Monday, 25 January 2010

Jazz on the Hill Robin Thicke in The Champagne Room

So remember I said I would review the second jazz event I went to, Jazz on the Hill featuring Robin Thicke? Well, it turns out I don't have much to say, but I made the commitment, so I aim to follow through. It also turns out that the performer who struck me the most was the much-hyped and anticipated Robin Thicke, but not for the reasons you'd expect. It seems I live quite a Bizarro existence, because the Nation covered this event, and mentioned that the crowd was apathetic to the first act, warmed up a bit by the second, and was all in and ebullient over the third. For me, the reverse was true. BwaKoré, the first band to take the stage, impressed me considerably, and I could barely understand a word they were singing. (Of course, the latter could also be said of Robin Thicke, but with far less favourable results.)

BwaKore's music is beautifully multi-layered and delightfully hard to describe. To my ear, and by 'my' I mean someone who does not even pretend to be an expert on French Caribbean music, it sounds like a fusion of Martiniquan biguine, zouk and jazz: the bold, clear Creole vocals typical of zouk; the rhythmic brass and drum combo of biguine bélè, and the smooth bass and sax improvisations of jazz. What all this amounts to is a festival on stage you so wish you were a part of, you (and by 'you' I mean I) start to clap and mumble along with very little shame about the fact that you neither know nor understand the words. The vocals of lead singer Max Télèphe are truly something to experience. I have now purposed to listen to all their music, and to see BwaKoré live at least once more in my lifetime.

If, as the Nation's review suggests, the audience was a bit apathetic to this band, it could possibly have had something to do with the language, although quite honestly, their sound is so fresh and complete, understanding the lyrics is not essential to its enjoyment. It could also have had something to do with the fact that there was no prep for the featured acts. In the early days of the jazz festival, the producers took great pains to showcase young, local talent as openers for the headliners. It gave young talent a chance to perform before a large crowd and us a chance to get acquainted with our musicians, but it also gave the foreign acts a bit of a buffer - a set of ambassadors, if you like - who would introduce them and give them credibility with an audience who might be less than receptive. Now, acts are made to start cold, with just a standard, uninspired emcee's intro to launch them. Throw in the language barrier, and it's a daunting task. But be all that as it may, there was nothing that BwaKoré could have done better. I can't wait to have them back for the next show. Perhaps by that time, the jazz festival promoters will have been clued in to the notion that eschewing local acts in the interest of saving money (?) does not foster goodwill among your local music fraternity or among your audience, who are made to listen to inappropriate DJ selections where young musicians playing live to fill gaps in stage action would have made much more sense.

I'm afraid I can't say much about the second act, jazz keyboardist Lao Tizer and his band, except that their violinist Karen Briggs is an exceptional soloist, but apart from that, the contemporary, keyboard-led sound, though obviously well-executed, is perhaps not my favourite brand of live music. I felt a bit like an uninvited guest at a closed jam session, which, who knows, may have been what they were going for, but I couldn't quite get on board.

After some more puzzling DJ selections and some just adequate (if that) emceeing, Robin Thicke took the stage amid - speaking of puzzling - women's frenzied screams. Seriously, I did not understand what was occurring, and I want to relate this next part as quickly as I can because just thinking about it again makes me slightly ill with embarrassment. So the host announces Robin Thicke with the tackiest Thick(e) joke (yes, I can in fact mean what you think I mean, and I do) you can imagine, women run screaming from the hills to the stage, and out shuffles Robin Thicke in the tightest black pants you've ever winced at, a black shirt unbuttoned to mid-stomach revealing some kind of necklace, and dark sunglasses. The whole mood was very Ed Hardy. So Thicke takes the mic; it's on the stand so what is he to do but angle his body suggestively around it? And I'm sure he does an intro but it's all drowned out by screaming women who seem not at all bothered that there's a Chippendales show going on at the Jazz Festival. The first song I make out is something that seems to be called (Amazon now tells me) Shakin it 4 Daddy. ([Explicit] in brackets. No kidding.) The song is so pedestrian, it's like something from a Justin Timberlake SNL sketch.

To wit:
Cause she shakin it for daddy
(yeah) she shakin it for me
She shakin it for daddy (yeah)
She Shakin it for me
She liftin up ha ass
And she drop it ta the beat
She shakin it so fast for the cash ching-a-ling
She ready
And she lookin for a bankroll
She move it round and round like a merry-go
She be like i be i be i be on that money shit


And then this other girl grabbed me and she whispered in my ear
She said this other girl aint doin shit its crackin over here
She put my hand on her booty and the jiggle made me woozy
Now we bout ta make a movie
In the club goin' stupid

You jazz musicians think you have angst? You don't know what angst is until you've had to choose between two strippers. In the club. Goin'...stupid.

