Transform Leeds Festival: Desire Marea

This week I was invited down to Leeds Left Bank to see South African Musician Desire Marea, although to simply call Desire a musician would be a disservice.

An artist, in every sense of the word would be a more accurate description. The event was part of Transform Leeds, a City-wide festival aimed at altering people’s perceptions as to what Theatre can represent and look like in the Leeds region and the North more broadly.

Upon arrival at the venue, the first thing that strikes you is the beautiful aesthetic and décor that the church venue offers. Complete with relaxed seating and simple, homely spaces, Left Bank lends itself perfectly to what is to come.

Desire Marea’s performance was bookended by two DJ sets, from Marjai andLuscious, each of whom offered their own unique sounds and performances to the evening, captivating audiences for the entirety of their sets.

After Marjai finishes, Marea’s band begins to set up and get into position, the crowd gathers in front of the stage and eagerly awaits the arrival of the main event, and, as the backlighting begins to fill the room, a silhouette appears in the middle of the stage. From there, what follows is a full hour of non-stop electric and ethereal sounds, movements and interactions. Desire Marea manages to hold the audience that spans all age groups and bring together the room as if everyone is part of one collective community, each there to share in the moment of euphoria that the performance provides.

Desire’s latest album On the Romance of Being has been praised by fans and critics alike and it’s not hard to see why, with its blend of electronic sounds, drum beats and jazz-infused instrumentals, the music played at the event builds upon what Desire has done before, both in solo work and through collaborations. It feels like the performance at Left Bank kicked off the upcoming UK tour with an explosive start, one which hopefully sets the precedence for the upcoming shows.

After a few songs, Desire invites the audience closer, and begins to more directly interact with the people there, making the performance truly immersive and personal. Appearing so relaxed and comfortable allows the audience to feel the same and really relate to the music.

The use of lighting and performance make the whole show feel like much more than a gig; it feels like a piece of theatre. There are narratives woven throughout that tell a story about Desire, the artist’s music and life up to this point. It helps to further enhance Transform Leeds’ mission, to show a different side to theatre and to show how varied Leeds, as a city is, in relation to cultural interests.

Observing the sheer variety in the audience highlights that the Transform Leeds Festival is proving to be a success and appeals to a multitude of people. The warmth from the audience towards Desire and the stage tells me that the people of Leeds are keen for new and original work to come to the City. The show does highlight how much work has clearly been invested by the organisers to provide the theatre going audiences of Leeds with original and varied material.

Going forward, I think that the performance from Desire Marea and what it showcases for the City of Leeds will have a huge impact on performances down the line within the City and greater Leeds area. I believe that it brings Leeds one step closer to being a city already known for individuality and originality.

Photography by George Willoughby.

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