It was 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday night when I left the Stiles dining hall and leisurely made my way to the Crescent Theater for Sister Insider’s debut show. At least, I started out leisurely but soon hurried up when I saw how many people were waiting outside. There had to be at least 150 students flowing out of the hallway, crammed into corners and lined up on the stairs. Fortunately, I’m enough of a non-standup citizen to not feel bad about squeezing in with my friends, who were in the front of the line.
The doors opened, we rushed into our seats, and after a bit of settling down, the show began. Nickolas Brooks ’17 was the first to take the spotlight in what has been advertised as a “once-in-a-lifetime show,” and though he was there to sing, I thoroughly enjoyed his impromptu interpretive dance as he waited for mixer Mac Sutphin ’17 to get him background music. He then sang the first verse of an original song, “Closure,” and welcomed Sister Insider to center stage.
Four women, all dressed in maroon, sashayed into the room, followed by a trumpeter, violinist, keyboard player and flautist. And then we were floored.
The group began the night with a rendition of Jazmine Sullivan’s “Let It Burn,” led by Dianne Ayo Lake ’16 with backup vocals by Brea Baker ’16, Edwina Aniue ’16 and Anita Norman ’19. The band has marketed itself as a “jazz, R&B, and hip-hop fusion sound,” and they really came through. The R&B influence was clear — the song was jazz-based, with a heavy beat — but what struck me most about Sister Insider was their use of electronic-sounding instruments, mixing and hip-hop to make the songs their own.
The second song, by Mary J. Blige, was punctuated by volleys of snaps from the crowd. At one point, everyone got so excited that simply snapping didn’t suffice — audience members were waving their hands in the air, clapping enthusiastically and even whooping when Dianne hit a particularly long note.
After their first two songs, Dianne introduced the next performance as a “poetic interlude” and Grace Alofe ’18 of WORD came up to the microphone. She spoke about a woman’s place in society with “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” playing in the background. I was amazed at Grace’s ability to bring in the crowd and the talent of David Danso Amanfu ’17, who played the song on his flute.
And then, as if things couldn’t get better, Sister Insider performed a remix of the one and only “Hotline Bling” — only this version was actually called “Cel U Lar Device” by Erykah Badu. I found myself wishing that Drake had used the violin, flute, keyboard and trumpet the way that Sister Insider did; they even managed to make his weird dance moves look good!
The band followed the remix with a slower number, “Superpower,” by Queen Bey. Yes, I know — attempting to take on anything by Beyoncé is a daring, if not foolish, endeavor. Yet Sister Insider pulled it off. Even I, who would normally fall asleep with such slow music playing during a midterm week, was on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear what the girls’ voices and the guys’ instruments would do next.
Afterward Sophie Dillon ’17 performed, wowing the crowd not only with her incredible vocals, but also with a spoken-word poem about love. It was all pretty intense and I couldn’t help but be grateful that this wasn’t just a musical performance, but also demonstrated various talents from different spheres at Yale.
In the next numbers, Isaiah Genece ’17 came up to rap (appropriately wearing a Tupac shirt), as well as Nick, who had opened the show. Eddie Joe Antonio ’19 got his shining moment with a complex and remarkable trumpet solo. And because the night couldn’t end without something upbeat, Sister Insider performed an encore of “Hey Ya.” I can’t be totally objective, since I practically have the song memorized, but they rocked it. Their ability to engage the crowd was flawless, and I momentarily forgot that these women are actually students here and not professional musicians.
Fortunately, I still have enough snaps saved up for more of their shows. They probably won’t have a seat for me — but for Sister Insider, I’ll stand.