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Live / stage review

Beauty entrenched in chaos: Otis Mensah at Network

Celebrating his latest EP, Otis Mensah brings golden jazz-inspired soundscapes to Network for a special hometown headline performance.

7 May 2022 at
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Sahar Ghadirian.

“You’re now in tune to the things I should have said a year ago. My name is Otis Mensah, I’ll be your narrator for this evening’s tragedy, carrying beauty entrenched in chaos.”

Mensah’s charisma shines through as he arrives onstage to mark the release of his wonderful seven-track EP (and first self-produced project) things I should have said a year ago. Alongside saxophonist Seigfried Komidashi, the Sheffield poet and hip-hop artist spoke in emotive, powerful mosaics as he brought the Black Box Tour home – his first ever solo tour as an independent artist.

On jazz-infused tracks like ‘Grievances’ and ‘Old Boy’, the wordsmith offers candid, sun-drenched imagery and poignant vignettes of his personal growth. The set spills with honesty, as pure poetic lyricism flows from Mensah’s stylish vocals.

‘Aurora Borealis’ and ‘Black Box’ (the EP’s opening track dedicated to resistance) evidence the rapper’s intellect, and find him diving deep into the themes of trauma and relationships. The set continues with ‘Breath of Life’ featuring Hemlock Ernst, the rap alter ego of Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring. The soulful hip-hop track was conceptualised before the pandemic, and explores anxiety and claustrophobia in society.

Nestled in the side-streets of the city centre, Mensah’s intimate show is a sweet escape from the chaos of Saturday night. With a faithful following of fans lining the front of the stage, cheers erupt at Otis's rejection of a traditional encore. It’s “a welcoming of friends... think of it as the beautiful credits at the end of a movie,” he says, inviting Brandon Gray and K.O.G to join him for the final couple of songs.

The artist has come a long way from his days penning lyrics in the back of schoolbooks a decade ago. Navigating grief, identity, and the complexities of the last couple of years, Otis is a marvel on and off stage, and continues to captivate crowds.

by Sahar Ghadirian (she/her)
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