Me'shell NdegeOcello: The Grand, Clapham

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The Independent Culture
It was a strange sight. Young white men - at least half the audience - swaying alongside their black brothers and sisters, mouthing the words: "All I ever wanted was a niggerman."

Me'shell NdegeOcello seems to love confusing people. Take that name. Pronounced "N-day-gay-O-cello" according to her record company, it means "free like a bird" in Swahili. There was never any chance of her simplifying it to suit our stumbling tongues. Why should she? Its very awkwardness is memorable.

What is she? A fluent rap poet with a cool anger? A smooth soul diva with a voice like melting butter? A ferocious bass player who leads a band that can funk so hard your chest feels like it's about to cave in? The answer, of course, is all of them.

She is both androgynous and deeply sexy. Dressed in black pants and shirt, her head shaved and eyes hidden behind wraparound shades, she moved with precision and economy, directing musicians and frowning. She frowned a lot - at band members, at the sound man, at her own keyboard playing - and this was serious music.

Neither was the end of the show very funny. After 90 minutes of cool tunes and hot, heavy rhythm, the crowd was baying for an encore. It was refused. A flustered Me'shell came back on stage to explain that there was a curfew, but the audience stamped its feet and hollered. Her band started playing again, with the house lights up and the PA off, but it was useless. Prowling up and down in a state of fury and agitation, she was guided from the stage by a very big bouncer. Brave man.

Cole Moreton

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