This one-woman show featuring Apphia Campbell as Nina Simone is already enjoying a wave of critical and audience acclaim.

For many walking into Edinburgh’s EICC for their first live show since the start of the pandemic, there’s a strange sense of anticipation. The rain hammered down as we made our way into the venue, it felt both surreal and exciting to be back. Campbell, born in Florida but now a resident of the city, is immediately compelling to watch as one of the most iconic singers and performers of the 20th century.

We are given a window into the singer’s life while in Liberia, West Africa through a time of cleansing, a kind of spiritual exorcism. After leaving America she described Liberia as “home” and “the happiest time of her life”. She remembers her mother singing in the kitchen while she cooked, dancing in the living room with her father.

It summons how so many of our formative memories are tied to music and voices. Despite poverty; church, gospel music and faith proved to be a boon. We observe the singing in church witnessing Simone’s parents being directed to the back of the room in favour of the white congregation.

She responded by refusing to perform saying: “if they are not put back in the front seat, I don’t play”. It was her first encounter with racism. It’s one of many tragic events that pointed towards her eventual activism and becoming a friend and ally of Dr Martin Luther King joining the Civil Rights Movement.

To the backdrop of Wild Is The Wind we are party to a violent partner, who brutalises, beats and mentally drains the singer. These visceral scenes linger long after the performance but so do the flawless renditions of standards such as the haunting I Put A Spell On You. During Feeling Good, a wave of energy sweeps through the venue, jolting both audience and performer. You wonder how a star this raw, honest and talented would fare in the current climate of popular music. Would there be a place for this kind of glorious energy?

You can only hope, but if it’s something you’d like to experience, then make your way through the rain-sodden streets of Auld Reekie for this tour-de-force and a night to remember. 

Apphia Campbell