Rising Stars Shine at Benefit Concert for Pharrell-Backed Charity

Sting once said,  “If you play music with passion and love and honesty, then it will nourish your soul.” If he is to be held to his word, then every soul in The Bitter End was nourished after the incredible performances by a slew of talented, rising stars at NXTWAVE X FOHTA.

NXTWAVE X FOHTA was a benefit concert held on Saturday, July 14 to raise money for Pharrell Williams’ charity, From One Hand To Another. The concert was created and promoted by NXTWAVE, a burgeoning musical collective established by rising DJ, entrepreneur, and Future Music Moguls (FMM) alum, Ava Solomon. The show was hosted by multihyphenate, Che Johnson, and featured performances by Jacob Daley, KJTheRevolution, Keisha Monique, Siréne, Olivia Cella, and Zoe Ko. Che Johnson’s sentiments perfectly summed up the purpose of the showcase, “It really cemented my love for music getting to share it with other people.”

The talented crop of artists took the stage at The Bitter End, a legendary performance venue that has been graced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Etta James, and Taylor Swift. Keisha Monique, an FMM alum, opened the show with a three-song set that included her debut single, “Missing You,” and a cover of Corrine Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On.” The intimate set spoke volumes in just nine minutes: Monique is all about the vocals. Her voice slinked through multiple octaves with enviable control and ease and her smoky and soulful tone enraptured the audience. With her striking afro and quietly confident stage banter, Monique proved she was a marvelous live performer with a will to grow. Special kudos should be given to the song Monique chose to cover, “Put Your Records On” felt right at home in the middle of her set and the choice revealed an acute awareness of her artistry. According to Monique, she wrote a new single “which later became ‘Stars In Your Eyes’,” just “a couple of days before the first rehearsal.” That final song was the perfect closer to a stellar, star-making set.

Keisha Monique (left) and Olivia Cella (right) perform at The Bitter End.

Following Monique, was Olivia Cella, who you might remember from her viral cover of Taylor Swit’s “Blank Space.” Cella delivered an emotional set that resulted in thunderous applause. She performed her latest single, “Missing U,” which recently hit #17 on the New Music Weekly AC Charts. The song, written in collaboration with Nathaniel Levingston, is a perfect encapsulation of Olivia’s artistry. She sings about young love with a sharp edge and a stirring vocal. Cella also performed another song of hers, “Battle Scars,” a moving power ballad, as well as two unreleased tracks, “Us 2” and “Silent Tears.” On “Silent Tears,” Cella played the grand piano as she ripped into the heavy track. Conversely, she shimmied and played with the crowd on the uptempo “Us 2.” Cella joined the line up through Val Molina, a stage manager for the concert and FMM alum, just a week before the show. “I came to one dress rehearsal and from there, I immediately fell in love with the whole experience and purpose” gushed Cella. This much was evident through her performance; Cella was genuinely loving every second of being on The Bitter End’s stage. She did, however, suffer some difficulties due to a three-week illness and an asthma diagnosis. Nevertheless, she fed off the audience’s energy and delivered an unequivocally satisfying set.

After Cella’s performance, Siréne graced the stage with an ethereal and mature set. With songs about her culture and background, her parent’s worries, and her future at the University of Miami and beyond, Siréne delivered some of the most well-written songs of the night; “I’ve been coming into my own as a musician this past year and these songs are… where I am in my development,” said Siréne. Her playful tone bounced across the room as she accentuated her performance with her guitar-playing skills and small hints of choreography. The two standouts from her set (which also included “1:18” and “Sweet Tea”) were “Ghost” and “Kinbel’i.” On the former track, Siréne’s performance had an almost haunting gravitational pull to it; the audience was completely silent and tuned into every note. If recent years have shown that Latin music is the latest “global” trend in American pop music, Siréne’s “Kinbel’i” could make Creole the next big American music trend. With an infectious chorus sung in Creole and an equally catchy melody, “Kinbel’i” had the entire audience clapping and singing along. In addition, Siréne’s stage presence is not to be understated, her onstage repartee was by far the best of the night. Siréne felt at home on the stage, and the audience felt that energy as well.

