Jorja Smith Velvet Underground, Toronto ON, August 24

Jorja Smith Velvet Underground, Toronto ON, August 24
Photo: Stephen McGill

Yes, Drake appeared unannounced last night (August 24), but let's first talk about the talent that is Jorja Smith — she was the real star of the show.
Even before Smith made her presence felt to the wider world by way of her captivating guest spot on Drake's 2017 More Life cut "Get It Together" — the 20-year-old singer from Walsall, UK had been quietly building up a solid body of work. She tuned ears with "Blue Lights" in 2016; last year also saw the release of her first EP, the R&B/soul/jazz-infused four track Project 11 that cemented her status as one to watch.
Indeed, everyone kept close watch last night on her performance at the Velvet Underground, her first in the city.
The classically trained singer-songwriter transmutes nervous energy into a commanding stage presence for something relatively new to the game. Her song content touches on social issues, personal tragedy and triumph and in a way that's not overhanded or overwrought. She's sounds like a cross between Nelly Furtado, Amy Winehouse, Rihanna, FKA twigs and Lauryn Hill; her soprano-fuelled vocal versatility and range is almost off the charts (not literally of course) and via a simple three-piece band, she was able to carry the show and hold the packed venue's attention.
Even a faulty mic that cut out at points couldn't overcome Smith as she led the crowd through her short but impactful discography, hitting us with "Teenage Fantasy," "Where Do I Go" and recently released single "Beautiful Little Fools." She also performed Project 11 EP tracks, including "Something in the Way," "So Lonely" and also the strong ballad "Carry Me Home," which featured a surprise showing of English-Irish vocalist Maverick Sabre.
Covering Mario's low key R&B 90's slow jam "Let Me Love You" enabled Smith to showcase her freewheeling soul sensibility, the "just okay" dance cut "In My Mind" got feet moving, and dropping an unreleased Reggae fusion track she wrote in Los Angeles (heavy on the reverb) felt Rihanna-ish in nature.
By the time her show faux-wrapped and she left the stage, screams of "Jorja" (and the security crew not so stealthily moving through the crowd) signalled that the 6 God was likely to appear for her encore. Jorja and crew came back, and when the strains of "Get It Together" started up and she started in, sure enough, Drake popped in on vocals to share the spotlight.
He may have been slightly off tonally during their shared chorus, but to be completely honest, it was still a sight to see the rapper in such an intimate setting.
"You are singing your ass off tonight girl," he told Smith to cheers. And she was.
"Toronto if you're from the Six make some noise," he told the crowd. "She probably one of the most incredible voice and talents." And she is.
Then he was gone, leaving behind a trail of more cheers and a lot of smartphone video footage.
Closing things out with the groovy but socially conscious "Blue Light" (about the Black diaspora's experience with police), it's clear that next time Smith is in town, it will likely be with a full-length project, a larger band and bigger stage in tow. She's the real deal, Drake co-sign or not. 


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