There were pompoms and parasols, feathers and fringe, ominous chants and tribal dances. There were oversize mallets, capes made of gold streamers and two dancers dressed as a rollicking horse.
Settled comfortably in the middle of the chaos was Santi White, the singer and rapper known as Santigold, who had turned the stage into a playground for her imagination. In retro sunglasses and extra-large shoulder pads, she walked like an Egyptian, teased rowdy audience members and let her freak flag fly.
She’s never been an easy artist to pin down — she’s collaborated with Jay-Z, Diplo and Bad Brains and experimented with everything from new-wave pop to reggae fusion — but many have tried to squeeze White into a box. When this fails, she’s often compared to Gwen Stefani or M.I.A., but these parallels fall short. All three women blur genres, dress cool and sometimes rap, but the likeness tends to end there.
In “Master of My MakeBelieve,” White branches out — way out — dipping into territories that include hip-hop, punk, ’80s synth, tropicalia, electro and even dub reggae — a nod, she said, to time she spent recording in Jamaica.
There is something empowering about White’s disinterest with fitting into fame’s frame. Earlier this year, the British music weekly NME reported that White’s label had encouraged her to work with RedOne, the songwriter and producer behind many of Lady Gaga’s hits, and Stargate, the production team that produced Katy Perry’s “Firework” and just about every major Rihanna hit.
White said no thanks and wrote a song called “Freak Like Me,” an oddball anthem calling out celebrity culture and money-minded artists. (“What you want you’ll never stop / Guess that means you made it, honey / You’re famous for what? / It matters more that you look good in Photoshop.”)
Feeling hints of self-righteousness? They tend to disappear when White’s performing.
“You’ve got, like, your own personal mosh pit down there, huh?” she teased to a particularly rambunctious fan from the stage. “Good. Keep that up.”
Most of White’s set drew from her new album, but she got the biggest praise for “L.E.S. Artistes,” her 2008 hit about poseurs in Manhattan’s Lower East Side arts scene. (“You’re my enemy, you fast talker.”)
Clearly, authenticity is important to White, who avoids trends and pop formulas and instead draws on her interests: the layered synths of Devo or Peter Gabriel, the hollow grind of Major Lazer, the minimalist bump of Boys Noize.
The result is, of course, unique to her. She takes the stage all smiles, relishing in a performance she knows you couldn’t find elsewhere.