Elmiene has gotten too big for his breeches. But as an artist on the rise, that’s a delightful issue. The British-Sudanese singer is adamant about marking his time and stealing split seconds to bask in his accelerated popularity. However, since he’s inching his way to the big leagues, it’s high time he embraced it. To Elmiene, he’s still a dewy-eyed novice in his home singing for the admiration of a few anonymous users online. To the restlessly overflowing audience of Brooklyn, New York’s hottest new venue, Public Record, Elmiene is the golden boy of R&B’s new school.
On November 1, for his first solo headlining show in the state, Elmiene transformed the ordinary former animal sanctuary into an acoustic haven for lovers of the genre. Having performed abroad on BBC’s Later… with Jools Holland and coveted festival stages such as Glastonbury 2023, Elmiene is no stranger to a live audience. Even stateside, as part of Spotify’s RNB First Nights: The Showcase at SOBs in September, he gained experience serenading greater New York City residents. However, in this show, backed by AdHoc, Elmiene boldly stood alone. With no flashy co-sign, beloved local opening act, or venue theatrics, the weight fell squarely on Elmiene’s shoulders, which he made look like child’s play.
On the heels of grandiose tours from Beyoncé (Renaissance World Tour) and Victoria Monét (Jaguar Tour), you’d be silly to think Elmiene would attempt his best eight count alongside highly sought-after background dancers. Instead, Elmiene found an alternative route to keep the crowd locked into his set. Digging deeply into the stage, Elmiene stiffly planted his feet like a grandfathered oak tree, unconsciously playing into his mountainous frame, making his voice the central focus. His vocals delicately traveled throughout the spaces, like a cool summer breeze passing through the leaves of that mighty work of nature.
From the first note that left his lips, it was evident Elmiene was on a mission, the obvious being to conquer the Big Apple, but buried beneath that was a cultural torch carrying of sorts. “I studied this sh*t in Oxford! Where I was the only one who cared about R&B,” he declared to the crowd.
Obviously, Elmiene was there to put on a show, but his performance was infused with gratitude for those who have forged the path he so humbly travels. With just one hour to execute that vision, Elmiene’s tribute began with his artistic uniform consisting of his voluminous, fluffed-out coily hair accessories with a pick and his traditional kaftan (or thobe), both symbols of his heritage and tie to the diaspora. This flower-giving continued with his setlist in which Elmiene’s original works were sandwiched by classic R&B ballads spanning the decades.
By Elmiene’s opening number, concertgoers were fighting for a clear view of the singer as the space couldn’t accommodate those dying to experience his sultry abilities in person. Even without a sightline, every attendee had an ear full of Elmiene’s angelic vocals. Although the venue lacked the necessary physical space for the crowd, it made up for it in acoustics, playing into Elmiene’s strengths. Relying on the crowd’s engagement during what he called “culture quizzes” (or call-and-response segments), fans were wrapped around Elmiene’s finger. That worked until chinks in Elmiene’s stage presence armor were exposed when it became clear he wasn’t all too confident with the lyrics himself. Still, the audience showed grace.
With just a two-piece band (keyboardist and guitarist) and no background singers, layered by Elmiene’s frazzled attempts at spontaneity, his captivating vocals had to work overtime. Is Elmiene still in his rookie season? Yes. Or so that’s an argument that could be made to excuse away his minimalist approach to his show. Considering that his debut album is rumored to be released next year, he doesn’t have much time to figure it out aimlessly. Fortunately for Elmiene, it wouldn’t take much for him to level up his show. If he wants to keep with the intimate approach, the stage layout, mood lighting, and simple ticketholder seating are a start (i.e., Blue Note NYC). Elmiene could also lean into his acoustic sensibilities. But above all, Elmiene needs to finetune his set list or, at the bare minimum, lock in the lyrics for fan-favorite covers.
Everything that glitters certainly isn’t gold, but after this performance, Elmiene’s shimmering fan-designated title appears to be more of a promising premonition than a counterfeit claim. Elmiene’s voice, passion for the genre, and charm make you want to rally behind him. If I were a betting woman, he’s an act I would gladly put my money on. If North American concert promoters are wise, they’re already taking a page out of AdHoc’s book, filling Elmiene’s calendar with more bookings across the continent.
Elmiene is more than a singular moment. He’s the return to R&B roots, something that has seemingly been abandoned on the mainstream front. Elmiene is the North Star that the generations after will reference as their inspiration. Was I blown away by his debut headlining show? No, but I walked away with something much more important—hope. Mark my words; when Elmiene returns to this market, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Elmiene’s latest EP, Marking My Time, is available now. To stream, click here.
“Maybe I Deserve” (Tank cover)
“Marking My Time”
“I Gotta Be” (Jagged Edge cover)
“Cupid” (112 cover)
“Mad At Fire”
“Freek’n You” (Jodeci cover)
“Nice And Slow” (Usher cover)
“Endless No Mores”
“Pretty Wings” (Maxwell cover)
“Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (Blue cover)
“Why (Spare Me Tears)”
* Cover Photo by Joseph Buscarello, courtesy of AdHoc