Najwa Mahiaddin has been silently gaining ground in the local music scene as one of the few female singers to embrace R&B wholeheartedly. While her early tracks are at times clichéd (“Got To Go”), over the years, the tracks that she has released since then are increasingly layered with thoughtful instrumentation (“Innocent Soul”). Aurora, her latest EP, proves to be a solid foothold in her attempt at melding her soulful rich voice with challenging and unique sound.

Performing at The Bee last week as part of their Upfront series, Najwa presented a set that mixed new and old songs, and a few covers of her favourite tunes. The show started with the first track from her latest EP, “Lover”, a calm yet exasperated plea to a lost love.

Her sensuous voice featured prominently in this track, delivering pathos without overdoing it, allowing the subtle droning and static noise throughout the song to convey the exhaustion with failed relationships. It is a terse song, but its abrupt end worked to its favour.

In “Before”, another track from the Aurora EP, her preoccupation with former lovers again takes centre stage, but instead of frustration, the song expresses forgiveness and strength. Her maturity as a composer is clear in this song. Clear, steady beats provide a solid foundation upon which a catchy electro hook loops in the background.

The sombre tone of the performance gave way to the more catchy song “Jealousy” later in the set, with a memorable chorus and a bass line that elicited more exuberance.

“Wonderland”, punctuated with piano beats, was performed with a hallucinatory feel to already dreamy lyrics (If you’re going down, the ra-bbit hole // If you’re going down, down below).

The set included two covers: Pretty Girls by Little Dragon and Heaven on the Ground by Emily King and Jose James. Najwa’s cover of the former is markedly more energetic than the original version, surprisingly.

But “save the best for the last” seemed to be the order of the night: Najwa closed with “Floatin”, a meticulously composed song that showcased her triumphant vocals and penchant for dramatic effects. The slow, drony pulse prominently faded in and out in the beginning of the song, only to give way to the chaotic beats and aggressive synth towards the end.

The performance was testament to Najwa’s progression since her early songs. Despite lyrics that very much echo the same sentiments and themes, the music that colours those expressions are different and challenging. It was certainly a live show that should have won her many new fans.

Audi bin Ali