Hackney Attic. For the two years Soul Sessions has been running, I’m told this has been one of the best turn outs ever, for Nia and his friends.
The evening began with Nia’s varying group of support acts, first up was the talented Daya Soul. With only her guitarist and her voice, Daya had the whole crowd silent in awe within two notes – a classic sweet soul voice, a bit Lianne La Havas and and a glowing smile.
Next on stage, added last minute, a small girl, Cizziah, who spoke two poems, about the two sides of love, both flowing flawlessly.
Then we watch one of Nia’s close friends, Nego True, rap that switches perhaps to a poetry performance, touching on subjects of love, hate, a father who isn’t around, and a sister who’ll never have to worry about missing a father figure. If I had any reservations about experiencing poetry outside the comfort of my own room, that has changed.
As for the headliner himself, Nia comes on stage slightly hunched, smiling wide, almost hesitant to see us all. Nia talks to the crowd, saying it’s crazy how much support and love he has received and using Snapchat for the first awkward time to capture the crowd, he slowly sheds his nervousness.
Nia launches into his single, “It’s Your Love“, which was released in March, most of the crowd knows it straight away. Nia’s strong slightly raspy soul voice is a bit of Michael Kiwanuka and Charles Bradley, rough and smooth. He performs with his whole being, eyes screwed shut in feeling and doesn’t miss a note. Nia makes the crowd sing it with him, till we’re all harmonising loudly and hes beaming from the mic stand.
The band consists of drums, bass, guitar and violin, and Nia’s backing vocals is provided by a talented girl whose microphone is right next to his, not near the back. The next song performed, “Changes” is a soulful ballad praying for change, with Nia giving the lyrics good emotive impact, it’s inspiring rather than sad. A similar feel with his next song “Home“, where the violinist shines, “Home” is upbeat and gets a few on their feet.
Then the band are joined by a saxophone player who fills the room with an upbeat improv jam. Then Nia moves to the next and last song he’ll perform, an old fan-favourite titled “The Good Old Times”, an uplifting performance. Repeating the title of the song through the chorus about thinking about those past good times. Probably the favourite of the new songs performed.
Nia and the band smash some covers to end, we get a soulful “Mrs Jackson”, getting the crowd hype, shouting the lyrics back at him, and then Nia and his gorgeous back up singer mash “Redbone” and “Cranes In The Sky” together and we’re all completely lost to the talent.
In two years, this is the first time the whole crowd has stood up at the end of a set at Soul Sessions according to our evening’s host who looks happy and flustered. I look forward to Nia Ekanem’s EP release on July 21, keep tabs on his Twitter and Instagram, for more information, and be sure to check out events at the Hackney Attic, and the next Soul Session.
Words by Melissa Davis