It’s nearing two years since the release of Afro-soul artist Kar33m’s WhoamI?, the Nigerian-born, Ottawa-based singer/songwriter’s debut EP. Eight tracks of self-examination amidst, as well as opposing, a young artist in the diaspora’s worldly observations, distils two questions: Who Am I? and ‘Who are you’ - the EP’s sixth track. But more so the contrasts that artists often investigate on their come-up - the self-belief required to accept losses and progress as an individual, against self-doubt, and so on. Track two’s ‘Summertime’ against the third track’s ‘Darkness’; the intimate take and touch of an individual on tracks five and six (‘Sister’s Interlude’ 1 & 2), both performed by his sister, as bridges, against track eight’s all-encompassing ‘Everyone’.
KAR33M mentioned during a conversation we held that WhoAmI? was composed “[during] the wake of the pandemic”, a time where he wasn’t wielding quite as much attention. Since then, he has been prolific in the push to project his name, releasing a string of experimental singles that resemble a balance, one could assume KAR33M was searching for in the interwoven roots of his home country's sounds and lyrical content and prowess of a more Western take on pop.
Working behind the scenes to build connections in the creative stratosphere, it is undeniable that he and his team have placed great focus on live events. Providing the sound for Parliament Hill and Confederation Park’s ‘Pass the Feather’ event last September, and selling out three low-key Ottawa venues in the same year with Ottawa-based collective ‘Twelve07’. These performances allowed KAR33M to showcase his presence and ability as a performer; his long and winding journey feeling all so pivotal right now.
(Kar33m gets in the face of his biggest crowd to date at SAW Gallery, photo credit: Quest)
Last Saturday, the young prospect sold out his biggest show yet at the Pique spring event. Filling a room of local fans, music-heads and creatives to perform introspective love ballads, politically-focussed cri de coeurs’ to address need for activism and the less emotionally-charged, but no less needed, good vibes for the last Saturday the public are mandated to mask. And that’s, in part, the intention behind his work. As much as KAR33M does wish to take listeners on a multi-faceted, horizon-broadening journey through meaningful lyricism – describing his upcoming album as “a dream experience [where] the protagonist is myself and also my audience” – he, as he said backstage after his set, is equally accepting of fans who “choose to vibe and listen.”
KAR33M is an innovative artist who holds the ability to connect with his listeners on a personal, human level, while still being able to flip the card and portray the aura of a musician who loves his craft, a party-goer, and a friend. And that humility shines through his work.
When on stage last Saturday, sporting a lime green button down and dark-tint versace shades, ‘33’, as his close friends know him, led dances and chants, encouraging the crowd to join him in a smooth, vibrant two-step. His set crossed from his unreleased, soon-to-be DJ’s back-pocket go-to ‘Champion’, with its driving chorus “I’m your number one striker/Number one fighter/Number one champion” and afro beats inspired ‘See It All’ – another from his unreleased discography that he would revel in sharing as the night progressed – setting the mood and getting those who were sitting to their feet, as the lights flashed in aligned dance patterns.
The stage was set with two trees on either side of a brown leather sofa, on which a woman seemed to be asleep, before three quarters of the way through the set springing to life to compliment KAR33M‘s rhythmic tones and jovial melodies with free-form dance. The performance was carried out in such a way, with the living-room aesthetic that the stage’s design spoke to, that at points, I had to question whether I had been invited over to a friend’s house and ended up spending time with their eccentric family. But that aspect of KAR33M is what fans are drawn to.
(Kar33m accompanied by model & dancer Zeeggy Mercy during his set)
As a man who seems self-aware and reflective, I found it odd that no tracks were played from his aforementioned debut ‘WhoamI’. It seems as though KAR33M’s vision is focused through the windscreen down the road rather than in the rear-view mirror. That being said, he is intent on spreading awareness and recognition of his socio-political history, as such resonates through his work. The second of two interludes, projected imagery and film in the darkened room – a montage of influential African-American cultural and political figures.
Aside from his introspective nature and capabilities as a vocalist that shone through in fan favourites such as ‘Jara’ and ‘Party in Lagos’, his set created driving moments of excitement with a crowd that twice they cheered for an encore - though only one was successful. There’s a quiet confidence in the artist’s demeanour. Not once did 33 project any sign of nerves, or arrogance – just a young artist who loves his craft. And although the at times tumultuous battle between certainty and uncertainty as an artist can be emotionally tempestuous, this show at the least should provide KAR33M with some assurance of a secure place in the growing Ottawa scene.
Written by: Noah Snieckus