Dave performing at the O2 Academy Brixton in 2019 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Santan_Dave.jpg

My first encounter with Dave’s music was entirely by accident. I had left YouTube on in the background to shuffle music, when I was suddenly struck by a voice I had never heard before delivering moving, vulnerable lyrics about the dangerous life of an up-and-coming rapper to a sparse but powerful piano accompaniment. The song was ‘Panic Attack’, from Dave’s first ever EP, ‘Six Paths’. He was performing it live to a studio audience for the 2017 Future Festival, and they were just as in awe as I was. Not only was he rapping every line with an emotional intensity that made you feel every word, he was doing so while playing his own instrumental on an upright piano.

Dave delivers the final verse of 'Panic Attack' a capella in this show-stopping 2017 performanceYOUTUBE/BBC RADIO 1

At the tracks close, the accompaniment drops out and Dave delivers an a capella verse that blurs the line between rap and spoken word poetry – and the crowd doesn’t make a sound. In fact, watching it, for a moment you forget that there was a crowd there at all, until Dave finishes the song with a sigh of satisfied exhaustion and they erupt into thunderous applause.

This was like nothing I’d ever seen before in the UK rap genre, or, indeed, in hip-hop at all. I came away from the video with the giddy excitement of discovering something entirely new – and I couldn’t wait to see more.

“For a moment you forget that there was a crowd there at all”

Luckily, I wouldn’t have to wait long. In the years following this performance, Dave sky-rocketed into the UK rap hall-of-fame. His second EP, ‘Game Over’, dropped later that year, successfully capitalised on the momentum built by popular singles like the ‘Wanna Know Remix’ featuring Drake and ‘Samantha’ with J Hus. Two years later, Dave released his stunning debut album ‘Psychodrama’, which won the BRIT award for Album of the Year and solidified his status – aged just 21 – as one of the greats.

Over this time, Dave produced a number of memorable live performances. He delivered impressive studio sets for ‘Later… with Jools Holland’, BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and performed for thousands at Reading and Leeds Festival and Glastonbury. It wasn’t until 2020, however, that I experienced the same feeling watching Dave perform live as I did in 2017.

“An emotional resonance which can only come from live music”

At the 2020 BRIT Awards show, before collecting his award for Album of the Year, Dave astonished the nation with a performance of his song ‘Black’. It begins with Dave alone on stage, sitting at a strikingly minimalist black-and-white piano, on top of which are impressive projected 3D visuals to accompany his lyrics. After delivering his first verse with characteristic prowess, Dave is joined by another pianist who sits opposite him on what we now realise is a double-sided piano. As the two pianos come together in glorious harmony and Dave continues to rap one of his most lyrically-powerful songs, we realise we are bearing witness to true greatness.

Dave's 2020 performance of 'Black' at the BRITs is his most powerful to dateYOUTUBE/SANTAN DAVE

And then, as we think the song has reached its end, Dave stands up from his piano stool and performs a never-before-heard extra verse. Condemning institutional racism and paying tribute to the heroic Jack Merritt, this verse gives the song’s powerful message an emotional resonance which can only come from live music. Currently sitting at nine million views on YouTube, this performance sits alongside previous BRIT appearances by Skepta and Stormzy as one of the defining moments of the UK rap genre.

This show-stealing act set a precedent for live performance which seemed almost impossible to match, even by Dave himself. But on the 8th February he did just that. For the 2022 BRIT Awards, Dave, along with UK rap royalty Fredo, Meekz, Ghetts and Giggs, gave a historic performance of the song ‘In the Fire’ from his sophomore album ‘We’re All Alone in This Together’ – which tops everything that came before it.


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From the very start, we know we’re in for something special, as Konyikeh delivers a beautifully soulful rendition of the gospel song that the track samples, while Dave accompanies her with a wonderfully subtle fingerstyle guitar part. Then, the track begins, and there’s an uproar from the crowd as Fredo appears to perform his verse. Each of the featured artists delivers their verses impeccably – without a backing-track in sight – and the whole thing is accompanied by the enchanting harmonies of a full gospel choir. The performance goes from strength to strength, with each artist truly living up to the occasion, until we get to Dave’s closing verse which is, of course, delivered masterfully. And then, as if all this weren’t enough, Dave grabs an electric guitar and plays a dazzling solo, all the while flames are shooting out of its neck. As the solo ends, and Dave stands on a stage lit up with fire, alongside four of the best rappers in the UK scene, you can’t help thinking: “He’s done it again”.

Last week, Dave amazed the BRITs audience again with his theatrical performance of 'In the Fire'YOUTUBE/SANTAN DAVE

Once more, Dave has surpassed himself, and shown us everything that live music could and should be. After a pandemic that forced live music to a halt, Dave is at the very forefront of its resurgence – and, personally, I can’t think of a better man for the job.