Swedish songstress Seinabo Sey (that’s pronounced “Say – nuh – bo – See”) played her second show in New York this week at Music Hall of Williamsburg. It struck me during the show that, if Sey plays it right, she could reach Sam Smith proportions. Like Smith – now a certified popstar thanks to his soulful pipes and heart of gold – she proved that she needs no production to shine; her rich voice and sweetheart personality will do it all. But hey, a little bass, keys and drums do tend to make things fun to dance to, and also give her songs diversity from pop to soul.
Though the show was running late, opener James Davis took the stage for a light acoustic/R&B set to warm up the crowd. James Davis is a family affair: brother AusTon on synths/keys and electronic drum kit, and sister twins Rey and Jess on vocals and guitar. Though AusTon and Rey on guitar had sweet vocals, it was really Jess who took center stage with her robust voice – especially with their surprising (and not annoying) cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries.
Seinabo Sey came out with guns blazing in her bright red cassock-gown, singing an accapella “Pistols At Dawn”. The range and power of her voice was moving, and her presence on stage was so completely composed that she could control the room simply with her gaze. This type of power however could become alienating and distant to her audience, but she was also relatable and positive, with the most delightful smile and laugh when she’d talk with the crowd between songs. In fact, she recounted the backstory behind one of her new songs, “Poetic”, about getting played by a man she loved. She’d written the song thinking it would be the one she’d sing to their grandchildren one day. She concluded by advising us all to never wait three years to tell someone you love them; wait maximum 30 minutes. The crowd supported her throughout her story, yelling, “You’re too good for him!”. And she is. There’s wisdom and poise in her music and in her performance, but she’s also just figuring things out, like us.
Sey played a full-set despite having only released one mixtape – For Madeleine. She incorporated unreleased songs (as-of-yet), including a song for her late father, one temporarily titled “No Fool” which I now dub “Crystal”, and a stripped down cover of Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be”. The New York crowd seemed to enjoy the dancier tracks the most though: “Hard Time” and her encore track “Younger”.
While I was in the metro on my way back uptown, I got pulled into a conversation between a street performer and a tipsy (as he would have it noted) young man. The man said to the guitarist, “I can tell you play from the heart, and that’s what will help you make it in the industry.” Unfortunately, I don’t think “the heart” is the magical key to unlock the music industry – it can come down to marketing, packaging, representation, and a lot of other extra bullshit. However, having heart is one of the only things you can’t fake, and Seinabo Sey’s got it. She’s honest and moving, relatable yet awe-inspiring, sobering and dance-worthy; her future is bright and her debut album will be grand. But when I think about that night I saw her in MHOW, I’ll remember how she seemed to stare right through me. How she inspired a crowd of jaded, immovable New Yorkers to act before it’s too late.