My first thought when Kaia Kater began singing was that she possesses a unique voice that shouldn’t fit. There was no introduction to her first song, just a few opening notes and then a voice that was sweet and light yet heavy with old soul. It held a bewitching beauty that reminded me of the late Townes Van Zandt, not at all what I had expected from the young woman who stood stylishly on stage. Kater’s soulful voice and classic African-American style (though she is African-Canadian) folk tunes charmed the audience at Colston Hall’s Lantern last Sunday evening.
With eyes closed and just a little imagination, it’d be easy to pretend you were sitting in a Louisiana whiskey bar and not Bristol’s Colston Hall.
The steady rhythm of the double bass and tinny plucking of the banjo are perfect accompaniments to her singing, reminiscent of rootsy folk music. The harmonising duo guided the audience on a journey. We were treated to songs of the chain gang (‘Sun to Sun’), and songs of death (‘Harvest & the Plough’) and true tales of bitter-sweet love stories (‘Saint Elizabeth’) and broken hearts (‘Nine Pin’) and even a beautiful hymn. The singer showcased classic folk and bluegrass sounds. Andrew Ryan’s fantastic double base flair and dry humour complimented Kater’s bubbly persona and on-stage charisma; the two together made for a winning first impression.
‘The Harvest and the Plough’ dug deep into the roots of folk music and the suffering of African-American peoples. Kater's set not only introduced the audience to a sense of history and hinted at the repression of people, but also provided an insight into Kater’s own family. ‘Little Sparrow’ shared the story of Kater’s aunt and her love affair with a French-speaking man (Cajun French, not Canadian). Not only was this a personal insight into Kater's family history, but it was also sung in perfect French!
One of Kater’s songs was accompanied by her sweet stylings on the ivories. A truly mesmerising piece, I was lost in her voice, the piano and the words – so much so I forgot to make a note of the title! And that wasn’t all. Her original song ‘Harlem’s Little Blackbird’ was written for a tap dance accompaniment, something Ryan admitted he did not possess the skills for. He did, however, provide a Hambone backing, something the audience were in awe of and surprised at the appearance of. Truly reminiscent of traditional folk blues (and a very creative solution to the lack of a tap dancer).
With eyes closed and just a little imagination it’d be easy to pretend you were sitting in a Louisiana whiskey bar and not Bristol’s Colston Hall. They closed with ‘Trouble’ and ‘The Hangman Reel’, both brilliantly executed upbeat tunes; one with no words and a pure battle of banjo and double bass, and the other a fantastic final showcase of Kater’s spellbinding voice. Every piece – whether it was original or ancient - sounded fresh. The emotion was beautifully authentic and Kater and Ryan’s friendly easy stage patter belayed the tragedy of the music.
All photos by Polina Mourzina.