Pa Salieu at Reading 2021: knockout secret set was one of the weekend’s best

August 28: the rapper enlists the help of good pal BackRoad Gee on the Festival Republic Stage, the duo offering a masterclass in overcoming setbacks

On the final day of a particularly memorable Reading Festival, festival-goers have a chance to see some exquisite talent from the Midlands – whether you’re under the Festival Republic Stage, bopping along to the sounds of Jake Bugg, or want to enjoy the energetic offerings of Coventry-raised Pa Salieu.

Salieu’s set is a truly special moment – and he wasn’t even billed to be here. Many probably had hope that the 24-year-old was coming to Reading since his best friend and frequent collaborator, BackRoad Gee, was billed to perform on the BBC Radio 1Xtra stage this fine Sunday. But it turns out that the ‘Energy’ rapper has a sneaky trick up his sleeve. Wanting to do more than just jump around on a stage – looking at you, Post Malone – Salieu brings his live band, all dressed in black, to add soulful charm to his alternative UK rap sound.

Walking out 30 minutes later than originally announced, due to unknown delays, Pa Salieu wears a tracksuit and puffer jacket, all made from red crushed velvet. He looks like a true star, and the set follows suit. This is, he says, his “third performance” of the weekend, and unfortunately the young star’s voice is a little shot. However, his croaky voice makes his surprise set even better, since there is an endearing sense of him trying his hardest just to give his surprised fans a great performance.


He opens with ‘Block Boy’, a catchy track full of typical UK braggadocio to get the crowd hyped. But it wasn’t until he played his breakthrough tune ‘Frontline’ that the crowd really come alive. The viral tune is one of Salieu’s most-known hits, so he seems conscious of not wanting to butcher it. After apologising for his voice before going into the song, he still attempts to belt out the bridge, despite it being clearly too high.

But helping him out is his best bud, BackRoad Gee, who swoops in to save the day. Ending on the rampant ‘My Family’, where Gee takes most of the reins, the duo’s voices ricochet throughout the tiny crowd.

With a moshpit opens up and everyone jumps in unison, Salieu’s secret set is truly an exclusive party. Given that the headliners have, so far, been a little lacklustre this weekend, Pa Salieu showed everyone how it was done. He pushed through the setbacks for what was definitely one of the best sets of the weekend.

– Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021