Zoe Ko (left) and Siréne (right) perform at The Bitter End.

Zoe Ko, a 2017 FMM alum, marked the transition to the hip-hop section of the night. She opened her set with a cover of Chloe x Halle‘s “The Kids Are Alright,” which we named of the top 30 songs of 2018 so far. Her spirited rendition, which featured Siréne on backing vocals and guitar, was filled with energy and swagger. She followed the cover with a performance of an unreleased track titled “I’ll Be Good,” which sounded like a smash hit. Somewhere in the vein of SZA and Jorja Smith, the empowering and uplifting anthem clearly resonated with the audience, with most people nodding their heads and even singing along by the final chorus. Interestingly, Ko was the only performer to make use of the projector. While she performed “I’ll Be Good,” she projected a video that simultaneously served as mini fashion film and conveyor of her artistic aesthetic. Ko also helped Solomon helm and arrange the overall production, she noted that “naturally, with any large event there will be obstacles. This time it was people canceling or not showing up to rehearsals, but beyond all that, it was a great success.”

The penultimate performer, Jacob Daley, absolutely rocked the house with his set. Daley had an effortless cool about him and truly seemed ecstatic to be performing. He opened his set with a stunning display of his rap skill as he tore through “Safe Travels.” Alternatively, he showed off his singing chops and charm on “Wonder” and his penchant for glorious love songs on “Cashmere.” Notably, despite having a slew of music available on various music outlets, Daley said he decided to “[pick] a lot of songs that [he] hadn’t gotten the chance to perform” because he “wanted to test them in a new audience.” His decision definitely paid off as the crowd was dancing along with him and a small group of fangirls emerged in the back corner of the room. Daley was also joined onstage by his dynamic DJ, Ethan Andrade (warpstr). Daley was one of two acts, the other being Cella, that was not an alum of New York University’s Future Music Moguls program. He became apart of the show after Solomon reached out to him when a performer dropped out and like the saying goes, everything happens for a reason. Daley showed immense star potential with his charismatic personality and tremendous performance.

Jacob Daley (left), KJTheRevolution (middle), and Che Johnson (right) perform at The Bitter End.

KJTheRevolution, another FMM alum, closed the show with a riveting set that triumphed self-love and turning up. For the first few songs, she was joined by the magnetic Che Johnson, and for the rest of her set she danced, crouched, and chanted her way into the hearts of the crowd. KJ noted that “being on stage with Che and doing the ‘Shoot’ dance was a great moment for [her].” She opened her set with a remix of Lil Wayne’s “Let the Beat Build” and then segued into her latest single, the funky “I Feel Amazing,” and then the sensual deep cut, “Heart to Heart.” As a lyrically dense rapper, KJ’s dedication to her breath control made her set one of the strongest of the night. Perhaps, the most heartwarming part of the concert came from her audience-interactive and analeptic set closer, “One, Two, Three.”

For the finale, all the performers joined forces for a cover of N.E.R.D.’s “Lemon,” which we named of the best songs of 2017. “My favorite moment was seeing [all the artists] perform ‘Lemon’ for the first time in rehearsal,” said Solomon, “it was the first time we really came together as a cohesive group and they got it perfect on the first try.” Seeing all of that talent on one stage was empowering and inspiring, even the audience seemed overwhelmed by the time the final chords of “Lemon” sounded through the speakers. Stage manager, Gianna Pallante, who also helps Solomon run NXTWAVE, added: “it was amazing working with such talented, humble people.” From the stage managers to the performers and the venue itself, it was clear that everyone pulled their weight to put on this incredible show; these artists are all filled with great potential and this showcase was an excellent catalyst for their extraordinary talents.

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(from left to right) KJTheRevolution, Siréne, Jacob Daley, Olivia Cella, Zoe Ko, Keisha Monique, KJ Johnson, and Ava Solomon performing “Lemon” at the Bitter End.

You can find our NXTWAVE X FOHTA playlist here: Spotify | Apple Music

*The playlist features select songs from each artist. Some songs were performed at the showcase and some were not.*

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