PROTOJE LIVE @ THE 02 SHEPHERDS BUSH EMPIRE, LONDON, ENGLAND
Former BBC Television Centre and iconic Grade II Listed building – The O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, was the ideal setting to host Protoje and his protege Sevana for the last show of their spectacularly successful ‘BLXXDCLXXT’ tour in the UK.
Located in the culturally diverse borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, it’s worth mentioning that rock legends such as the late David Bowie and The Rolling Stones have also played to audiences on its legendary stage. So why not Jamaica’s very own legend in the making?
The venue which has a capacity of 2,000, recently underwent major refurbishment and the acoustics benefitted from this upgrade too. So this would undoubtedly have a positive impact on the listening experience.
I arrived at the venue at around 7pm & thankfully, unlike the last time I saw Protoje on stage at David Rodigans ‘Ram Jam’ in 2015 – this show started on schedule.
Inside, Becca Dudley was first up on stage building up the vibes with a selection of reggae and dancehall tracks (DeadlyLDN / MTV UK / Deadly Radio 3 ).
Dressed appropriately in a bright red Adidas tracksuit, the tiny Becca D held her own on the huge stage for around an hour in front of a growing and lively audience.
Next up was the soulful and stunningly beautiful vocalist – Sevana. Sevana released her self titled six track EP ( Indiggnation / Overstand Entertainment) almost a year ago in July of 2016 so I was really looking forward to seeing how she translated the energy of those tracks to the patrons in the now packed venue.
Sevana was greeted by a warm and enthusiastic reception from the crowd as she stepped on to the stage so naturally – as if it was what she was born to do.
As a fan of the music, it can be a real struggle to separate work from pleasure especially when there is an artiste as captivating in persona and vocals as Sevana commanding the venue. So when she invited us into a call and response for ‘Chant it ‘ I had to put down my gear and join in the collective chorus when she said:
“I’m gonna ask you to say two things, just two things: Chant and It”
But for me, the standout track for the evening and my own personal favourite was the Protoje / Winta James produced track ‘Carry You’ which she reminded the audience was written in honour of her younger brother.
“Won’t have to say how far I’ll go / all I will do is just show you / don’t worry, I’ll carry you on my shoulder / I will be your soldier /
Sevana revealed a deep rooted vulnerability and sensitivity in this song and in the way she performed it and I have to admit – I once again had to pause for a while from photographing and absorb the moment.
Her soulful set lasted for around half an hour and had to make way for BBC Radio 1 Xtra DJ – Seani B and his legendary bashment party vibes.
“Do you know where the music comes from? If you have a love and respect for Jamaica – lemme see you put your hands in the airrr…”
Selecting vintage tracks from Bob Marley to lovers rock by Dennis Brown (big up his daughter Marla B who was rocking out in the audience) all the way through to Buju Banton Chronixx and Jr Gong – the man had the crowd dancing on their feet and belting out lyric after lyric to each song. It was a vibe.
Like clockwork, the set lasted for just about half an hour and by the now the crowd were hyped for the arrival for the headline act, the man himself – Protoje aka Diggy British.
“I’ve been told -Protoje is five minutes away from getting on this stage…!”
Seani B’s announcement sent the crowd into a frenzy of excitement as the stage crew hurriedly cleared away the decks and table from the stage.
There was such a buildup of tension, as press and fans searched the stage to catch the first glimpse of whether Diggy would enter from the left or right. I have a little trick that has never failed me that lets me know where an artiste will appear from. But hey – it’s a secret – no telling!
As I expected – Protoje burst from the right of the stage like a volcanic eruption and the fans erupted along with him. The lighting was spectacular – drenching him in bright red.
From top to toe Proto was dripping in what I believe is his signature style: cap, glasses, trenchcoat and desert boots (Clarks maybe – I’m not sure. Wasn’t THAT close!)
Bouncing around the stage with the dynamic energy and genuine engagement with his band, Proto slowed it down and took us on a meditative journey reinforcing his faith with the now familiar chant from Eight Year Affair:
With a catalogue spanning from his first album Ancient Future right up to his recent EP Royalty Free, Diggy pulled out hit after hit and the fans sang along word for word to every single track.
Surprise of the evening was when he brought Sevana back on stage which drove the crowd into a frenzy especially when they sang ‘Sudden Flight’ off of Ancient Future.
Unfortunately due to very strict venue restrictions, no more photography was allowed after three songs; press had to clear the pit and all my camera gear had to be confiscated until after the show was done. But you know – rules are rules and we have to respect them if we accept them.
On a positive note, I was able to join in the audience and take in the clean, sharp vocals from Protoje’s newest signing – the freckle faced fireball that is Lila Ike or Lil’ AK as I like to call her. Because she can fire off lyrics like a real machine gun trust me.
Think Leno Banton, Royal Blu, Blvk H3r0 when you think of vocalists like Lila. Young, fresh and energetic with a strong retro dancehall and hip-hop influence.
Fans of Lila will be familiar with her tracks like ‘Sensimelia’ or the Foresta (German music producer) produced track ‘Believe’ which is a stunning duet with another young and talented artiste – Royal Blu. whom I mentioned earlier.
Incidentally, it is also the first track from his upcoming EP which he is working on with that same producer. And of course Lila Ike also featured on ‘Flight Plans’ off the ‘Royalty Free’ EP.
However, it was all about promoting Ike’s new track – ‘Biggest Fan’ – a heartfelt, but not soppy ode to her mother which she sang with the energy and gusto that I have to come to expect.
In true modern day fashion, I finished watching the show on Instagram Live while I was on the train as I had to cut around 10pm. For me – this really showed the depth of thought placed into connecting the socials and therefore making this one of the most inclusive reggae events I have ever attended.
Because of this, I was able to catch him introducing his new track ‘Blood Money’ – a politically charged social commentary on the oppression faced by the majority of Jamaican people and a call to action against insidious political and corporate corruption and a police force which has a tarnished reputation for acting without impunity.
“Police cancel operation / ‘cause nuh real bad man nuh go a station / Now if you check the situation / a blood money run the nation / come take a look inna Jamaica / injustice in the place now / if what you see nuh really faze yuh / then you a the problem whe’ we face to…”
Morgan Heritage who have also been touring the UK, were also in the house. Diggy called Peetah Morgan on stage for an impromptu duet on ‘England Be Wise ‘ which saw everyone – artistes and audience jumping and dancing in delight.
Proto really pulled this show out of the bag and it was a joy to see all the creative connects on the stage which really resonated with his ever growing and loyal fanbase.
We wish him and his team all the best as they continue on to Jamaica and then on to another tour of the United States before coming back to these shores for some of the huge summer festivals such as Summerjam and Boomtown here in the UK. I can’t wait…
Please visit www.protoje.com for all tour dates also www.sevanasiren.com and Lila Ike on Facebook.
Words and Photographs: lizzy brown. / insta: @iameyeandi / www.eyeandiphotography.com / tumblr. dis yah reggae music