A coffee shop by day and a concert hall by night, Songbyrd Music House was overflowing with energy to see up-and-coming indie artist Serena Isioma this past Saturday, Sept. 18. Fans at the show were exceedingly fashion forward, sporting clothes and hairstyles of every color. In a testament to Isioma’s promotion of self-love and acceptance, everyone was dressed in their unique taste, no person looking like the next.
After a lively opening act by alternative artist Ernest Rareberrg, Isioma took the stage, effusing confidence when he took the microphone. Although they later shared with the crowd that it was their first time performing in Washington, D.C., one could not tell that Isioma was a beginner.
Yet remarkably, Isioma only began creating music in 2018, inspired by their older brother, who played multiple instruments and introduced Isioma to rappers like Chief Keef and G Herbo. Before their foray into music, they experimented with fashion and filmmaking, but when they discovered GarageBand and the software’s “fake Auto-Tune feature,” they found new enjoyment in singing and songwriting.
At only 20 years old, Isioma has already caught the attention of the music industry, receiving acclaim from Nylon and Complex. Their 2020 song “Sensitive” also became a viral hit, reaching over 50 million streams and getting publicity from popular TikTok stars Bretman Rock and Haley Sharpe. Billboard also celebrated their first album, “The Leo Sun Sets,” in a roundup of the best new releases by LGBTQ artists in 2020. .
A first-generation Nigerian American who identifies as a “nonbinary rockstar,” Isioma wants to create a space in music for those who don’t fit into binaries. Similarly,their music never remains in one genre, with each of their songs offering something entirely different from the last. Some of their songs, like “Meadows in Japan,” are reminiscent of soul and R&B, while others like “King” could be classified as hip-hop or lo-fi.
Their variety in sound helped create a thrilling concert. Isioma constantly shifted between songs like “Hard,” which makes one want to softly sway, and songs that produced a breakout of dancing, like “HUH?”
In the same way that Isioma seeks to form an emotional connection with their audience through their songs, they quickly formed an intimate relationship with Songbyrd’s lively crowd. They utilized the entire stage, and they were energized by the audience’s cheers. In the buildup to their single “Really Really,” Isioma split the crowd into halves, proceeding to encourage a mosh pit that drew in most of the audience once the beat dropped.
Before playing their newest song, “Voulez-Vous Me To …” Isioma said the song makes you want to dance in front of the mirror. Isioma also said they used French in the title to show their appreciation for all types of people, and although they used these words to motivate the crowd, the words also speak to what Isioma is all about: loving yourself and those around you for being exactly who they are.
Isioma hopes to find their own healing and self-love through their music, something explored by their messages from Saturday’s concert. Their adamant self-love and drive to increasingly accept themself was a source of hope for those struggling with their identity and searching for a sense of belonging. While they may be young and new to making music, Isioma truly has the power to change lives through their sound.
Songbyrd’s intimate setting and Isioma’s vulnerability made it clear that Isioma is not creating music for money or fame, but rather for passion and for their listeners. Every time Isioma smiled, one could not help but smile too, even if under a mask. The joy of attending a concert in person again was only heightened by the presence of someone noticeably grateful to be performing in person too.
If their performance at Songbyrd could be accomplished after only three years of making music, Serena Isioma’s future is undoubtedly bright. One can only be excited for what they have in store.