It has been twenty months since Laura Carbone last stood on stage. Back then it was the Snyästhesie festival before which we also met for a short interview. Now, more than a year later I am meeting the artist at Festsaal Kreuzberg. Her hair is a different shade now and she walks with more care than she did last time. Of course, the pandemic and the collective trauma that we went through has not left the artist untouched. Yet, amidst all this madness, Laura Carbone found thankfulness and mindfulness.
Her first show after such a long time is a special one. It is part of a small festival that the artist was invited to curate earlier this year. Cosmic Dreaming is a gentle start into a different festival season. Three bands and a poetry reading, the festival was more akin to an evening jam session with friends, a familiar atmosphere inhabiting the entire space. “It was a big honor to be invited to curate this festival and a dream I never knew I had,” she beams between sips of iced coffee backstage before the show.
This was not the first time the artist organized something like this. In her hometown in the German countryside, she was also organized and curated festivals, of course on a much smaller scale than in the German capital. Yet, even in Berlin the artist was able to maintain the familiar atmosphere the shows in the countryside must have had. The acts are all musicians and artist Laura has a special connection to. Thi Ngoc Thai for example who read from her poetry book is one of Laura’s longest friends and already moderated the first festivals Laura organized.
In the Eye of the Storm
Another artist that Laura invited is the opening act Naari. The musician took to the stage with guitar and voice. Her songs are spiritual meditations on the human condition, connections to ancestry, and lost and found loves. As Naari sings from the depth of her lungs, accompanied by two background singers who echo her in pitch perfect harmonies, the sky literally breaks open. The tension of the summer heat which increased throughout the day erupts in one of the biggest thunderstorms Berlin has had this year.
The flood that hit the open-air festival had many of the listeners hide underneath the tents and some even fleeing indoors where the music was also broadcasted over speakers. But many remained, captivated by the music. Under too small umbrellas, pants and shoes already soaking wet or just giving into and embracing the moods of the weather completely. After the intense heat, the rain came as a relief. And the image of Naari playing on stage while the lightning strikes in angry flashes behind her surely left an impression.
Before the show Laura spoke to me about her newfound ability to turn nervosity into excitement. The German word “Vorfreude” describes it more accurately – the entanglement of anxious excitement and joy about plans that are to come. “I learned that every emotion needs its space and should be allowed in. How the feeling affects you is also something that can be learned and practiced”, Laura says. Especially over the past year, she learned strategies to work with different emotions and to deal with anxiety.
“The experience made me reflect a lot – also, on my privileges. I became aware of how lucky I am to be in the place I am, especially during a pandemic. And even though it was hard, I grew to appreciate the experiences I was allowed to make. I learned to be thankful for what I had and still have”.
A Gentle Reentry
Cosmic Dreaming is set under the theme of thankfulness and caring for oneself and one another. “I wanted the festival to be open to everybody. As an introvert and a highly sensitive person, I was not sure how well I would cope with having a lot of people on one space again. It can be quite overwhelming. That is why I wanted the festival to be small and a gentle reentry into events like these.”
The air of respect and mutual appreciation can also be felt during the silence that took over the entire place as Thi Ngoc Thai read her poems. She wraps meditations on struggles of daily life, love, and family ties into keen observations. The short poems seem more like personal trains of thought as she reads them out loud but they speak to universal experiences.
The gentle reading of the poet is followed by the growly vocals of Craig Dyer from Underground Youth. Heating up the stage for Laura Carbone and her band, the artist’s guitar riffs shake the place awake. But it is the voice that captivates. His voice thunders countering the storm and its depth and richness resonate in the chest like an amplified bass guitar. “Craig joined the lineup last minute”, Laura explained before the show. Sometimes With Others was supposed to play but they had to cancel.
Over the past year, Laura and Craig got to connect. “The friendship we nurture is partly owed to the pandemic because before we were rarely in Berlin at the same time. Now we finally found the time to connect and to create together, regardless of the unfortunate circumstances”. And the artists had a special announcement to make. The time spent making music together resulted in them recording an entire record together. When the album is due is still not announced but at the festival Laura and Craig gave a little teaser of what the collaboration will sound like. Sharing the stage for one song, the vocal timbers of the artists meet between octaves. And while Craig’s voice resonates in the chest, Laura’s energetic vocals shoot straight into the veins pumping through the body like blood.
On Stage after 20 Months
The collaborative song is not the only news that Laura had to announce. Before lockdown she and her band were joined by André Leo from Medicine Boy. Cosmic Dreaming marks the debut live performance of the new band constellation. And having him on the second guitar allowed Laura to just focus on singing during the show. “Passing the guitar on to André was a huge relief for me. It was my wish to focus on singing because it can be quite stressful to do both things. I also realized that I haven’t trained my voice in a long time and when I took it up again, I learned that without the guitar I am able to sing from different postures”.
The lack of training does not show when Laura and her band finally go on stage. By then, the worst parts of the thunder have passed but the musicians unleash their own storm. The silky blue dress dancing around her knees, Laura Carbone looks somewhat like a Greek goddess swaying to the music. It does not take long for her initial nervousity to fade. During the second song already, the singer closes her eyes and smiles, taking in the moment and embracing the part of herself that she was not able to live over the past months.
An Evening of Thankfulness
“Today there is something special in the air”, the artist said before the show. And indeed, there was something special about watching the singer rediscover her love for performing on stage. Moving further out of the comfort zone, Laura Carbone and her band also played some old new material. Songs that were written and supposed to be recorded before the pandemic came to life that evening. “Having to take a step back from the recording over the past year allowed me to look at the material with a different gaze”, she says.
“The songs space had space grow. And I want to give them time until they are ready to be released and until I am ready to share them. This break in the creative process really helped me with that. When I came back to the material, I was happy that even after a long time the music still resonated with me. I want to pay respect to the art and the process by not rushing things.”
Intimacy and Appreciation
Taking time and space also created the opportunity for another collaboration. Laura Carbone and Lucy Kruger have been friends and creative partners for a long time. the singer and songwriter from South Africa just released her third record, Transit Tapes, and joined Laura as a special guest during her performance. Her nocturnal whispers and Laura’s textured vocals created a dynamic interplay, the dance of the voices drawing the attention of everybody.
The moment Laura and Lucy shared on stage the artists were so focused on the music inside them, that they almost completely forgot the audience. Singing with each other and to each other, the intimacy between the two musicians could be felt in the air. Laura’s face breaks into a huge smile as she sings with her friend, and regardless of the weather struggles the festival, these small moments of connection show the real power of live music. Laura Carbone returns to the stage after more than a year in a setting of intimacy, appreciation, and optimism.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP
If you long for more Laura Carbone live vibes, check out her Live At Rockpalast album that was released last winter.