Afra Kane is an Italian-Nigerian soul songstress, who holds the 2019 Montreux Jazz Talent Award under her belt, and has taken over Hong Kong’s quintessential entertainment room for the city’s beau monde, Café Carlyle at Carlyle & Co. — the Rosewood Hotel Group's private members' club in the city.
There’s something infinitely, and astutely, classic about Afra Kane, and in a way that she upholds through her quasi-neo outlook on music. She understands how today’s sound of soul is far more minimal and stripped down than what she grew up with, and maybe this suits her unabashedly powerful tones to flow in their own intimate space in the music.
For the last two weeks, Afra Kane has been enchanting the recently opened Café Carlyle — her undeniably euphonious voice and neolithic demeanour couldn’t be more fitting to grace the sophisticated room.
After arriving in Hong Kong, Afra Kane says, “The most memorable experience was the first show at Café Carlyle — where I literally came out of a 21-day quarantine and had one day to rehearse with the other musicians. I was shocked by the open reception of my artistry by the band members. So, it was a great release of all the anxiety I had leading up to that debut gig.”
Afra’s been honing her voice since her toddler days, and it wasn’t until she turned 16 that she really decided to do something about the harmonious element in her life. Classical piano and an academic approach to arrangement and composition was her primary route, entering competitions and conservatoires along the way. Although she mostly grew up in Italy, Afra’s inspirations are deeply rooted in the Detroit sound of Motown, and while that gave her a breakaway energy to unfold her soul, she was often conflicted by pressures brought on by her classical background — ”...for a long time I was ashamed. I was in a conservatoire, and in that institution it’s very much about conserving classical music”, Afra confesses.
Her technical thought process behind both her practice and understanding of music is beyond commendable — harmony is a serious game for Afra.
From those long-built aspirations of reigning the piano as a soloist, things changed for Afra about three years ago. Or rather, Afra changed things for herself.
“I felt constantly guilty. To balance practicing Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky with working on creative skills is a challenge! It’s a hard balance. So, I left the conservatoire and started releasing my own stuff.”
From now up until Thursday, 30 December, Afra brings her new found vulnerability to the stage at Cafe Carlyle, behind the keys and the mic.
Talking about her preferred hybrid-approach to performance, “I have worked with an orchestra, where I only sing, but I do feel naked without playing. I will be doing both with this residency, so I won’t always be accompanying myself, but I do feel a bit more exposed without the piano. It’s my security.”
“In my music I like going in different places harmonically so it might sound quite dissonant, which maybe does give it a jazz ‘feel’, but there is no element of improvisation. There is an element of Motown, soul music from the 70s, which I adore; music from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Otis Redding. And there is also definitely this presence of gospel music in my songs.”
The confidence she applies to creating her own musical ecosystem on stage allows Afra to exude and absorb emotional connections with her room. Describing that process, Afra says, “I feel that most times we push emotions away, and I feel like I’m able to inspire that connection. And that’s important for me. That’s my aim when I’m on stage. I’ve had people telling me I give them goosebumps, I make them cry, and I feel like in our everyday life we don’t always have the chance to be that connected with our emotions, so that speaks to me a lot.”
Afra Kane’s residency is the third in an ongoing series of guest artists reigning the stage at one of Hong Kong’s most affluent rooms. Inspired and acquired from its legendary namesake in New York, Café Carlyle brings glamour to a re-defined sense of old school finesse, where timeless mannerisms take precedence and a future vision of preserved society is upheld behind the grandiose velvet curtain that their members can step through.
Find out more about Afra Kane’s residency at Café Carlyle Hong Kong here, and if you're able to make it to an evening with her, make sure to send over a Hugo aperitivo — who says no to bubbly classics?