In what feels like a blink of an eye, Pow Negro have emerged to become one of WA’s best and most talked about musical acts. Described as “neo-psychedelic hip hop,” the Fremantle sextet made a lasting impression in 2016 – taking out The Big Splash, picking up two WAM Awards (Best Live Act, Best New Act) and more recently joining big festival lineups such as the Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF), Grooving the Moo (GTM) and In The Pines.
The announcement of an eagerly anticipated EP has so far delivered us two singles, “Hidle Ho” and now “Money for Portraits”. Hot off the mixing desk of legendary producer David Kennedy who has worked on the latest A Tribe Called Quest record, Money For Portraits is an airtight and riffy taste of the band’s nimble rap, rock and funk hybridity. With the launch last Friday, Pow Negro appeared at Fremantle Arts Centre with Ziggy Ramo and Henry Kissinger in tow for a predictably loose launch show.
The opening act of the evening came in the form of producer Henry Kissinger. Known as a seasoned keyboardist, touring member of Mosquito Coast and purveyor of mellow electronica, Henry Kissenger gets his namesake from Richard Nixon’s controversial secretary of state. The young beatsmith, sporting a mane of thick brown hair and beard, emerged to treat the growing audience to a selection live loops of vibrant percussion, fluid synth and increasingly thumping bass lines as excitement grew for the headliners.
The main support for the night came from upcoming Indigenous Hip Hop artist Ziggy Ramo, joined by his five piece live band. Already known for his conscientious, Golden-Age brand of hip-hop, thematically tackling the injustice faced by Australia’s Aboriginal people, his high octane live shows already have him labeled him as an artist to watch in 2017. Exploding into the set with pounding drums from talented timekeeper and collaborating producer JCAL, Ziggy powered his bold message into the crowd with a fierce, unapologetic attitude, with songs like ‘Black Thoughts’ and ‘White Lies’ causing no confusion in their meaning. Ziggy Ramo is an artist who wants equality and respect for his people and recognition for the crimes committed by our white forefathers. Evidently a purist hip-hop show, the drummer, bassist, guitarist and keyboardist threw down beat after beat, one featuring a live collaboration with 15 year old guest MC Marley and Ziggy frequently breaking down into wild, extended freestyles. A fittingly compelling performance for the evening, Ziggy Ramo delivered his message to the now heaving crowd, crushing any doubts as to why he is an artist we will be hearing plenty more about in the future.
As the lights went down for the headliner, the audience’s growing excitement was tangible. A lonesome guitar began ambient strumming and swelling lights illuminated the six humble disciples of Pow! Negro; a pumping riff immediately illuminates the space, as the packed crowd are dealt a merciless wall of sound.
Lead singer and MC Nelson Mondlane commands a primitive, vicious energy on stage. His limbs lash out to every hit and stop in the relentless energy of the groups sound. Often compared to Rage Against The Machine’s Zac De La Rocha for his rabid live charisma, Mondlane’s vocal style bears more likeness to the witty, razor sharp spitting of Kendrick Lamar and the manic and erratic and raucous delivery of Wu Tang’s Ole Dirty Bastard. Flailing his long limbs and thrashing his tuft of natty hair the performer switches between singing, rhyming and brutish yells, surrendering his whole body to the music.
Elsewhere, the duelling guitarists complemented the airtight rhythm section, revitalised with the unexpected element of an electrifying saxophone player in Kaprou Lea. The horn player growls and wheezes through solos breathing a totally unexpected element into what is largely a prog-funk outfit. The prog influences shine through in the sharp, syncopated riffs that implode into breakdowns of dreamy, spacey psychedelia.
The final song of the evening is ‘Money for Portraits’. The group venture into so many realms of musical genre its difficult to encapsulate the groups collective sound on paper; this is especially mind-boggling with many of the band members changing instruments throughout the set. Complex and unpredictable, ‘Money For Portraits’ has the journeying versatility of a good Gorillaz song. Held together by a punchy guitar riff and encompassing themes of the groups battle with pressure on their image resulting from their metric rise to notoriety, the song ducks and weaves through their sparse musical influences. The soulful vocals of their drummer Rhys Hussey ring out in the hook, immediately slipping into a smooth hip-hop verse and climaxing in a freestyle saxophone solo reminiscent of the growing and sensual saxophone sounds of recent Kendrick Lamar records.
Pow! Negro delivered a show so deliberate and forceful it’s extremely exciting to ponder where their music will take them. Stunning lights and flawless live sound complementing the beastly performance on stage, making for an extremely polished and memorable production. The audience in attendance could be sure that Pow! Negro have cemented their place in the State’s newest premier musical groups and their forthcoming EP is certainly something to look forward to. At this point, there’s plenty to vibe to in ‘Money For Portraits’ as we wait for the six humble disciples to make their next move.