This past Sunday, Nigerian artist Rema concluded the Australian leg of his ‘Rave & Roses’ world tour at USyd’s very own Manning Bar. With viral hits like ‘Dumebi’ and ‘Iron Man’, Rema is one of the most exciting performers in the Afrobeats genre. Fusing Soundcloud trap music with West African highlife and dancehall — he is constantly pushing the genre’s creative boundaries. His debut album, Rave & Roses (2022) showcases the remarkable range of his musical style. It is in many ways a mature evolution from his self-titled EP (2019) as the young artist discovers his distinct sound with vocals, melodies and production reminiscent of alternative R&B, hip hop and 80s synth-pop.
Manning Bar was transformed to resemble a small nightclub, and hours before Rema even appeared on stage, energy was high. Strangers formed large groups to dance and sing as concert-goers gradually trickled into the venue. DJ Zinger played banger after banger, featuring mostly Afrobeats from favourites such as Wizkid, Burna Boy and Wizz Daniel. This hour was one of my personal highlights of the night. It may appear to be a trivial or unimportant part of the concert, but it is a testament to the incredible power of Afrobeats to bring people together; a power rivalled by no other genre (other than maybe Salsa or 2010s Pop for freshers at Ivy Thursdays). So it’s no wonder Afrobeats has taken the world by storm.
Rema arrived fashionably later than expected, following three hours of DJing and opening acts from a range of local artists. They included Melbourne based Kid Dave, drill group Young6ix, DJ CMJ and two standout dance groups. Needless to say, the crowd was long ready, and Rema was soon welcomed by a wave of screams and raised iPhones.
One of the first songs Rema opened with was ‘Soundgasm’: a slow, sensual single, which places his buttery voice and impressive falsettos on full display. The hour-long setlist was primarily drawn from his debut album, with crowd favourites such as ‘Dumebi’ and ‘Bounce’ interspersed throughout the set to keep earlier fans such as myself, duly satisfied. The pace of the concert quickly intensified after the first two songs — it felt like an extravagant Afrobeats rave, replete with fire, splashing water, flashing neon lights and an incredibly high energy crowd chanting back the lyrics of every song.
That being said, there were a couple dips in tempo with more relaxed, romantic songs like ‘Time N Affection’ and ‘Love’. Other highlights included ‘Calm Down’ — where Rema serenaded a woman from the audience (appropriately wearing yellow as he sings in the lyrics) and ‘FYN’ — showcasing Rema’s rapping talents, which we have not witnessed much of so far in his short career.
As much as Rema is a fantastic performer and artist, it is clear he is still navigating the complicated ropes of touring. At times, the setlist felt incohesive and rushed and the experience as a whole was chaotic — with obvious technical difficulties, malfunctioning bubble machines, awkwardly long transitions and an unfortunately underwhelming conclusion to the night. He is (barely) a 22 year-old artist after all, suddenly propelled into the chaotic music industry and forced to grapple with worldwide fame.
His performance remains a stellar debut, and judging from the euphoric energy of the audience — this is definitely not the last we will see of Rema.