August 14, 2013 – She’s been slowly making waves on the London music scene for the past few years but Bumi Thomas’ latest performance, at North London venue, The Islington, was nothing short of a sublimely enriching musical experience. It marks her out as one to watch in the near future. Just before the performance, I had the privilege of sitting down to speak with Bumi about her journey as a “woman of the diaspora” and she is indeed a woman with much to say and not afraid of telling it like it is. Bumi communicates her ideas just as vividly in words as she does through music. Born in Scotland to Nigerian parents, she says, “Nigeria is very much at the centre of my concept of home.”, having spent many of her formative years there. Her experiences in Nigeria as a woman with Yoruba and Igbo heritage living in Hausaland have shaped her, and, she says given her, a “balanced perspective on being Nigerian – whatever that means.” She is quick to add that she also retains aspects of her British experiences of early childhood. “I had a thick Glaswegian accent when I first left and still retain the Scottish attitude about being less uptight about life.” She thinks this feeds very much into her idea of what it is to experience life as an African living in the diaspora. “It’s a direct exchange…I go and I long to hear the stories being told. I want to know what the people feel and those are most accessible through the culture, the art and the music,” she says when commenting on how it feels to be a Nigerian woman in the diaspora communicating through her art back to Nigerians in Nigeria.
An extremely articulate artist, who works in multiple creative mediums including photography, she has a degree in Fine Arts from Bath Spa University and continues to work toward her goal of “working with young people and women to help find their voices through the arts, whether that be music, visual art, or dance.” She is a founding member of the F.R.I.D.A project (Female Revolution In Dance and Art) based in London and contributed a series of photographs inspired by the life and legacy of feminist cultural icon Frida Kahlo to the project. In both of her creative lives, as a photographer and musician, she says, expressing her own truth is what is most important to her. When it came to Bumi Thomas’ entrance on stage, she exuded an infectious personal calm, and playfulness.
The evening opened with a guest performance by Anna Phoebe, who gave a fiery violin performance that set the energetic tone for the entire night. Her style of performance is as serious as it is fun. Anna Phoebe’s intimacy with her instrument is immediately visible. With a classically inspired technique, she began the night’s journey by leading the audience through short sojourns in the soundscapes of Spain, West Asia and North Africa. A guitarist who expertly matched her technical capabilities and level of artistic expression accompanied her.
If you missed Bumi’s most recent live performance, you still have a chance to hear her dulcet tone and afrobeat inspired sounds, on her upcoming EP album Feather Pearl, which is being released later this year. Bumi handled the less-than-perfect acoustics and small performance space of The Islington pub with graceful ease. Opening her set for the night was the song ‘Biko’ which she describes as ‘ a plea for peace and peaceful living.’ Bumi and her musicians were equally adept at working through the fusion of jazz, funk, and soul that infuse her compositions; in particular, Matteo Grassi on bass, who brought to mind, with his fun funk/jazz inspired bass, the playing style of Charles Makokova of Thomas Mapfumo’s The Blacks Unlimited.
The honey-hued timbre of Bumi’s resonant and deeply visceral voice in ‘Free As A Bird’ quickly conjures thoughts of Nina Simone and Sade Adu, two female artists she admires because they “had that same potent truth and conviction in their music.” The song reflects Bumi’s own belief that, “freedom is our natural state of being, and we just have to accept it and be free.” Her stage presence is captivating. Dressed in turquoise tailored trousers, turquoise bow tie and cumberbund, a white shirt and maroon coloured stilettos, Bumi Thomas brings the same flair to her physical performance as she does to her vocal performance. She passionately belted and soulfully crooned an energetic audience into attentive submission and was rewarded repeatedly with vibrant applause, and was finally cheered into providing an encore that captured Bumi at her funniest and most playful of the night. For those that missed Bumi’s performance, you still have a chance to hear her dulcet voice and Afrobeat inspired sounds on her upcoming EP album Feather Pearl, which will be released later this year.