When a performer walks out on stage with only a guitar in his hand, you know you’re in for a real treat.
When he then sweeps the entire audience off their feet with his powerful vocals, you know you’re experiencing a special moment in that artist’s career.
That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, 10 May 2022. And the artist in question was a young Australian R&B singer, Budjerah.
I wouldn’t have heard of Budjerah (real name Budjerah Slabb) if it wasn’t for the Sydney Opera House.
The iconic Australian venue launched a series of online events in April 2021 under the ‘Stream’ brand. Several artists were invited to perform on its famous Forecourt. Amongst them was Jack River, who put on a moving “Visions of Us” concert with special guests. One of them was Budjerah.
By that time, the young singer-songwriter, a Coodjinburra man from Fingal Head in New South Wales, had already released his first, critically acclaimed single, “Missing You”. But he wasn’t widely known to Australian (or global) audiences yet, partially due to the pandemic halting live events everywhere. And performing live is Budjerah’s biggest advantage. So his appearance at Jack River’s event was one of the pivotal moments that changed everything, in my humble view.
Just a year later, Budjerah has already written a stack of songs with Matt Corby, released two EPs, and won the Breakthrough Artist award at the 2021 ARIAs (the Australian Recording Industry Association), among many other accomplishments. He’s currently playing headline shows during his first-ever overseas tour in Europe. And not just at random venues.
In London, he appeared on stage at the famed Jazz Café in Camden Town where Amy Winehouse and D’Angelo had once stood as well. On top of that, on the day of the concert, his collaboration with none other than Ed Sheeran himself, called “2step”, dropped on streaming services. Speaking of life goals, right?
I was fortunate to be at that gig in London as part of a Birthday gift to myself this year. And I couldn’t have chosen better. So here are some highlights from it.
(At this time, I’d like to apologise to the talented singer for having the phone in my hand more than I would have liked. Any bloggers and journalists can probably relate: it’s not the most pleasant of jobs to respectfully make notes and take photos from different angles whilst trying to appreciate the art and enjoy yourself at the same time.)
Budjerah kicked off the gig by mentioning that he’d grown up in church, and his gospel and soul influences stem from that period. Fittingly, the first song he performed was “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.
The rest of the set was a stunning showcase of Budjerah’s unrivalled vocals and old-soul vibe. It was a good mix of his solo tracks, like “Higher”, “Wash My Sorrows Away”, or “Pyro”, with collaborations and other covers.
From the very beginning, it was quite obvious that the artist enjoys sharing his experiences with the crowd. He was telling sincere, relatable stories that prove how much of an honest and genuine rapport he wants to build with the audience. Like that time he was having a particularly bad day when nothing was going his way, and that’s how he wrote the song “Shoulda Coulda” (and he also recalls having had pizza for dinner that day).
Additionally, it turns out that the young singer is a big fan of Amy Winehouse. And it was always his dream to perform at The Jazz Café one day. So he commemorated that precious moment with a beautiful rendition of “Valerie”.
Another pleasant surprise was a yet unreleased, uptempo song whose chorus features a choir and the lyrics “I’m ready for the sky / I’m ready”. Since there were no backup singers on stage, Budjerah employed the audience, proving – yet again – how good of an entertainer he is. Below is proof of how it went.
Apart from the Ed Sheeran collaboration, Budjerah has also worked with the Aussie party music legends, PNAU. “I don’t make dance music”, he said to the crowd, “but they somehow got a hold of my demo.” And that’s how “Stranger Love”, a single with nearly 3.8 million streams on Spotify, was born. At the London gig, however, the singer performed the acoustic version he’d written originally.
What I particularly appreciated during the show, though, were the educational parts. Because not all international audiences are familiar with the First Nations’ history and place in the Australian culture. So I greatly appreciate Indigenous musicians who make the effort to tell that story from their experience and through their art.
For instance, we found out about the story of the Budjerah’s name in his native Aboriginal language and how his teachers and peers had problems pronouncing it, the latter of which is reflected in the song “My Name”. He also spoke about the place of strong women, especially grandmas, in the First Nations’ culture that was the focus of the NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week in 2018. Additionally, the track “Why” about “not getting along with the police in Australia” happened to be a last-minute school assignment for music.
Just so you understand my admiration for Budjerah’s unequivocal talent, at one point I thought, “It’s ridiculous how good he is. Nobody should be allowed to be that good. Not at the age of 20, not ever”. Because I still fail to comprehend how such a young singer can represent such a seasoned approach to music in such an effortless way.
Budjerah’s vocals truly are something else. And his feel for soul and R&B is extraordinary. The audience at The Jazz Café concurred on numerous occasions, reacting enthusiastically. He even got a “deadly, Cuz” comment from someone from the crowd hailing originally from Melbourne. (“Deadly” is the equivalent of “excellent” or “awesome” in the slang used by Aboriginal people in Australia).
On that note, it was really sweet to see how genuinely surprised the musician was by the warm welcome he received in London. I can only imagine what the reaction would have been if he had brought the full band. But even alone on stage, his vocals and the guitar did the songs justice in that one hour that went by way too quickly and left everyone wanting more.
The musician stated that he was going to come back to London one day. And, very suitably again, he finished his set on the song that started it all for him, “Missing You”.
Budjerah has been performing live for some time now, so he’s used to different stages, I’m sure. Nevertheless, it was a true pleasure to see him play in such an emblematic place that matched his craft (and not the other way around). He was very humbled by the experience as well.
And if you consider that the singer auditioned for The Voice Australia in 2019 and didn’t get past the blind auditions, you can’t help but wonder how life always finds a way to bring an indisputable talent to life.
So watch the Coodjinburra man closely. Because next time he’s on tour, he might be filling arenas already.
P.S. Just in case you’re wondering, like I was, about Budjerah’s prettily-decorated guitar, I asked the artist about it after the gig. The Fender Stratocaster was custom-made for the artist. He can switch between the acoustic and electric settings. And the beautiful artwork was done by one of his uncles.
Listen to Budjerah’s music here:
Article cover photo: own image
Budjerah at The Jazz Café in London
Tuesday, 10 May 2022
“Change Is Gonna Come” (Sam Cooke cover)
“Valerie” (Mark Ronson & Amy Winehouse cover)
“Wash My Sorrows Away”
“Talk” (originally with MAY-A)
“Because of Her” (?)
Unreleased song (“Ready For The Sky”?)
“2step” (originally with Ed Sheeran)
“Stranger Love” (originally with PNAU)
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