It’s one thing for an artist to have a strong grasp on certain genre sensibilities; it’s another when that same artist can take the template and make it their own so vibrantly. Such is UK singer Nao, who mixes everything from jazz to soul to R&B in a magical pot to create a sound that she calls “wonky funk”; an amalgamation of all of the best parts of the former, tied together with slick pop tendencies of the past and present. This formula only partially explains why Nao is set to take over, and fast.
Bringing her magnificent 2016 debut For All We Know to Toronto’s Phoenix Concert Theatre, it was easy to see the rest of the components fall in place, especially during performances of “We Don’t Give A” and “Girlfriend”. With Nao’s sugar-sweet vocals and an undeniably powerhouse stage presence, her show is a must-see, even for those who are minimally familiar with her work. You’d probably find yourself joining the endless supportive screams that erupted every time Nao attempted to speak, a mere three songs deep into the evening; her energy, dancing, and yes, her wonky funk, is soul-deep infectious.
A jazz-trained vocalist, Nao spent years as an educator and supporting vocalist (credit her for Disclosure’s “Superego” from their last album) before carving out her own work, in every sense. From starting her own imprint, Little Tokyo Recordings, to having a hand in every element of her work, Nao works hard at her artistry. That confidence reigns all the way to the stage.
Performances of her singles, “Fool to Love” and “Bad Blood” were the shining gems of her show, but moreso because Nao made the emotional intimacy of her music engaging and, well, fun. In the thick of today’s dark R&B, that’s the kind of tempo that stands out stronger. So long as artists like Nao are around to push, stir, knead, and make it, people will keep dancing – and they should.