Aid for Japan - Zigfrid von Underbelly, Hoxton

Friday 11th of March 2011 was a dark day for Japan, as the largest recorded earthquake in its history triggered off a tsunami which violently swept through the Tohoku region. A total of eighteen prefectures were seriously affected, with damage scaling beyond 125,000 homes; almost sixteen thousand deaths, and close to four thousand people still unaccounted for.

Many charities were set up to help care for those affected and rebuild much of what was lost to nature’s fury. One in particular, Aid for Japan, was created in London by Akemi Solloway Tanaka, with the intention of providing long term assistance for those left orphaned in the tsunami’s wake. Reportedly 229 children under eighteen years of age lost both parents, while an estimated 1295 lost one.

Tonight was a very special evening then, as four unique artists stepped onto the stage at Hoxton’s Zigfrid von Underbelly. While the importance of this cause couldn’t be any greater, it wasn’t to overshadow what would be an entertaining night of diverse, multi-cultural sounds.

The event, dubbed ‘HAA - TO BII - TO’ [‘Heartbeat’], kicked off with singer-songwriter GaYa: an unsigned London-based artist originally hailing from Latvia. Equipped only with her Roland electric keyboard, GaYa’s set felt very intimate indeed. Having listened to some of her studio work, a lot was evidently missing in terms of backing, and yet this evening the music was carried simply by its thoughtful writing and passionate delivery. The songs were very much a soulful collection, with light jazzy undercurrents, which I suppose is reflective of the young artist’s influences, which range from Nina Simone to Bobby McFerrin and Adele. But GaYa isn’t an artist to be quite so easily pigeonholed. With a pleasant style of her own that you could quite easily lose yourself in, one hopes that this up and coming talent goes on to bigger things.

GaYa @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 3

GaYa @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 2

GaYa @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 1

If a bit of showmanship was needed then K Shaped Rooms certainly fit the bill. The trio of Komla, Arturs and Salvatore provided an energetic and eclectic set collecting rock, blues, funk and balladry. They list their influences as Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Police, Curtis Mayfield and Level 42, but I would also throw in a little bit of Lenny Kravitz, suggested through Komla’s velvety vocals and guitar play, the latter of which finds perfect company through Salvatore’s flamboyant style. Rather ashamedly it was easy to miss out on their drummer, Arturs, with the two duelists stealing all attention and never missing a trick from the ol’ Rock ‘n’ Roll handbook of stage antics. However, there was no denying an overall positive chemistry here, with telling smiles all round and a deep hunger for a more involved audience beyond the largely passive nature of the one we had. Still, this was an evening of uncertainty after all, which extended throughout the following sets.

K Shaped Rooms @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 3

K Shaped Rooms @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 7

K Shaped Rooms @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 6

The entertainment was momentarily halted by this point, with Aid for Japan founder Akemi Solloway Tanaka coming out to express a few words about her charity. Most in attendance didn’t seem particularly accustomed to Japanese tradition, with some evident awkwardness when being asked to offer a slight bow of respect, prior to a video being projected on the opposite wall. But it was to be the quietest and most reflective moment of the night as Annie Lennox’s ‘Into the West’ accompanied a heart-wrenching documentation of the tsunami’s devastation.

Unshin hit the stage next. The six-piece J-pop/rock band held the most ambitious presentation of the evening as they performed selected tracks from their debut album Waltz for Broken Dolls, a concept piece which tells the story of a young woman facing and ultimately triumphing over the pressures of Japanese society. By this point, however, the crowd was a little more dispersed and some attention was clearly prioritized elsewhere. Lead singer/songwriter Megumi Miyoshi was vocal throughout the entire set, valiantly explaining the meaning behind each song, and trying to encourage people to watch the accompanying animated videos on the opposite wall. It was a shame that some of it fell on deaf ears with regards to the chatty bar-dwellers; a fair bit of noise somewhat undermining proceedings, but the band wasn’t undeterred and gave a lovely performance, with a well thought out set which steadily rose from soft and slow, to positively energetic. Akemi-san even came back out to perform a traditional dance, and extra points for the megaphone too - that certainly gained attention!

Unshin @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 2

Unshin @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 1

Unshin @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 5

Finally our headliners arrived. Lo-Fi’s Goh, Nori, and Yosh had special company in tow this time, with guitarists David Ma and Dan Baker. The floor was just about full at this stage, with more people pouring in as the band began their first ever live UK performance. Playing songs from their debut CD Stereo Soul, Lo-Fi’s set was already familiar to me, but with the added presence of David and Dan it had an extra spark. The Jazz/Blues/Hip-hop ensemble confidently blazed through their songs to pleasing applause; the crowd seemed more into it, and Lo-Fi reciprocated with lots of smiles and chit-chat. Goh had some things to say in support of tonight’s charity, sharing his sympathy for those affected, and performing a personal song of loss, which gave way to a particularly heartfelt moment. But then most of Lo-Fi’s material is sincere, and here was a chance for Goh to get his words across to a new audience, who seemed more than happy to embrace this rising talent in London tonight. A clear indication that it may not be the last time we see these guys (and girl) on our shores.

Lo-Fi @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 1

Lo-Fi @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 4

Lo-Fi @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 7

Overall then, a worthwhile cause fronted by some highly deserving artists. If you would like to support Aid for Japan in the near future, you can find them here

K Shaped Rooms @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 5

Unshin @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 7

Unshin @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 4

Lo-Fi @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 2

Lo-Fi @ Zigfrid von Underbelly 3

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