Jidenna’s track, “Bambi,” a sort of sweet throwback, scathing pettiness-infused nostalgic-contemporary hybrid of airy West African high life and Atlanta trap and hip-hop is just what I needed to get myself through these last throes of winter. It seems a textbook but simultaneously inspired mish-mash of sound; whining guitar, rolling strings, and dulcet marimba effortlessly mixed with a more modern digitized trap beat, layered over a nostalgic and romantic Harry Belafonte-inspired vocal performance by Jidenna. In other words, the whole thing is a perfect representation of who Jidenna is as an artist and as I listen to The Chief, I’m already getting excited for what he’ll do next.
When Jidenna released the music video for “Bambi” a bit more than a month ago, I thought it was meh. A slow motion thing ending with a slightly crazed Jidenna interrupting his dear Bambi’s wedding, just as he said he would. Nothing new in music video land.
But then he got up and performed the thing live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. And I realized that this performance was better than I could have even imagined it would be. I actually prefer the live version, and particularly the instrumentation of the live guitar and drums, to the production of the original recorded track. And when the beat drops in the live version? I knew it was coming and yet still found it so much more satisfying. It also helps when the musicians are just as into the song as you are, particularly the guy going hard off to the right on the two keyboards. The substitution of harmonized vocals in lieu of instruments was a satisfying end to the performance as well and distinguishes it further from its tamer and more calculated studio version, further reinforcing the strength of Jidenna’s live performance.
There’s something to be said of Jidenna’s actual performance in terms of acting as well. The way the uncommonly disheveled Jidenna bumbles about on stage with a drink in hand, a sheen of sweat and slightly mussed hair paired with an expression which seems at any moment ready to break into tears of self-pity, somehow conveys so much more than the entire music video on an emotional level. Also it somehow makes the whole thing funnier in a commiserating sort of way.
I think the reason I love the live version so much is because it combines the digital sounds of the synth and trap beat so seamlessly with live instrumentation and vocals, adding a depth and emotion to the track that I feel the original production may have lacked. One may think with hip-hop and beats today that performing live may lose some of a track’s (production-focused) luster but this live iteration of “Bambi” is a perfect example of how live performance need not be a second rate version of a studio recording but instead something that makes a piece of music even better.
He also performed it live at SXSW recently but I don’t like it quite as much. Jidenna looks too calm and collected in my personal opinion. Maybe it’s his hat…