It must be hard living up to a label like ‘the next big thing.’ There’s a weight of expectation engendered by the title that nothing can possibly live up to. In terms of popular music, so many next-big-things have fizzled out or else failed to ignite altogether that after a while you stop paying any attention.
Predictions of this kind are common, and made in the expectation of scoring ‘cool-points’ for being the first to make the correct call. But being tagged and branded in this way has its disadvantages.
I have a slightly scattergun approach to new music. I don’t go to a specific magazine or website; I don’t rely on a radio station. That’s too prescriptive and I never get to hear enough of the kind of music I like. Word of mouth, specifically through the internet, is the best source, and it’s easy, with the use of YouTube, Spotify and the like, to adopt a try-before-you-buy approach.
One artist about which you should believe the hype is Blackpool born singer-songwriter Karima Francis. Radio One DJ Edith Bowman named her one to watch in 2012 in an article in the Mirror, describing her as having ‘a voice that spits emotion.’ She also claimed her to be ‘something totally new,’ and that’s not strictly true. Labels of this kind have been applied to Karima before. In 2008, the Daily Mail called her ‘the next big thing,’ and the Guardian put her on their list of the best new acts in 2009. So why, in spite of this high praise, is her name not yet on the lips of every music lover in the UK?
Those kind of unhelpful labels often play no insignificant part in that, although Karima told The Camel’s Hump she doesn’t really feel the pressure. “I’m just excited to have the support of a label like Vertigo,” she said.
People are smart and discerning enough to make up their own minds what they do and don’t like. The music press do play an important part in informing and sharing opinion, but if informed by, say, the NME, that something is hot or upcoming, I automatically disregard it. That’s partially because I don’t trust many opinions other than my own, but mostly because I don’t like to be told what to think. The unfortunate down side of that stance is that sometimes something genuinely good passes right over your radar, and you don’t hear about it until it’s already gone beyond new and cool into the realms of the vulgar mainstream.
Her first album, The Author, was released on her old label, Kitchenware, in 2009, to mixed reviews, receiving almost universal praise for her vocal performance but with many critics citing some weaker songs as its main flaw. But one thing commonly agreed by critics is that where she makes the greatest impression is live.
My first experience of Karima as a performer was as support for King Charles (another artist bubbling under on many of those annoying ‘artist to watch’ lists,) where she not only blew my socks off, but blew them right out of the building, and all the way home to my wash basket. As insubstantial as she appears on stage – a nervy looking, dark-haired dandelion-like thing – she projects more passion and spirit with her performance than you could believe possible. “I feel alive when I’m on stage,” she says. “It’s the only place I want to be.”
Karima is still very young, and not yet fully grown into her talent. She needs the chance to flourish at her own pace. Her incredible ability and potential have been recognized by the industry people who make those kind of calls, but, in this time of transition for the music business, they’re too eager to drop something into the pool of artists then act surprised when it doesn’t make the expected splash. It’s abundantly clear to anyone who hears her just how good she could be, but these things take time and can’t be forced.
Her upcoming second album, The Remedy, is due for release early in 2012. Of it, she told us “this album is so much better than the first; more mature and more about the things that are going on in my life right now.” If that’s true, and her new label give her the support this kind of young talent needs, then 2012 really could be the year in which she becomes the musical prodigy she deserves to be.