The great thing about concerts in Berlin is that everyone can always sing along, even if the artist is not yet known in this country; There are just so many ex-pats, in this case British, in town, that every gig becomes a home game.
That's how it was on Tuesday evening in Kreuzberg, when Joy Crookes entered the stage of the small "Music & Peace" club after a muscular intro of her band (guitar, bass, powerful drums) mischievously smiled into the sold-out room into the jazz radio shuffle of her song "Mother May I Sleep With Danger".
She would not have needed the support of the British community for this performance. Already in September, at her festival appearance on the Hamburg Reeperbahn, the 20-year-old had shown that she can wrap a completely innocent, in case of doubt ignorant audience within seconds around the finger. The self-evident way in which Crookes moves on stage, the disarming nonchalance with which she can create a kind of instant intimacy – and of course her slightly cooing, hoarse singing voice – all these are elements that the newcomer already compares to Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill.
In the UK Crookes has been celebrated for months as one of the greatest pop discoveries and hopefuls of the coming years. And when you see her acting on stage, in the burschikosen black dungarees top, the long dark brown curls girlish behind the head plugged together, a self-assured, but not off-the-hook Beyoncé grin on his face, then you know why.
The sound of their music is anything but contemporary. Her role models include Crookes Jamaican reggae singer Gregory Isaacs as well as the Irish soul-Knatterer Van Morrison. As a child, she says in an interview, she spent hours watching videos of old live performances of African-American soul and jazz divas: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Eartha Kitt: "Their social status at that time was so low but when they were on stage, they looked like they had found their freedom, they could do what they wanted there, and they played their songs differently on every performance, musically speaking, these women were free, if not in the eyes of the rest of the world. "
Soul and jazz, handmade music, a voice that sounds old before its time, of course you first think of the late retro-queen Amy Winehouse. Crookes finds that flattering, but at the same time she thinks, "Fuck!" Musically, she was influenced by the jazz pioneers, but her whole artistic attitude is a very modern update, both of the spirit of freedom and the rock'n'roll spirit.
Her mother once came to England from Bangladesh, her father, who moved out when Crookes was a small child, is from Ireland. As a person of color, she knows about the pop categorizations that can easily be trapped. In interviews, she therefore vehemently emphasizes that her music should be referred to as alternative not as soul or R & B. "Yes, of course, I have all these influences," she says, "but it must be possible to classify me as a non-white person in something that has nothing to do with my skin color."
She recorded her first song, "New Manhattan," when she was 15 years old. "It was a very stringy classic ballad, but everybody said that's R & B. I was so confused at the time, I did not know who I was yet, if Lana Del Rey had released the same song, it would just have been Pop." Like the US idiosyncratic Frank Ocean, she wants to create her own genre.
Crookes is aware of her biocultural identity today. "I'm as proud of my Irish heritage as of Bangladeshi culture, both of them are part of me, it's just not linear," she says, laughing: If there's nothing in her career then she can still be at St. Patrick's Day with Irish Folktänzen occur – in traditional Indian robes.
For the time being, her music is primarily intended to encourage young women not to be degraded by racist insults or aggressive behavior. "I do not want to fall victim to any kind of sacrifice, I often get very angry, even in my songs, but whining around does not help anyone." Her songs sometimes seem a bit too dapper, especially in her studio versions, while in her lyrics Crookes negotiates the pain and annoyance of her everyday life in the city with some hearty language.
"London Mine" is a little anthem that tells a lot in the humorous Lily Allen style about the often invisible migrant fates in her hometown, but not as a lament, but as a celebration of grace and dignity. "Power," her perhaps strongest song so far, is a feminist challenge: "You're a man on a mission, but you seem to forget, you came through a woman – show some fucking respect."
The line sings them, now armed with a Stratocaster guitar, also in Berlin, and puts the predominantly female audience in frenetic jubilation. A few seconds earlier, in the same song, Crookes had had to cry softly and tenderly as the text centered around her mother. She had had to suppress her culture when she came to England at the time, because the country's social climate did not necessarily welcome migrants.
Only by asking and drilling did she learn more about her South Asian homeland. She celebrates this cultural heritage in her video for the ballad "Since I Left You" with an artistic grace and expressiveness reminiscent of Solange Knowles, her current biggest role model. "We as musicians have the good fortune to have a voice," she says, "if we do not use them to take a stand, then what does it all make sense?".
The concert in Berlin ends after the "Power" highlight with two exuberant funk grooves as an encore. Joy Crookes is tired after the one-hour show, but you get the feeling that she could still go on playing forever – and always mischievously ask the audience: "Are you still with me?". The answer is clear.