The Coventry-via-Gambia artist (and past NME 100 cover star) has been one of UK rap’s biggest and brightest breakout acts this decade; his debut mixtape ‘Send Them To Coventry’, packed with compelling and often gut-punching street tales of its creator’s upbringing in Coventry, being among the best releases of 2020.
The wait continues for Salieu’s next full-length work, but this early evening set on the John Peel Stage emphatically demonstrates that he’s as much a force to be reckoned with in the live arena as he is on record.
Accompanied by two pairs of effervescent dancers (one of whom performs a sword dance during ‘Frontline’) and a slick three-piece live band, who add a dazzling rock heft to tracks from ‘Send Them To Coventry’ and his September 2021 EP ‘Afrikan Rebel’ (such as show-opener ‘Lit’), Salieu confidently commands the suitably up-for-it crowd throughout his hour-long set with the self-assurance of a festival veteran.
Images of Coventry flash up as the thunderous ‘Flip, Repeat’ booms out, with Salieu declaring of his hometown: “I come from COV: city of violence, city of vibes.” Vibes are definitely in full supply here, with the likes of ‘Active’, ‘Informa’ and ‘Betty’ from ‘Send Them To Coventry’ bringing more and more punters into the rapidly-filling tent, somewhat satisfying Salieu’s constant calls for “energy, energy, energy”.
All eyes may be on Salieu, but he does bring out a pair of special guests. First, London-based Nigerian artist Obongjayar arrives for the buoyant ‘Style & Fashion’ before Northampton’s favourite rascal Slowthai races on stage for ‘Glidin”. The latter, who is greeted with a triumphant roar from the tent, nearly loses his bucket hat as he jumps down to embrace the fans on the barrier, providing yet another boost for Salieu’s ceaseless quest for “energy”.
Closing with the massive crowd favourites ‘Frontline’ and ‘My Family’, Salieu takes another breath to briefly, but gratefully, reflect on the “most intense year of my life”. Let’s hope he’s prepared for a good few more years of this, then: watching a talent like Salieu put in such a polished and poised performance at the world’s biggest music festival so early in his career bodes very well indeed.
Pa Salieu played:
‘Hit The Block’
‘Style & Fashion’
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