Out of Context celebrate their first birthday with a huge line-up of locally based talent. Gary Dougherty finds a night of empowering folk, soul, jazz and hip hop.

To mark their first anniversary, promoters Out of Context brought us three of Liverpool’s finest imports and added in some home grown talent for good measure.

They decided host this eclectic mix of R&B, Hip Hop, soul and folk at what might be the smallest venue I’ve ever been in. Crammed into the back room of 81 Renshaw is a tiny stage and an even tinier bar. But this diminutive venue brought out some big performances from all four acts.

To open was solo performer Henrio. Originally hailing from Barcelona, he has been in Liverpool for only a year and whilst still making ends meet as a delivery driver he has been busy crafting his folk-like, soulful tunes.

Armed with only an acoustic guitar Henrio delivered his opening number, Ready for Love, a melodious folk inspired tune that suits his sensitive voice. Humanity, a track written as his response to recent the terror attacks in Spain, follows; for some reason the lyrics remind me of one of Tim Minchin‘s songs, not the comedic stuff, but his serious political songs.

Henrio‘s performance is interspersed by chats with the audience and you come away feeling you have made a new friend. He finishes with the up tempo Fuego, sung entirely in Spanish I understand only the odd word, but it matters not.

The chatty atmosphere is maintained with Jazmine Johnson who shares her news of recent trips to London, being exhausted and how performance is something she has recently started.

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In contrast to her set at XamVolo‘s Art of Dffrnce, this is a stripped back performance with just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. I prefer this as it showcases her voice and powerful lyrics. Her heartfelt emotions are evident in tracks like You’re Crazy Too about mental health issues and relationships and See The Light about appreciating what we have when we have it.

Returning the  the international theme, we are treated to Congolese born Blue Saint. The Liverpool-based rapper and singer-songwriter, gave a set that was part hip hop and part performance art. After encouraging the audience to participate and come to the stage he ‘invaded’ the room as his alter ego Razor Raze whilst singing the surreal track Dr Frankenstein. His Congolese roots were remembered in the soulful Sweet Waters, before returning to rap with This Bitch is Hell. It is hard not to be moved by Blue Saint‘s energy and the force of his personality.

The final set is given over to KYAMI, an alternative R&B/hip hop singer-songwriter and producer originally from New York.

KYAMI‘s performance style is somehow reminiscent of Macy Gray and Joni Mitchell and with her all female band comprised of Kay Naylor, Becky Slater and Emma Bozson, we are treated to a variety tunes about social justice, feminism and finding and accepting yourself.

There are elements of folk, jazz, hip hop, R&B and rap in her work, combined with her use of non-rhyming lyrics. The result is more than the sum of the parts.

Despite featuring artists originating from four different countries across three different continents, there was a common theme to the evening; all the performers spoke of overcoming our personal difficulties and finding and being true to yourself. Out of Context have shown us that the time has come for Liverpool to be known for more than bands comprised of four lads with guitars and a drum kit.

Pictures by Gary Dougherty