The 20-minute intro of Naomi Campbell seductively dancing in a dark empty warehouse, dressed in a headdress resembling a crown of thorns, created an intense atmosphere. The crowd was becoming a little uncomfortable. Each time Naomi gave us a knowing smile, a cheer would erupt in the hopes Anhoni would appear and put us at our ease. Mouthing the words to ‘Drone Bomb Me’ at irregular intervals, she kept us waiting.
Preceded by Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, both collaborators on the recently released Hopelessness (2016), Anohni finally appeared on stage to the sounds of the album’s title-track, draped from head to toe in black cloth; a reminder of the irrelevance of image. The large backdrop showed the face of a woman wearing grotesque looking make-up, reminiscent of a Mexican sugar skull, painted with smeared blood. Anohni’s voice cut through you with the lyrics ‘How did I become the mother of this son, the face and mind and hands of virulence?’ A dour start to a concert which would not be for the light-hearted. Unexpectedly, however, by the end of the song, the rolling drum beats and soulful outro left us with a sense of hope. Anohni wants to use her music as a platform for protest and awareness, thus showing that amongst all the darkness, she sees some hope, a chance for change.
In keeping with the theme of change, ‘4 Degrees’ followed. Written in solidarity with the 2015 climate conference in Paris, it is essentially Anohni’s acknowledgment of her own part in the destruction we are are causing the earth, the thought-provoking lyrics, ‘I want to see the animals die in the trees’ making us reassess our role in what’s happening and how we view it. The solemn, pensive atmosphere amongst the crowd was evidence that Anohni’s plan to spread the word through her music was having some effect.
Songs not featured on her latest album, such as ‘Paradise’ and ‘Ricochet’ were played, again powerful ballads, given extra force through the images of the female figures mouthing them as Anohni sang. ‘Violent Man’ had a similarly chilling effect, the distorted sounds at the beginning make your ears ring, rendering it almost difficult to listen, as the faces of multiple women of different races and ages flash in the background pledging ‘We will never again give birth to violent men’. Lasting a mere 2 minutes, it blows you away. The sudden finish adds to the harshness of the lyrics, leaving you feeling slightly violated and lost.
Modern warfare is one of the main themes on the album, ‘Crisis’ is an empty apology for the destruction caused by drone bombs, Anohni’s voice giving it an unsettling edge, helping the reality of war hit home, making us consider that it is not technology that is to blame but those controlling it who are at fault. Under the same theme, Anhoni finished the set on ‘Drone Bomb me’, an attack on drone campaigns carried out worldwide. It follows the narrative of a young girl whose family has been killed in an attack, asking the drone to allow her to follow the fate of her family. She asks ‘Blow me from the mountains and into the sea’, followed by a powerful synth drop. The lyrics are descriptive and haunting, Anohni’s voice making them sound as though she is singing the gospel and the organ-like synth adds a chilling element to the performance.
Although she may seem like an unexpected candidate as the new voice for protest music, Anohni manages to sing about issues such as warfare, abuse and government surveillance in a natural way, which works seamlessly with her music. It does not feel as if she is singing about climate change, but the message rings true. It may not be the folk or punk music we usually associate with protest, but it appeals to a different generation. Although it is sad for many to know we may not hear the beautiful songs of Antony Hegarty, as Anthony and the Johnsons live again, it is truly a consolation to know that in its place will be the music of Anohni.