Heels & Picks: Seeking Santigold
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Click here for previous “Heels & Picks” blog posts.)
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
I spent all of March and half of April 2012 in Montreal, Canada, making a solo album. Trudging through the snow and freezing weather in my highly inappropriate footwear to the studio, I came armed with a Macbook full of albums, looking to fill the production team’s minds with ideas of what I wanted the album to sound like.
Among the front-runners on that short list of inspirational material was pretty much anything and everything by Santigold.
Santigold is a synth-pop/reggae fusion/electronic/new wave artist out of Brooklyn, New York. For the life of me I can’t recall where I first heard her material, but I fell in love from the first synth hit and have been captivated by her style ever since.
She is often compared to M.I.A., though I find them to be worlds apart, creatively and sonically. All the beats and synths, style and attitude, the eclectic influences, those are what draw the M.I.A. comparisons. But underneath all of those factors, Santigold writes good, solid, structured pop songs which I think sets her apart from the off-the-rails quirk of her friend and colleague.
For those of you who think you have never heard of Santigold, I can assure you, you have likely heard her song “Disparate Youth” — it was featured in a recent Honda Civic commercial. I listen to her so much around the house, even my boyfriend tilts his head and notices every time the opening synths of that song blast from our television speakers.
I was thrilled to find out from the guys at BAMP Project that Santigold would be joining the lineup for the 2013 Republik Music Fest: Jamrock Edition at Kakaako Waterfront Park. My band, The Throwdowns, performed at the festival in 2011, kicking off a lineup that included The Green, Rebolution, The Dirty Heads, Matisyahu and Steel Pulse.
Santigold was present in spirit, even at that event, as I ended up talking about how amazing her material is with the guys from Dub Trio, a metal/dub/reggae threesome (two thirds of which are Canadian) who back up Matisyahu on his tours. They love her.
I headed to Kakaako the night of the concert with my friend and local booking agent, singing along to Citizen Cope as we went through security and grabbed a drink. It brought me back to where I first heard his music with friends on Maui. Some of Citizen Cope’s lines are straight-up jewels.
“What you’ve done here / is put yourself between a bullet and a target.” Bam. Perfect chorus. Much like Santigold and myself, Cope has a “mouth-full-of-marbles” way of singing that I really enjoy. To me, it’s swaggy and interesting not to over-enunciate when singing. That being said, I’ve spent much of my career having to explain what the French toast I’m saying in songs because no one can understand the lyrics through my mouthy drawl. I can’t tell you how many times, in the studio after a take, the production team has popped into my headphones in the vocal booth to say, “I’m sorry, WHAT is that line?”
We made our way up to the front of the stage in the VIP section, where thankfully there was still lots of room to get close and be right up front for Santigold’s performance. As soon as her two dancers, known as SG1 and SG2, hit the stage, I about lost it. Santigold had a DJ with her providing all the music, and I thought it was so great she can tour with just a DJ and two dancers. THAT is what we call economically sound touring.
Though her set was way too short — keep in mind, I would still say that if she had played for two hours — it was killer. It’s wonderful when your idols don’t disappoint. She played many of my favorite of her songs, “L.E.S. Artistes” from 2008′s “Santogold” (she subsequently had to change the spelling of her name to Santigold, for legal reasons), “Go!”, “Disparate Youth” and “The Keepers” from 2012′s “Master of My Make Believe”.
Her vocals were strong, and she has the presence of a queen, one who marches to her own drummer and stands behind every beat. Lyrically, Santi (that’s right, we’re going nickname) writes fiercely about making it on your own, about being a unique artist and about powering through obstacles to achieve your creative vision. The dancers really complete the look of the show. SG1 and SG2′s Transformer-like stage outfits allowed them to tear away pieces of their outfits to reveal new looks during the set. They ran the mix from the fun to the political, switching from waving gold pom-poms over their heads, to swinging nooses.
This is one of my favorite things about this artist, pop mixed with bite. Santigold herself had a couple of costume changes, from a black jumpsuit to a purple sparkly cape. No stranger to wearing animal print and oddball outfits, I can relate to Santigold’s “zebra print or die” aesthetic.
As my boyfriend flipped through concert photos on my iPhone post-show at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Waikiki, he said, “There are frilly umbrellas, sparkly capes, a runway and ’80s sunglasses. No wonder you love this girl.”
Oh, and that solo album I made in Canada? It sounds nothing like Santigold. After several conversations about what my music should sound like, the production team was adamant I sing better when the sound around me isn’t going through the roof — so no gun shots and lion roars on this album. It turned out more like a mix of Adele, Lana Del Rey and Florence & the Machine, which I am in love with. Stay tuned for more on that album shortly.
And if this music thing doesn’t pan out? I’m thinking I’ll join Santigold’s dance crew as SG3, the white girl who doesn’t dance very well but wears a quirky outfit like a boss.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.