Black Porcelainby Zoe Henry / 15.06.2009
When I was little I wanted to be a jazz singer in one of those smoky nightclubs. I loved getting dressed up in my grandmother’s sequined dress from the 1930s and standing in front on the mirror, lip-syncing into my hairbrush to greats like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Ella Fitzgerald. Obviously it was not in my stars, but big ups to Black Porcelain for following her dream. Relatively new to the scene, she and her band stood on the little stage at Fogey’s and did their damndest to prove that this breed of jazz is not only a thing reserved for old LPs to be dug up and played during a dinner party to prove what eclectic taste one has.
The evening got off to a bit of a bitter start when the Oompah-Loompha like door lady scowled at us and refused to comprehend that I could be on the guest list. But after she ushered us inside with a curt “Fine, just go in”, I put my irritation aside and ordered a glass of red. Black Porcelain and her keyboardist started the evening with a little story about when she went on a blind date, interspersed with vocal jazz classics appropriate for the story. When she saw a hot guy and thought that might be her date, she broke into “At last my love has come along…” And when she saw the not so attractive chap that actually was her date, she bust out a little “Mean to me. Why are you so mean to me…” It was a fun way to start the show. The way she went from singing to talking and back to singing was very Nina Simone-esque, only not quite so stoned.
After one song accompanied by only the keyboardist, the rest of the band joined them on stage. When the backup singers start up, the band’s sound is beautiful and complete. But when Black Porcelain goes at it alone with numbers totally dependant on raw vocal talent, like Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” or Nina Simone’s “Sugar in my Bowl”, it seems that Black Porcelain has had very little formal voice training, if any at all. Being able to sing in key is absolutely vital for this genre, and Black Porcelain often misses it.
When they played a number introduced only as “a bit of a stalker song”, I became convinced. It had a Sugarbabes-cum-Skunk Anansie vibe, and Black Porcelain has a rather impressive albeit unexpected rock ‘n roll roar. Each of the backup singers were allowed to take centre stage for a solo, the first of whom did a very vibey “Girl from Ipanema” sung in Portuguese, and the second belted out a rather impressive “Summertime”. The only real lowlight of the show was the drum solo. I’m not sure who these are for. The only people I imagine enjoying them are other drummers. And call me ignorant if you like, but I never know whether it’s good or not. Being somewhat of a veteran of live gigs, I’ve learned to tolerate these invasive ruckuses, but this dude just went on and on, and for some reason felt the need to subject us to a second solo.
Black Porcelain has the chic Joburg interracial funk that we so often lack here in the Cape, and I feel lucky to have experienced it. They still have a long way to go as a band and haven’t quite gelled yet. They don’t have that ‘communicating without speaking’ telepathy that more experienced bands have. At the moment Black Porcelain comes across as a little girl playing dress-up, practising her classics with a hairbrush in front of the mirror. But with practice, persistence and passion, she could one day be a jazz great.