Seventeen years ago, a young musician got his start in music playing the African drums on-stage with his father. Last Friday, however, in the heart of Lincoln Park, Kweku Collins geared up to perform the second show of his Tour One Tour.
Though he once dreamed of becoming a professional skateboarder, Kweku’s musical career really took off when he signed with Chicago’s Closed Sessions in 2015. Now a seasoned performer, he’s been featured on shows with Whitney, Red Bull Sound Select, Pitchfork Music Festival and more. This time around, he’ll be accompanied by Joseph Chilliams on a month-long headlining tour across the US and Canada.
As neither Colleen nor I had been to a Kweku Collins show before, we weren’t sure what to expect. When we pulled up to Lincoln Hall, we noticed there were more people inside the lobby area than in the showroom. With the buzz of our pregame still present, we took a few moments to scan the room and made conversation with the few people who came early. While the room was by no means as packed as it would be an hour later, the energy was beginning to warm up.
The night started off with Chicagoan soul-singer Christian JaLon, the opener for the night as she sang a few songs off her two projects If You Let Me and Vinyled Love. Through her music, she allows her spiritual and romantic experiences to reflect in any project she’s working on. The music in the air radiated her jazz and acoustically-based persona as she crooned to the slightly sleepy crowd.
Next to take the stage was Joseph Chilliams, and if you haven’t heard Joseph, you haven’t been listening. A strong and charismatic stage presence allows him to speak to the crowd like he’s speaking to his friends. As the occupancy of the venue began to increase, so did his personal presence in the room.
A known lover of the movie Mean Girls, Joseph joked with his audience throughout his set, using cultural keystones and Hollywood references to carve his own lane in Chicago’s serious hip-hop community, even rocking a Britney Spears t-shirt and voicing his personal vendetta against Bow-Wow. When he performed his single “Fergie,” I knew then he had his audience wrapped around his finger. His younger brother, Saba, another established Chicago rapper and contributor off his latest project, Henry Church, was also there to show support.
When the crowd was at its peak, the man of the hour made his appearance. As Kweku Collins began his set, it was clear to see that the crowd adored him, with those in the front row never taking their eyes off him. His band kept smooth tempo as the lights dimmed and the fog crept up onto the stage.
Styled in a sick overalls ensemble, Kweku scampered across the stage, truly connecting with the audience as a performer. As he transitioned from upbeat songs like “Stupid Rose” and “Lucky Ones” to slower gems like “Aya” and “Lonely Lullabies,” he filled the room with his voice in such a way that showed off his musical background and growth as an artist.
From backstage, we could see his fans looking at him with strong admiration and bellowing out the lyrics, nodding their heads and lifting their phones to capture the moment. As his set came to a close and he bid the crowd farewell, we congratulated him on a great show which he thanked with genuine appreciation.
After the show, Colleen and I headed to the merch table to chat with Chilliams. It was easy to tell his jokeful banter had definitely followed him off the stage. His sweet persona made him easy to talk to as he posed with fans for photos. Outside the venue, showgoers were calling their Ubers and we got a chance to catch up with Saba, Chilliams, and Appleby, all supporters of Kweku. A sweet brother moment was shared as Saba and Joseph bonded over Firecakes donuts.
Even though it was only the second stop on the tour, Kweku gave the Windy City a solid example of what the diverse music scene has to offer. Everyone who took the stage that night radiated Chicago pride. Overall, the show had fulfilled its purpose of connecting the audience and performer with intimate delivery.
Written by: Andrea Carrillo
Photos by: Colleen Kennedy & Andrea Carrillo