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“She Is The Torch”

It has been some four years since I sat in the Lowry Quays theatre and watched as slender, dreadlocked figure appeared from the wings carrying a guitar and took her position at the front of the stage. The performance she proceeded to give was in stark contrast to the fragile and breathy style of that night’s headliner Lou Rhodes and one that captured my interest immediately with songs of raw intensity delivered by a distinct and unique voice. So much so I made a point of seeking out the young lady in question during the interval to express just how impressed I had been. That was the first of what has become the many occasions on which I have had the pleasure of watching and meeting Karima Francis. During the following eighteen months Karima continued to work on her debut album “The Author” – releasing it in 2009 to much deserved critical acclaim. It was, and still is, a body of work fit to grace any music collection, filled as it is with deeply personal songs documenting the challenging times of her youthful life and taking them on in a brave and uncompromising style.

Ask any of her many fans and they will tell you how much they still treasure the content of that album but, as important as it still is to her, this is the time for a new dawn – a time for moving forwards and with the support of her family and those who hold her dearest in their hearts, she has arrived at a point where she feels that she is now capable of making the music that she dreamt of when she started this journey. It is easy to understand, therefore, why in conversation, Karima is so excited and optimistic for the release of her second album especially when you realize that production has been handled by none other than the profoundly talented Flood whose CV of the artists with whom he has worked reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the music world! Add to that a fine set of musicians including, of course, Simon Robbs, a talented guitarist and songwriter in his own right and someone whose contribution to Karima’s career to date both in live performance and in the studio deserves huge recognition.

It’s a measure of the quality of these songs that performed live they carry such immense power and the promise of the recorded material is a mouth watering prospect. As modesty and humility form an integral part of Karima’s make up it isn’t unusual for her to feel less confident than people with half of her talent before a gig, but tonight sees her take to the stage in the intimate surroundings of Preston’s Mad Ferret - a venue that she has graced on many occasions and one in which it is obvious that she feels at home. With her latest official tour complete, her desire to perform burns away inside her sufficiently that she will find a way to play by requesting addition to an already established bill allowing her to do what she loves most. The truth is that music is the air that she breathes and playing is the blood in her veins. What takes her music to a level unattainable by other talented performers is her ability, and even more importantly, her willingness to share her hopes, her regrets and her dreams through her lyrics in a way that is deeply moving and transforms a set of brilliant songs into a diary of her life and a snapshot of her soul. Confident in her new compositions and delighted as the night unfolds at the rapturous acceptance of each song, Karima performs a set including “Forgiven”, “Good, Bad and Ugly” and forthcoming title track “Remedy” – all instantly memorable and growing in strength with each successive live show. Such is the rich, creative song writing form that Karima is in at present that further new material is constantly developing and for the second time this week I have the pleasure of hearing a song that I believe to be as strong as anything that she has written – the atmospheric and powerful “On A Rope” – a song whose dark lyrics and bluesy delivery suit her voice perfectly.

As each song reaches it’s conclusion she is greeted with a chorus of approval from the crowd and the smile that plays across her face is bright enough to put the famous illuminations of her home town of Blackpool to shame. Over the next week she will treat the music lovers of Paris to a little of her magic with gigs planned at Le Truskel Club and it’s perhaps fitting as, even though the streets of a Northern seaside town may seem far removed from the café strewn elegance of one of Europe’s most famous artistically rich capitals, the depth of emotion and feeling she invests in her music is close in it’s delivery if not directly in it’s style to the great ‘torch’ singers that frequented the clubs and bars of the infamous Pigalle in the glory days of  French cabaret with songs of vulnerability and survival . Karima is no different to any other songwriter in that she wants to see the work that she has lovingly crafted achieve acclaim and success. Where she does differ however is in her total love for what she does and in her visible delight at the pleasure that the audience clearly takes from her new work. We even got the chance tonight to participate in what she describes as a ‘first’ as we join her for the chorus of the wonderfully anthemic “Wherever I Go” – a song that as much as any epitomizes her desire to fight for what she knows she deserves.

If there is any justice “The Remedy” will be released early next year to the huge acclaim it deserves and in the meantime Karima will continue to take her music out on the road for those fortunate enough to see her play. There may well be another singer out there who combines the rare gift for making music as beautiful as this with a love for her craft so deep that sometimes it hurts. If you find someone then let me know – but in all honesty I don’t expect to hear from you anytime soon.

Review/photos by Shay Rowan