by Peter Callaghan
Think midnight, think candlelight, think delight.
At 1.30 on a Wednesday afternoon, on the fifth floor of the City Arts Centre in Edinburgh, in a long rectangular corridor-cum-room more accustomed to board meetings than jazz gigs, with a reluctant sun worming its way through the scattering rain clouds and the rumble of traffic drifting up from the busy Market Street below, the London-based singer-songwriter and one-time backing vocalist for Mary J Blige and Damon Albarn Ala.Ni defied the odds by hypnotizing her impeccably polite audience with a selection of self-penned love songs and classic covers ranging from want the man to got the man to lost the man to man oh man.
The highlights being her haunting rendition of Glen Campbell‘s Wichita Lineman, which she more than made her own and the aptly titled Darkness At Noon from her 2015 debut album You & I.
“God, it’s hard to be miserable at, like, 1.30 in the afternoon,” she giggled. “The sun’s out. How can I be moaning?” One of her few attempts at rapport building along with “what time is it?” and “sorry if it was shit”, which I would like to have heard more of. Though not the light American twang, which imbued her singing though not her speaking voice.
Minor grumbles aside, Ala.Ni is a class act. Note perfect, with an extraordinary range and an angelic delivery, she has rightfully been described as a modern day Billie Holiday as her choice of material and vocal style is right out of the 1940s. Though, for me, she is more like a restrained Judy Garland – honest, daring and pure.
And anyone who can pull off “a happy song about death” (To The River) is not only deserving of a better venue and a more fitting time slot, but a firm recommendation to watch this space.