Featured image and gallery: Georgina Hurdsfield
The gloomy refrain “I hate the facts, I hate the situation” echoes affirmatively among the gothic furnishings of the Albert Hall. The fact is that 5000 fans have converged under the ornate roof; the situation being the first of Bakar’s two sold-out shows in Manchester. The aforementioned lyrics couldn’t have been delivered with any less sincerity tonight.
Abubakar Baker Shariff-Farr’s tour has taken him from his London hometown to venues across the continent, drawing to its close in Manchester. Abubakar adopts a stage alias paying tribute to his Tanzanian ancestry, with ‘Bakar’ emblazoned with fashbulbs on the venue’s exterior.
Advertised in crass capital letters, this evening’s opener is Canadian punk EKKSTACY. Adorning smudged eyeliner that puts Robert Smith to shame, the Canuck takes performative swigs from a conspicuous bottle of liquor, stumbling about the stage. His backing band delivers a blitz of post-punk cuts and the earlybird audience is particularly captivated by ‘i walk this earth all by myself’, a product of TikTok virality. Harkening back to 1980s punk, inspiration from The Misfits and Joy Division is present and you could believe they’d been plucked from an Oxford Road dive bar basement. By the end, through a combination of intoxication and exhaustion, the frontman is escorted offstage by his bandmates.
After an interval observed in darkness, the seated audience rises in anticipation of Bakar’s ascendance. As the lights raise, only his enlarged silhouette is visible, his figure obscured by the translucence of a disc afloat. Bakar delivers the set’s first song in shadow and as the veil lifts, the mellow chords of ‘I’m Done’ emanate, a crowd pleaser handpicked from 2023’s Halo. Bakar is alone, the backing tracks curated by a duo of multi-instrumentalists tucked away in the wings. The pair work relentlessly to keep in time with the breakneck verses of the ensuing ‘All In’, the first track featured off debut mixtape Badkids.
Beyond the sanctuary of the Albert Hall, a sizable protest is taking place on the streets of Manchester. Demonstrators are partaking in the ‘Reclaim The Night’ movement, an annual march to raise awareness of violence against women. Taken from Bakar’s record Nobody’s Home, the chorus of ‘Reclaim!’ rings appropriately true: “Can we reclaim this place? I’m taking back what I want”.
Bakar continues his chameleon-esque approach to songwriting by showcasing early career tracks. At the request of a fan’s hand-written t-shirt, the backing band are put on the spot for an impromptu rendition of ‘Dracula’ while during ‘Small Town’, Bakar scales the balcony’s railings to serenade the crowd from the pews, perched at the base of a freshly erected Christmas tree. To security’s relief, he returns to the stage to close the set with more tracks from Halo. Lead single ‘Alive’ is equally upbeat, although the lyric: “Sunshine isn’t promised” rings particularly true amongst Mancunian attendees.
During a tender passage of ‘Selling Biscuits’, Bakar enters the glaring stage lights, decanting his dark overgarments to reveal a pearly white vest. The religious iconography of Halo is amplified by the Albert Hall’s interior: the domed ceiling’s intricate crucifixes, stained windows of red, blue and green, strobes casting shadows against the organ looming above the stage. In the spotlight’s full beam, standing before the pit and pews, Bakar exuberates an angelic aura. Hanging low, the translucent disc is illuminated for the final few songs, creating the illusion of a shining halo.
To nobody’s surprise, Bakar saves his most triumphant track for the set’s tailend. Released in 2019, Hell N Back evokes teenage memories of long hot summers with friends. As the innocence of youth begins to slip away from this adolescent audience, the spritely verses are cause for fond reminiscence and in spite of freezing temperatures, the song warms all those who lend their voices to its chorus. As Bakar makes his false exit, some revellers head for the doors, crushing back towards the stage as the final song ignites, ‘Big Dreams’. A cocksure song written in 2017, when Abubakar was still sampling tracks from his bedroom on his local estate, the debut release is now a staple number of his encore.
The hyperbolic reception of Halo and his previous discography has surely surpassed Bakar’s wildest dreams, evidenced by his outpouring of emotion to the audience’s rapturous applause. At the age of just 29, it may be that Bakar is daring to dream even bigger than ever before.