The YouTuber held an intimate concert for his fans, family and friends in Central London on 28 August.
Suli Breaks announced the show via his YouTube channel two weeks in advance, with the venue being kept secret until after tickets were bought. The final destination was Carousel: a 100-capacity function room off Baker Street.
The sold out audience consisted of a variety of age ranges, ethnicities and cultures, all of whom had come from across the UK to attend the show.
“I hope to get inspired. I do spoken word myself, and Suli was one of the first people to inspire me to do that,” explains Miggy, 17. “I hope it’ll give me more drive and inspiration into what I’m doing.”
When asked about what it is that attracts such a wide audience to Suli’s work, Itanu, a 20-year-old singer, explained: “I’m attracted his educated perspective, to his world view perspective. He’s philosphical, he’s interesting, he’s engaging and it’s beautiful. When he’s talking, it feels like family – it doesn’t feel foreign.”
Upon arrival, members of the audience were guided into the room by candlelight and were encouraged to sit on the floor throughout the proceedings in order to maintain a less formal atmosphere.
The first to warm up the crowd was RnB duo Zion & Crafter, long-time friends of Suli’s. They performed a cover of Usher’s You Got It Bad before introducing their own song, Queen of Sheeba, which they dedicated to Suli’s fiancé, Linda.
Nia Ekanem then invited the crowd to join in with his acoustic set, teaching the audience participation segments for his original song, Old School Days. He then continued with Home and #Changes, two more original works performed solo on acoustic guitar.
When Suli graced the stage, he stressed that what he was about to perform was his story and he hoped people could relate. What followed was an hour of stories – either in spoken word pieces, song or conversation – covering a mix of topics. Easing us into his more hard-hitting work with a comedy piece about finding love on the London Underground, he then went on to describe the struggles him and those close him have experienced due to matters of race, religion, education and working class background.
It was clear that, despite the number of people in attendance, he considered the event a family affair, with his fiancé, his mum, his sister and his aunt all among the small but intimate crowd.
During the proceedings, he was joined on stage by Olivia Taylor, who had never sung outside of her church before that evening. Together, they sang a rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, a track Suli states as the “song that shaped how he defined art”.
The success of his work on YouTube has clearly affected Suli, but he manages to maintain a sense of ground as he recalls stories about what has occurred to him as a result, without rising above and alienating the engaged audience.
In one case in particular, his face lights up as he explains the day he met his childhood hero, Will Smith. The pair had gone to breakfast in LA after Smith had requested to meet him after sharing Suli’s video online. On the meeting, he had praised Suli on his poems.
“We sat down and had breakfast. For like two hours. I had an actual conversation with the Fresh Prince!” he beams.”He was like… Me, Jada and Willow were talking the other day about [the poem]… THAT’S THREE. LEVELS. OF SMITH!”
The story was retold the way a fan would recall meeting their idol, as opposed to someone meeting a peer, with Suli then adding:
“I’m not more special than anyone in this room. The reality is that I’m not. We’re all just people, the only difference is how we work to what we believe in. To believe that I can go to meeting Will Smith just from writing poems… all these places I never imagined, simply because I let go. You’re on your journey and you’re moulding yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you any different!”
After performing the poem that got him the encounter, I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate, Suli then brought Nia Ekanem back on to the stage for a rendition of Big Sean’s One Man Can Change the World to close the set.
He then spent the rest of the evening talking to fans, taking selfies and talking with them for as long as he could before the venue eventually had to call time on proceedings.
Overlooking it all was his mum, waiting patiently on the sidelines for her son.
“When he was a baby, he was a lot of trouble. He would never ever stop crying,” she smiles. “Now I realise, he was just wanting to say something to the world, even then!”
This year’s Summer in the City YouTube gathering recently came to a close. Want to relive the panels, performances and excitement? Then make sure to check out our extensive coverage.