Standing underneath a single, pale spotlight, Rachel Chinouriri takes a bow before she even sings a single note. Kicking off the first of four consecutive sold-out nights at London’s Hoxton Hall (May 9), the 24-year-old appears to be in a celebratory mood. She acknowledges how far she has come since emerging in 2018 with her breakthrough hit ‘So My Darling’ while sitting at the lip of the stage, beaming with gratitude as she reaches out to hold the hands of those in the front row.
The songwriter’s warmth and generosity stems from a particularly close relationship with her followers, who have supported her throughout a fairly challenging few years in the industry. She has been repeatedly mislabelled as a ‘soul and R&B artist’, despite expressing an ardent love for indie and folk sounds in her music from day dot. “To be put into genres I never grew up listening to was so bizarre to me,” Chinouriri told NME last year. “I think it’s important to define who I am, especially as someone that is Black and involved in the indie scenes.”
The feeling is that Chinouriri didn’t get the true chance at stardom she deserved, and now wants to put things right. To the audience’s rapture, Chinouriri bounces through her plucky tunes in a pair of legwarmers, encouraging the room to two-step throughout ‘She Knows’ before making light of a previous long term relationship at the start of a bright and motivational ‘Better Off Without’. “Faaackin’ hell,” she says, adopting her best Adele-like Londoner. “Spending five years with someone is a really long time…”
A three-piece backing band adds an extra level of vibrancy to older cuts like ‘Adrenaline’ and ‘If Only’, but she sometimes retreats into the background, standing completely still as her star-shaped hair clips twinkle beneath the kaleidoscopic stage lighting. For a confident and often sublime vocalist, Chinouriri is unexpectedly shy when presenting newer songs to the crowd, kicking her feet as she talks, embarrassed at the repeated pauses she has to take. The only thing to do, it seems, is launch into the rock-leaning unreleased track ‘The Hills’, and gently headbang through the nerves.
But Chinouriri’s vulnerability also proves to be her superpower. As an exultant ‘All I Ever Asked’ proves, young women see their own joy and mess in these songs; fans in the seated section lean over the balcony and shout lyrics at each other. Its genuinely heartwarming to see Chinouriri, eyes glassy with tears, finally able to tell her tales on her own terms – and for that energy to be reciprocated. Her early, if rocky shot at success, then, was just the first act.