SXSW Music Review: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya

Hyper-speed rapper subsumed by full band and tech issues

It all started out just fine.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Surrounded by avant-garde installations from Santa Fe art house Meow Wolf at Empire Control Room, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya’s band eased into his Monday evening SXSW showcase with jazzy bass, big-band percussion, and indie rock shred. The multifaceted breakdown reflected the frontman’s genre-stretching connections to Chicago’s DIY community, including a spot in math rock group Monobody and frequent, varied collaborators on his lengthy Bandcamp catalog.

For the doomed half-hour set, Ogbonnaya joined in on guitar, brandishing his self-founded label, Sooper Records, on a black T-shirt. The live rock rewrite of the rapper’s largely computer-generated hip-hop album Drool proved dense, keenly awaiting Ogbonnaya’s vocal lead. In a major letdown for the small audience, his wacky, hyper-speed verses never landed.

Sound issues kept Ogbonnaya’s deliciously layered wordplay – i.e., “rigor mortis after coitus” on spirited single “let gO Of my egO” – from reaching the front speakers. The sonic problems jerked the show to a halt after muffled renditions of album standouts “dOn’t turn me Off” and “hOp Off.” The bandleader’s guitarist/keyboardist filled in on his working mic, inquiring, “How do you tell if a duck’s got soul?”

Answer: “You boil it and see if it’s Bill Withers.”

To follow, a few moments of sharp lyrical intensity and quiet melodicism rose above the fully amplified backing band, teasing the singer’s engaging, elastic vox. Aside from intermittent air horns and some silly drink slurping by Ogbonnaya, the performer’s friendly, cartoonish aesthetic was wholly submerged by the circumstances.

Fortunately for SXSW, and unsurprising given his buzzy Father/Daughter Records placement, he’s got seven more sets coming up this week.

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Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, SXSW Music 2018, Meow Wolf, Monobody, Sooper Records, Father/Daughter Records

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