Soulfest: Brisbane 2014
When all of one’s musical dreams have just come to an epic peak of fruition, it’s hard to know where to start raving. Will I begin with the absolute rapture of beholding D’Angelo in all his soul-sex glory? Or should I hit you with the awe of witnessing street-style rap guru Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) in perfect form? What about that golden taste of classy soul mistress Angie Stone with honey dripping from her sweet lips? With a line-up that included all these industry icons as well as the likes of Common, Musiq Soulchild, Maxwell, Leela James and Anthony Hamilton, it’s hard not to melt into a glorious puddle of soulful delight.
It was a pristine Brisbane day. A blue sky dotted with innocent white clouds and a gentle breeze to soothe the heat of the day. The first thing I noticed when I entered the festival was the crowd. It was a different crowd. It was young and old, sure, but this crowd was pretty laid back, and definitely not filled with the usual suspects getting all high and nuts. This crowd really came to listen. To dance. To be inspired. How refreshing. I noticed there were lots of fellow musicians here too. But one of my happiest first impressions of this event was that a vast diversity of different cultures, colours and creatives was represented in this joyous get-together. It was a community vibe. Everybody knew they had one thing that united us—our love of soul music. It was comforting and created a warmth and camaraderie that I’ve rarely seen at a one-day music event.
Soulfest is one of the best musical events Australia has to offer. It was cleverly thought out with a large main stage and a smaller second stage working together beautifully to bounce seamlessly from main events to local support acts throughout the day. A beat was never missed in between acts, with seriously funky DJs sorting out the empty space and keeping the crowd grooving non-stop. The Brisbane venue, The Riverstage Amphitheatre, was perfect, because you could stand or sit anywhere at anytime and see and hear the main stage. There was plenty of space for dancing and romancing, and with that line-up, believe me there was a whole lot of romancing going on on that dance floor. Yessir.
Soulfest was everything I dreamed it would be. Leela James enchanted the crowd with her extraordinary vocals, performing with such power and phenomenal range and depth to her voice that people were left joyfully exclaiming about it for the rest of the day. Anthony Hamilton, dapper in white, nailed his classics and sealed it all with that gravelly-sweet honey tone that we love so well. Bringing Southern charm and a warm stage presence, Hamilton had the crowd at ‘Hello’. Catching up with him after the show he told Mojo Junction that he is absolutely in love with Australia and yes, he did hug him a koala and pet some kangaroos (though for those of you who read Mojo’s Anthony Hamilton Exclusive Interview—no, there were no wild animals on stage with him this time around).
As the sun made its way across the sky the afternoon really started cooking with Angie Stone taking centre stage and completely owning her set. Gorgeous in shades of blue, Ms. Stone worked it and proved that she is still every inch her usual soul diva. With flawless vocals and those all-time Stone grooves, the dance floor really felt the heat. The thrilling opening strains to I Wish I Didn’t Miss You had everyone singing along and reminiscing, until she totally flipped it on us with Jamaican and Latin versions that drove the crowd wild in the best way.
Soulfest is essentially a stream of the best world-class soul, hip-hop and R&B performances all in one day. Aloe Blacc had the world smiling in the palm of his hand while asking for that famous ‘dollar, dollar, dollar is all I need (hey hey).’ He followed up with an uplifting set that worked its way to a perfect, rootsy, yet upbeat version of Wake Me Up that fell somewhere between the countrified album version and the dance version popularised by Aviici. Musiq Soulchild’s crystal clear, unmistakable vocals took us all back to the early noughties when he made his memorable debut with the classic and catchy R&B groove track, Just Friends.
As the sun began arcing closer to the horizon the mighty Mos Def jumped on a bright red retro mic and passionately rhymed his way into our hearts. The beats were en point and the raps were as clever, rhythmic and powerful as I knew they would be. A joy to behold, with his crazy pants and crazier dancing, Mos Def proved to be the life of the party and still a lyrical master. Later into the evening hip-hop powerhouse and downright sex panther Common blazed onto the stage and rapped his way into our pants, I mean hearts. Dreams came true and the crowd just melted when he played one of my all-time favourite rhyme love songs of all time, The Light, to which he did perfect justice. Later worlds collided in perfect hip-hop harmony when Common was joined on stage with long-time friend and collaborator Mos Def for a ripping rendition of the Blackstar classic Respiration. Next level.
All this and it was still really just a whole lot of crazy foreplay because we knew D’Angelo was about to come on out and finish the job. If anyone ever wondered if—after his well-documented misfortunes—D’Angelo still ‘had it’, the answer is most definitely a big ‘yes’. He had it good. And he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Captivating from first note to last it was everything D’Angelo devotees from down under have waited for for so long. He rocked us, he romanced us, he seduced us and then he downright nailed us (musically speaking of course). The set was smooth and rough at the same time. It was simultaneously a caress, a raunchy neck bite and an oil massage. That’s D’Angelo. And we can thank bass god and musical icon Pino Paldino for the seamless, deep grooves that penetrated the sound from start to finish. It was all that.
As soon as the final note rang out I had to run myself over to the second stage because I was not going to miss even a moment of my favourite female soul artist at the festival, Ngaiire. This woman has the keys to my heart and her voice unlocks and releases it like a dove from a cage every time. That’s how Ngaiire feels. She’s uncompromisingly real, a little quirky and a whole lot of raw energy all channelled into an unmistakable velvet tone, a stellar range and kick-ass powerful onstage presence. If you haven’t had the chance to check this massive talent out. I highly recommend her.
When the moon had long crept its way above the horizon and the stars glittered above, it was time for Maxwell to tuck us all in to bed with his timeless and unmistakable soul flavour. That man has got the sex soundtrack thing down. With epic harmonies from his gorgeous backing vocalists and soaring sweet tones, Maxwell rose way beyond my expectations in his live show. It was phenomenal and a truly fitting way to wrap up such a musically magnificent day. His light show was visually stunning and the man himself was slick and smooth yet completely humble and beautiful at the same time. He engaged with the audience and melted hearts, taking us all to glorious musical heights before gently laying us back on solid ground.
I left the festival feeling completely uplifted. I walked across Brisbane river like I was walking upon clouds. Soulfest truly is a musical feast for the soul. A day to celebrate, get down, get up and possibly get a little dirty. Thanks to this festival, Australia has at last had the opportunity to host some of the greatest soul, R&B and hip-hop artists of all time. Thank you Soulfest. Thank you artists. Thanks to all the folks behind the scenes that got this thing up and running. Mojo Junction hopes that Australians will have the opportunity to come to this groundbreaking festival again and again, year after blessed year. Long live Soulfest Australia. Amen.
Article & Photography by Carla Versitano
Watch artists talk about what it was like to be part of Soulfest 2014 here.
Keep an eye out for announcements and like Soulfest here.
Check out the website http://www.soulfest.com.au.
Click the links throughout the story for a stellar soul playlist.