Music review: Josephine Oniyama, The Tabernacle, London


Mancunian born Josephine Oniyama is a welcome addition to the new music scene with her folky, neo-soul songs that captivate with their honesty and maturity.

Having started playing at the age of twelve, she has had a long time to grow into an undeniably gifted musician. Now that her career is taking off, thanks to a stint on Jools Holland, favourable album reviews and tours with Paloma Faith, her self-assured stage presence is naturally confident and charming.

The Tabernacle has drawn a nice crowd who fall respectfully silent as Josephine starts with ‘I Think It Was Love’. Bold and reflective, her songs are tantalisingly fresh, drawing the listener in with their lyrics. There are elements of Joni Mitchell’s songwriting in the conversational yet deeply reflective tone and Josephine pronounces each word respectfully, with the elegance of a young Shirley Bassey.

"A Freak A" is next, praising the act of putting on a brave face in front of the harshest of critics. “My album’s only 38 minutes long and this is an hour set, so I’ve got to play some that aren’t off the album”, she says apologetically in her soft Manchester accent. From weighty ballad, "Salt Lake", Josephine takes on a smoother, sultry cover of Cat Power’s "The Greatest" , soulful and moody against the slightest guitar picks from guitarist, Steve Marsden.

"Portrait" and "Last Minute" are smooth and controlled with a powerful tone of Mahalia Jackson. Josephine can project the most delicate of ballads to the back of the room with one lowly guitar and no theatrics. "What A Day" and "Pepper Shaker" are up-tempo with western twangs and she devotes an entire song to her cherished memories of Manchester. "One Princess of Cheetham Hill" straddles nostalgia  and the melancholy more associated with  The Smiths.

At times you can hear potential in her choruses for a bigger, poppier, beefed up and dumbed down sound that would sell well to Adele and Emili Sandé fans. Thank goodness, then, that Josephine has the common sense to stick to her guns. Dignified and relaxed, her spare music offers something fresh and mature.