Lost in the Music, But You’ll Find Me in the Crowd
by Morgan-Me'Lyn Grant
Singers have voices that capture your attention with the very first note to slip from their mouths. Musicians can entrance you with every melody their fingers play. Every blue moon, you walk into a room and are gifted with an artist that can shape every aspect of their music into an ethereal experience like no other. Jorja Smith is one of those artists.
On January 27th, I took a train down to San Francisco with a group as a late birthday present for one of our friends. The destination was a club called Popscene. We were all 18 or 19, and it was our first time going to a club. Uncertainty is an understatement for the feeling crawling up our arms as we waited in line. Six black and brown Stanford University freshman women in the middle of San Francisco waiting to see a performance by a woman none of us were too familiar with.
With hands marked with two black X’s to show we were going to be sober all night, we entered the club and vocalized the same thought: “It’s smaller than I thought.” The club was reminiscent of a small jazz club from the Harlem Renaissance era in size. There was a bar near the door, a DJ table maybe 5 feet from the bar, and a stage raised about 4 feet above the ground hardly 8 feet from the DJ table. We weren’t trapped in a closet but this definitely wasn’t the club we’d been shown in movies.
The DJ spun several strange mixes that combined songs like Solange’s Don’t Touch My Hair and Closer by the Chainsmokers. Despite our initial confusion, we found ourselves feeding off of the energy in the room and dancing without a care. After about an hour of jumping around and avoiding some of the patrons with more… bizarre methods of expression, the DJ ended his stent and announced the performer we were waiting for. The small room suddenly felt much smaller as the crowd shouted their love for Jorja Smith as the young black woman walked onto the stage.
The band churned out a smooth and steady beat and immediately the crowd grew silent. Smith’s voice was incredibly unique. As she charmed the audience into just breathing in her music with witty jokes and an adorable British accent, I found myself just rocking side to side, my eyes closed and my head tilted back. If I had been at Beyoncé’s or Bruno Mars’ concert, I would have been scanning every inch of the stage, trying to take in every dance move, costume, and projection. But I didn’t miss anything that night. I actually found parts of myself when I closed my eyes.
The combination of Smith’s emotional lyrics, silvery voice, and smooth instrumentals wrapped each audience member in a trance we didn’t want to be freed from. When she sang her song So Lonely, my chest heated up in pain for a woman I didn’t know and a man I wasn’t sure existed. Smith slipped into my mind with her next single Goodbye and made me miss a home I didn’t know I had. The audience connected with Smith because with a minimal set that included her, her band, a microphone, and simple lighting that switched between yellow, blue, and purple, there was nothing to distract from the singer herself. I realized that Jorja Smith had the rare and beautiful ability to create realities for her listeners with the allure of her music.
The difference between a large-scale production of a concert and a small intimate set in a tiny club squeezed between two closed store fronts is that one production is meant to be a spectacle and the other is an experience that completely submerges you in the music. As Jorja Smith walked off of the stage for the final time and the DJ cranked up a few old-school jams, it took a minute for the crowd to break out of the trance we were in. We had felt a number of emotions in a span of an hour that were borrowed and then reinvented.
Leaving Popscene that night, my friends and I marveled at the beauty of Jorja Smith’s songs and presence. Though the stereotype for college students is to go to as many big and flashy concerts as the minimal student bank account will allow, we decided to change the norm. There’s a feeling of completion that we got from just standing and listening to such a soulful voice. Experiencing Jorja Smith serenading you in a small crowd is amazing, but since she’s headed back to the UK by now, giving her a listen on SoundCloud isn’t all that bad either.