SAN FRANCISCO — MNEK and Raja Kumari offered a double shot of international flair at their Noise Pop Music Festival show at the Rickshaw Stop Wednesday. The paring of the London singer-songwriter and Indian-American artist Raja Kumari was fitting for this year’s festival, striving to push the limits of stylistic eclecticism—not only for their worldly influences but also for their songwriting prowess.
Both artists made their names writing songs for others; with MNEK ghostwriting for Beyoncé and Madonna, while Kumari has contributed lyrics and vocals to Fall Out Boy, Gwen Stefani and Lindsey Stirling. This concert saw both artists stepped onto the stage at a sold-out Rickshaw Stop to showcase their own talents.
MNEK took the stage flanked by a team of four dancers opening with the upbeat jam “Correct.” MNEK showcased his silky vocals and impressive range throughout the night, filling his set with a modern pop sheen infused with R&B and soul. Moving into the Gorgon City track “Ready For Your Love,” the headliner added full choreography to bolster his powerhouse vocals. A projection screen amplified his name and four large strobe lights filled the stage with red and blue hues.
“I smell a little weed in this place,” the singer joked about the distinct aroma.
MNEK not only filled his set with his own solo material, but included some of the songs he features in—mostly notably “Never Forget You” a song he performs with Swedish songstress Zara Larsson. He bookended his kiss-off anthem “Phone” with Dua Lipa’s “IDGAF,” which he co-wrote. MNEK’s onstage personality, undeniable flamboyance and diva-like attitude had the room on lock as he strutted, swayed, bounced and stuck the landing.
“This next song is very appropriate for this,” he quipped before having the audience pass over a vaping device for him to take a hit before diving into “In Your Clouds.” The majority of his material came from his debut album, Language, before he closed out the final night of his U.S. tour with “Tongue.”
The night was supposed to feature a third performance from singer and actress Tayla Parx, but she had to cancel because her flight arrived too late. The change in schedule served as an opportunity for opener Raja Kumari to step up, playing an extended set of exciting and fresh material.
Kumari’s influences are unique. She’s part Ariana Grande, a little bit Kendrick Lamar, with a healthy dose of The Fugees. Kumari proved it was was the perfect mixture under the Indian cultural umbrella.
As Kumari took the stage, a giant photo projected onto the screen with her sporting some traditional Indian jewelry along with grills on her teeth—an accurate summation of her fashion. Kumari blended powerful singing with ferocious bars over heavy Indian rhythms.
“Culture forward, culture first. Always,” Kumari proudly said of her heritage.
Raja Kumari’s cultural roots were certainly prevalent, but never to the point where her songs felt foreign. These undercurrents gave “City Slums” its undeniable catchiness, like an Indian-influenced “Lose Yourself.” With her extended time on stage, she performed the majority of her latest EP, Bloodlines.
“I wanted to imagine a world where Hindi is on the radio like Spanish, like the song ‘Despacito’ was,” Kumari said about what inspired her sound.