“Do you like my dance moves?” Santi White, aka Santigold, asked the crowd at Bowery Ballroom on Monday night on the eve of her second album release. “I try really hard. It’s not easy.”
The soulful singer, in a gold-checkered tracksuit with white satin blouse collar, dove into the new tune Keeper, crooning the chorus, "while we sleep in America, our house is burning down, our house is burning down, down, down, down, down."
The business savvy songstress, returned to her fans after four years of silence, came at her audience with a powerful message and they were ready to listen. On the eve of May Day, also the release of her second album Master of My Make-Believe (Downtown/Atlantic), her songs ring true as dark pop with a worldly punk twist, burrowing deep into our souls and forcing modicums of truth into the ether that sorely need recognition.
As the lights went up on the chorus, the light exposed the sobered faces of all walks of life that stood as though they had been called to witness this event firsthand. The mash up of colors and cultures mimicked the styles, audible and otherwise, on stage.
Master is a generational record. It marks the time when we decided that crowd surfing at a show with turntables was okay; that one could care just as much about the NOTORIOUS B.I.G. as Nirvana (in fact both have martyr status in their own way). I confirmed this reality at South by Southwest in March, when walking down 6th Street in Austin, I was handed a promotional t-shirt silk screened with the cover of Nevermind, naked baby and all, not swimming towards the iconic dollar on a fish line, but towards a sick pair of BEATS by Dre headphones.
As she has been known to do Santi drew on stage a number of fans, in a rainbow of personalities and styles, to dance and sing along with her, warning to steer clear of her two dancers, as they’ve been “known to kick.” Also, punch, snarl and swagger with a touch of booty shaking – in the feminist, reclaiming-this-booty sense that defies exploitation. A throwback anti-2 Live Crew, if you will.
"My record comes out tomorrow,” she said softly with a big smile between songs. “It sure does take long; I’m so happy it’s over.”
Really, though, it’s just beginning. Santigold stands at the frontlines of a future sound that is hard to label. Call it soul, call it punk, and call it hip-hop, it is everything and nothing at all. Metaphors for her eclectic genre bending are laid bare in performances; Santi and her dancers are so multi-faceted their costumes even serve many purposes and styles.
In a way, everyone wants to claim Santi for himself or herself. The difficult part comes when people start talking about genre according to race. The 36-year-old African American singer has a diverse band of collaborators on stage with her who reflect the audience in an intellectual-hipster-Benetton-ad kind of way. Supporting Santigold on this night the creative up and coming crossover hit, the singing, rapping DJ and renaissance man Theophilus London, whose fans endured crowd surfing (at a non punk show! Or was it?) shortly before Santigold hit the stage.
Santi’s second act denotes incredible strength in her slightness. That an idea could be more powerful than a fist is her implication – even one pumped slowly and assuredly into the air inducing the crowd to cheer at full force – and that even pop music can foster a rebellious avant garde attitude about the world. And that’s okay.
The gyrating bodies of her synchronized dancers Desireé Godsell and Monica Hatter-Mayes flanked the singer, denoting a stature and sexiness that inoculates from the sexual subservience of a typical female pop performance.
And yet, a young woman wearing a headscarf hugged the left corner of the stage, clapping giddily after each song. When Santigold forgot a few lyrics to You’ll Find A Way, the young woman pulled out her phone, searched it and handed the phone to the singer, whose performance then kicked back into full throttle, with Santi proclaiming at the end of the song, "She saved the day!"
And that’s just what we’ve come to expect from Santigold.