Music / CIMF, Concert 20: “Finale”, Kirrah Amosa, Aron Ottignon and Lisa Oduor-Noah. At Fitters’ Workshop, May 7. Reviewed by FELIX HUBER. 

PERFORMANCES from singer-songwriters both local and international were a heart-warming and inspiring conclusion to an excellent series of concerts from the Canberra International Music Festival, if a little unsuited.

Opening the performance was local artist Kirrah Amosa, who sang a short, sweet set of songs including Samoan classics “Samoa Matalasi” and “Sosefina”, as well as her own original, “Island Way”, over which she sang the chorus of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”. 

Entertaining between songs, she told tales of motherhood and engaging with the Samoan language of her heritage through her music.

In the lead up to the second act, NZ-born jazz pianist Aron Ottignon performed two pieces solo. His playing was often almost classical, with improvised melodies sounding like something Mozart may have written. This made it all the more exciting when he tore into sprawling blues licks or twisting lines more typical of the jazz vocabulary.

Jazz pianist Aron Ottignon… playing was often almost classical, with improvised melodies sounding like something Mozart may have written. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Ottignon was then joined by Kenyan singer-songwriter Lisa Oduor-Noah who cut straight to the chase, requesting the full participation of the audience. 

For her first song, “No Way”, we were asked to join in with one, two and three-fingered claps to imitate rain. Embarrassingly for an audience containing many prolific members of Canberra’s music community, she overestimated our ability to clap along in complex meter and the rhythms she gave us were pulled slowly away from what was intended to fit a more traditional grid.

Oduor-Noah’s songs incorporated a variety of styles, morphing between the rich chords and acrobatic vocals of soul to more poppy, upbeat sounds that wouldn’t be out of place in musical theatre. 

Ottignon filled in the spaces with musical portraits; lyrics about birds from Oduor-Noah inspired a flutter of keys from his adept hands. 

The arrangements were spare with only the pair of them playing, but this proved a strength as it provided a much clearer window into the soul of this extraordinary woman through the barebones machinery of her song writing. 

She was in tears as she introduced her song “The Oasis on Mbaazi Street”, which she explained was about the home she grew up in and was performing live for the first time.

The decision to finish a concert series whose performers and viewership have hailed primarily from the classical world with a set of singer-songwriter performances seemed to come a little out of left field.

This showed during the performance as, upsettingly, the participation from the audience leant towards lukewarm and Oduor-Noah’s songs suffered a little as a result. 

Oduor-Noah and Ottignon still managed to deliver a gripping and emotional performance despite this.

Local artist Kirrah Amosa… sang a short, sweet set of songs including Samoan classics. Photo: Peter Hislop.

Feature image: Kenyan singer-songwriter Lisa Oduor-Noah… cut straight to the chase. Photo: Peter Hislop.

This review was originally written and published by FELIX HUBER from CityNews on 07 May 2023.