As an award-winning artist (Brit Award and Mercury Music Prize) Kojey Radical has a reputation to live up to and with the intimate crowd at Melbourne venue Howler, there was nothing to hide behind. An artist can’t have an intricate light set up or stage props if they lack stage presence and while Kojey Radical had nothing to hide behind, he certainly didn’t need to.
Visiting Australia for his Reason To Smile Tour, titled after his debut album of the same name, it’s intimate shows like these that can make me fall in love with an artist. You can hear the lyrics of songs clearer and see the artists facial expressions evolve to every reaction from the crowd. Taking on the stage, Kojey had two simple rules for his crowd “no shy voices, no shy feet” and these rules were followed to the letter right up to the final song. In case you didn’t already know, Kojey oozes cool appeal, he has the kind of charisma everyone wants, and he drew a crowd out on a Wednesday the 4th of October when it was raining sideways. Not a lot of people can do that.
It was evident Kojey Radical couldn’t contain his excitement about playing to an Australian crowd, the way he spoke to the audience was with a genuine appreciation and love, as well as pure glee that he was in Australia to play his music and so grateful that people have come to see him. Before ‘Sugar’, Kojey shared a story about meeting the songs collaborator, Amaarae when he was recording in Ghana, giving a glimpse into his family and his creative process. Jumping into ‘Water’, the room began to feel like a spiritual place, with Kojey raising his hands to the ceiling and the crowd singing perfectly in synch. A rare moment of pure magic.
Kojey Radical’s music run deep with experiences as a black man and the challenges that can bring about, so his music is incredibly poignant. Feeling safe in the venue but not making any direct statement, Kojey took the time to reflect on his own experience on race and how important it is for us to make choices for all Australians that we won’t regret. This was the lead up to ‘Pusher Man: BMI’ providing a song with lyrics like, “There’s nothing more dangerous than a black man with intelligence. Especially with some relevance.”. This moment was so powerful.
It’s already so wonderful to see an artist speak openly about mental health, so to be so incredibly open the way Kojey was before performing ‘Can’t Go Back’ that does already have dark lyrics felt so much heavier. The energy in the room didn’t change and the crowd wasn’t sullen, “no shy voices, no shy feet” still applied, yet I was really moved by Kojey, who took a moment to talk about the song’s origins, and as someone that has personally been in that place, this really meant so much.
Clearly understanding how to craft a setlist, ‘Gangsta’ had one of the best audience interactions I’ve ever experienced for an intimate gig. Sometimes in these small venues the crowd can have a shyness when singing along and having their voices heard, not here. The audience didn’t need to be pushed into singing along. If anything, it felt like they had waited all night for this opportunity.
Even if Kojey wasn’t the greatest performer, I could spend paragraphs going on about how beautiful his connection to his fans was. But he was a 10/10 performer. There was a diversity to Kojey Radical’s show and his past as a spoken word poet helped him to not be afraid of being in front of a crowd. I was thoroughly impressed by both his stage presence, sincerity, and talent, and I know that the next time Kojey Radical comes to Australia, he will be one performance I can’t miss.
Kojey Radical is fantastic and has a style that is undeniably unique while consistently maintaining a natural and honest connection with his fans that was unlike any other.
Kojey Radical performed his Reason To Smile Tour in Melbourne at Howler on Wednesday October 4th, 2023. Having already made his stop at Mary’s Underground in Sydney on September 27th and Gold Coast for the Promiseland Festival, unfortunately this intimate Melbourne performance was the final stop of his Australian visit. But hopefully he will be back again soon.
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Photography by Michael Nguyen.