Bellah may be the star of her SXSW performance, but the fans in the front row at Austin’s Speakeasy are giving her a run for her money. One audience member, donning a white tank top and leaning against the front of the stage, recites every word back to the London artist, before turning around to sing to the audience. Another, donning similar braids to the ones Bellah wears like a crown, is visibly emotional throughout the show.
As Bellah delivers her breakthrough track ‘Evil Eye’, the rest of the packed audience in tonight’s venue joins in, allowing the refrain – “But I don’t feel no pressure / One of a kind, I’m special” – to hit the walls. The room feels smoky, intimate and atmospheric.
Recently, Bellah spoke to us about how SZA inspired her career, explaining that it was R&B star’s “no tricks, no gimmicks” approach to music that influenced her. SZA, for her part, gave ‘Evil Eye’ a nod when it dropped. Now, watching the NME 100 graduate take over this venue, leaning into the full register of her powerful voice and delivering lyrics that oscillate between confident and heartbroken, it’s easy to see just how deep that influence runs.
Right before she walks on stage, an excitable energy vibrates through the audience as one fan explains to his friends what they’re about to witness. “Bellah is the real deal, the next big thing,” he says. Minutes later, as she opens with ‘In The Moment’, punters nod along in acknowledgement that he was right.
Bellah’s SXSW performance marks yet another defining moment in the 25-year-old’s huge breakout year 12 months. Last September she dropped her debut EP, ‘Adultsville’, following it with a string of headline shows across the UK. The singer-songwriter may write tracks that feel like pages from her diary, but on stage in Austin, she keeps the crowd hyped, and distracted from any negative feelings.
“Do you like afrobeats?” she asks at one point, dancing on stage and encouraging the front row to move with her. Her energy may be infectious, but its Bellah’s vocals – which expand beautifully throughout the set, pushing everyone to silence – that make her stand out. She has no problem shouting out the artists that inspire her, but tonight she proves that what she’s bringing to contemporary R&B is incomparable.