All the while, Robin, whose pants are too tight for survival, is engaged in this hilarious Cool Guy Shimmy the likes of which I've never seen before. He cannot dance. And while this particular song is no Hallelujah, you can tell he can't really sing either. His vocals are breathless and thin. He's strongest on falsetto, and trust me, that is no compliment. There are other cheesy songs about him being The Sex and all the ladies wanting It, all of which I'm assuming are from this last, cleverly-titled Sex Therapy album, and on he shimmies.

His backup singers are behind him, two women also in their tightest black and biggest hair, performing old Supremes two-steps not nearly as well as the Supremes did. Nothing about this act's sound or look is modern. It's as if Robin Thicke hasn't had, seen or read about sex since the early 90s, which would be fine, if only he could sing.

By the time the laughter and puzzlement fades among my friends, we've all started moving towards the exits, and Thicke decides to abandon the hilarity and stick with what works (although clearly the bachelorette party act worked for just about everyone but us). He performed Lost Without You, which was much better, and a few others from The Evolution of Robin Thicke. By then, we were over it. And as we left the park still chuckling, Thicke announced that he had run over time and the authorities were shutting down the show, which was possibly the most welcome thing he had uttered all evening.


  1. Marsha,
    I have been a secret ' not-getting-the-Robin Thicke-hype' person for the last few years. Although I have not seen him perform live , I have seen a few televised 'live' performances and have ALWAYS been underwhelmed. I just didn't get it ! However, I kept my 'non-music-expert' opinions to my self and even invested in the Evolution CD ( solely for Lost Without You) . I have since deleted all but 2 songs from that album from my ipod .
    THANK YOU for setting me free. I was starting to doubt my 'coolness' ( ahem)
    Chan x

  2. Hey, lighten up. I was there and Thicke was great.. I enjoyed the tight pants, at least his pants were down around his bum. He's a lot of fun and doesn't take himself so seriously. His latest album is his tribute to the hip hop of his youth, so yeah, it's a bit throwback but like I said, fun. And I was screaming because he's sexy.

  3. Felicia,

    It always amuses me when people bring the 'lighten up' argument. i.e. "You didn't like the cheesy writhing around? You must have no sense of humour!" How about: the man was not entertaining. There's also that possibility. I read that the last album was meant to be 'throwback', but there's a way to do throwback that still produces good music. And Felicia, his performance at jazz was not that way.

    But hey, clearly you were his target demographic, and you had a blast. So, you know, congrats on that.

    @ Chantal: you're welcome. I accept payment in new D'angelo or Sade albums, speaking of the proper way to do sexy.

  4. Okkkkk.

    First Marsha - well written. I enjoyed your article WAY more than Robin Thicke on the hill.

    RT first came through the label I worked on in London - and in about 2000 he was hot and ready to roll...quite cool, looked like Jesus and had some really soulful records. I was excited.

    Fast forward a decade - within which he finally broke to a mainstream audience and I note that he's had to BECOME sexy in order to appeal to his target audience of women. A type of Justin Timberlake No. 2.

    He's a good looking guy and that - but how he was on Saturday was so UNsexy mannnnn.

    It felt almost like a spoof of someone doing Robin Thicke was my feeling.

    I also agree on the set up not being one that really gave the non-brand name performers a good platform from which to launch/start...

    So all in all - what you said!

  5. Yeah I was there as well, and astonishingly (for the screaming ladies behind me) I knew nothing of this Mr Thicke character 'shimmying' as you say, and falsetto-ing in his tight black pants... and maaaaaaan he was mediocre at best.

    I actually forced myself to squeeze through the screaming throng to get closer to the stage to see 'how cute could he really be?' but I just couldn't get passed the weak performance (or the throng) and gave up in the end.

    I was in fact there to see Bwakore whom I discovered several years ago on a trip to Guadeloupe, and I, like you Mongoose, promised (vowed) that I would see them perform live sometime in my life. If you like music (if you loved Robin Thicke's performance on the Hill, not you) their album Sa Ki Ta-w is a must have.

    Shame the promoters of the show either seemed to know nothing about them at all - or just didn't care.


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