Santigold now belongs to pop, but she remains an art staple of the hybrid variety. The singer and song crafter Santi White has been cross-pollinating music since before she sang her own hits, seamlessly folding the Caribbean and Africa into indie rock and hip-hop. It's not a new recipe, everyone from Sting to Gwen Stefani have used reggae to beef up American pop. But Santi keeps it global, incorporating dancehall and dubstep on her first record and pooling a variety of cultural shout-outs on Master of My Make-Believe, her second album, released last week.
Like Bjork with a pinch of Missy Elliott, Santi saunters onstage with two-tone pedal pushers and singular confidence. On Jimmy Fallon last week she sang mostly low-register for an understated performance. The lyrics to "Disparate Youth" were the raucous bit; showcased on late-night TV the day after the NYPD revisited Occupy.
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So let them say we can't do better / Lay out the rules that we can’t break / They want to sit and watch it wither / Their legacy's too hard to take
Two nights before, she performed at Bowery Ballroom for an adoring crowd. Opener Theophilus London turned up the crowd and Santi and her dancers raised the roof. I watched from the balcony, dancing next to Jay-Z and Beyonce’s hot bodyguard.
Before she dueted with MIA or sang with Kanye, Santigold worked with Wu-Tang and penned songs for Christina Aguilera and Ashlee Simpson. She produced and wrote most of an excellent record for the artist Res and then fronted her own rock band. I’d seen Santi play with Stiffed at SOBs circa 2002 and I got excited about her metamorphosis from rock to Santogold. A lawsuit, brought in 2009 by a defunct B-movie director with claims to the name, caused a shift of vowel into Santigold and here we are, second record.
At Bowery Ballroom, while her dancers pranced and pounced holding ruffled parasols, her band performed wearing white, melted-ice-cream, high-top-fade hats of a Devo persuasion. For one song, the band members ducked under a horse costume and made their way across the stage like a Chinese New-Year dragon. Geometric light projections and evocative sound combinations like tinkling keys and grinding bass tones kept the audience guessing. Art pop or global beat, Santigold creates musical cross-dressing that is easy to praise.