By the first song, Xenia Rubinos has the room captivated with only the use of her voice. The first melodic lyric to ‘Lonely Lover’ departs her mouth as effortless as an exhalation and instantly verifies what a skilful singer she is. By the second song, she discards any boundaries that might have separated herself from her audience as she jumps straight onto the middle of the floor and literally sings to your face. By the third, she has the audience wrapped around her finger; without having to ask, everyone has committed to the experience.
Xenia Rubinos is the Brooklyn based, slightly indefinable singer who creates music that is invigorating, sometimes humorous and most of all, political. With a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother she defines and defies what it means to be a brown person in America.
Birthdays, the East London basement club, is the perfect venue for the angry but radiantly ecstatic Xenia who sees no borders between the stage and the crowd. She continuously makes her way through the sea of people and makes sure everyone is taking part, “just checking on you”, she declares playfully as she dances back onto the stage.
She is charismatic and easily grabs your attention, it’s apparent she has things to say and she has found the perfect outlet for it. Perhaps this is why her set is as much communication as performance; she isn’t singing for you, she looks you in the eyes and sings to you.
‘See Them’, one of the more politically charged tracks on her recently released album ‘Black Terry Cat’ is a defining point of the evening. It’s flirtatious: “squeeze an orange on your shoulder, let the juice drip down” the lyrics state as she moves seductively; although it is clear who owns who here. “Concentrate, concentrate / listen to what I’m saying” she repeats, demanding the audience. Suddenly she’s full of attitude and anger. The audience helps her climb a speaker and unintentionally it becomes a rather poetic moment. As she’s held up by their hands she calls out: “You know where to put the brown girl when she’s fucking it up / Where you gonna put the brown girl now she’s tearing it up?”
It’s certainly not a moment overdue, as American politics seems to be approaching the apocalypse; Xenia is a breath of, not fresh air, but rational rage and rebellion.
The set is ever inspiring; it goes through jazz-funk to rap to screaming electric guitars to neo-soul – for the most part, bass lines and Xenia’s wide-ranging vocals dominate the songs. Songs like ‘Pan Y Cafe’, an all-Spanish track from her debut album, adds to the rare quality of the experience.
Xenia is prevailing and for those who are not familiar, there is undoubtedly no more appropriate point in time than now to get acquainted. And those of you who have been to one of her shows; well you are likely wondering why Xenia Rubinos isn’t the name on everyone’s lips.