Attending a concert is a curious affair especially one where you do not know what to expect when it comes to: the crowd, the calibre of talent, the return on a hefty ticket price and so on. I had heard Sanyu sing before, but not on such a grand stage and never before with her own music, so I was sufficiently intrigued walking into Serena’s Victoria Hall last Saturday evening.
It was immediately first-rate: the reception was cordial, the freebies welcome and the hall filled (the designated portion anyway). I walked in a little after it had began and after I’d found my seat, it was impossible to look away from the stage. The array of lights, unorthodox stage design and the “army” of choristers who were all suited up in black and white formed an arc behind Sanyu who was the splash of color centre stage.
From the get go, The Uganda Society for Disable Children (USDC) featured prominently in the show. The concert was a platform to raise awareness and funding for Uganda’s disabled children and the proceeds were being given to the USDC. Written material about their activities and structure was given to the audience to educate them on the organization and illustrate the value of the expected proceeds. In the course of the show, various ambassadors from the organization came forward to express their gratitude to Sanyu for her support.
“Sanyu Sings” was no false advertising, she did sing and beautifully in fact. Backed by a five piece band and an impressive 15 vocalists, she performed music off of her debut album as well as a number of covers to familiar tunes, old and new. Songs like Fred Hammond’s “This is the Day” and Sinach’s “I know who I am” were anthems that roused the crowd. The dynamic was not lost in her original music either: “Love has come to us” was infused with theatricality in its delivery, “Beauty” had all the markings of a confident personality, and “Work of art” spoke decidedly and with conviction.
If asked to describe Sanyu’s sound it very easily falls into the neo soul genre. Admittedly she borrows heavily from black gospel and not just stylistically but also in her presentation. Her sound is soulful, her manner expressive and performance even borders on eccentric with her urgent pacing back and forth on stage and the raspy vocal trills that punctuate her singing.
The show had its fair share of highlights. When Sanyu brought her father out onto stage to perform with her, it was impossible not to hear the collective “Awww!” that rang through the audience. With him on the acoustic guitar she sang through classics like: Green Sleeves and Killing me softly. Songs she said she had had grown up singing in this way, without the benefit of having an audience of course.
It was also a treat when she brought out consummate singers, who though thrilling in the backline acclimated nicely to the spotlight and delivered hair raising performances. Sandra, a member of female gospel trio Zabu was inspirational with her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Natural woman”, having all the antics and vocal prowess to match. Then, the “Lovers duet” by Sanyu and her husband Emma. I do not think I quite recall what was sung, all I remember is that it was fantastic, the display as well as the song. Solome, a singer with Worship Harvest brought the house down as she carried on alongside Sanyu reprising Jill Scott’s “You love me”. She more than held her own alongside Sanyu, showcasing her technique and range without breaking a sweat. Finally, there was Intensity, a group of budding young singers who sang a song that featured the only Luganda we’d be hearing that night.
An interesting part of the show for me was how seamlessly Sanyu darted back and forth between mainstream tunes and the more conventional gospel ones. In one moment it was love and romance, the next it was self affirmation and in another full on praise and worship. My guess is it worked easily because of her “progressive audience” who were able to make the transitions with her; accepting the whole fabric of her humanity as opposed to honing into one aspect and defining her that way subsequently.
In every song however, the message of hope could be traced; a factor I believe was enabled by her personal faith. Her music spoke on self acceptance and individuality, as well the comfort born of an intimate relationship with Christ, believing what He says about you above all else. Her lyrics offer a surge of hope and prompt a shift in perspective, that is to say, we are able to affect our situations instead of have them affect or define us.
I heard a friend of mine remark at the end of the show that it was the best 50,000 shillings she had spent in a while and I would easily agree. Sanyu and her team exemplified efficiency, right from the cover art and CD design, to the management of the event as well as the chosen cause for the proceeds. The sound was impressive, the band and singers clearly well rehearsed and in top form. It felt as though everything had been thought through and attended to, a worthy precedent to set for the rest of the industry. Fuelled by her charisma, quirky personality and unassuming charm, Sanyu was able to put on a show that captivated, moved and even inspired us towards goodness and not to say the least entertained us.