Coffeehouse Student Show Superlatives

Last Thursday, the Duke Coffeehouse hosted a student concert as part of the Duke Arts Festival. Six different acts performed at the event, which was a new addition to the annual festival starting with last year. The campus organization advertised the event online and solicited submissions from individual students, but did not hold auditions.

“There is a thread of spontaneity in all arts events by nature,” said Justin Sandulli, a senior and vice president of advocacy for duARTS.

Although string instruments paired with vocals dominated the night’s performances, each of the seven acts brought something unique to the Coffeehouse stage. See below for our Student Show Superlatives: 

Best Collaboration: Racemates

Elizabeth Onstwedder and Julian Xie from the band Racemates opened the show, performing an original song entitled “Lights Out, Light Out." Onstwedder and Xie, both graduates of the class of 2015, met in their freshman year music theory class. They eventually formed the band Racemates along with another mutual friend and one of Xie’s residents, who did not perform at the Coffeehouse.

Racemates play both on and off campus, though they hope to add more shows at different venues soon.

“This is a good opportunity because everyone here cares about music and the arts,” Xie said.

Xie primarily sang and played the guitar while Onstwedder harmonized with both vocals and her violin. Xie and Onstwedder gave a high-energy performance, and their instruments flowed together as seamlessly as their voices. Their song started the night of music off on a high note.

Best Cover: Nmelichukwu Anene

Senior Nmelichukwu Anene followed Racemates with her cover of the song “You Make Me Brave," originally by Bethel. Anene gave a calming performance, choosing to sit down and play her guitar. Her clear, pure voice carried throughout the Coffeehouse. One of the few cover songs played throughout the night, Anene’s take on the song both preserved its original feeling and added her own voice to the piece.

Most Meaningful Lyrics: Serges Himbaza and Mike DeVito

Seniors Serges Himbaza and Mike DeVito took the stage next, with Himbaza performing vocals and lead guitar and DeVito playing backup guitar. Himbaza, who describes his musical style as "folk R&B," performed four original songs, all centering on different themes in his life.

One of his songs, “Misty Mountains,” focuses on the iconic image of the misty mountains in Rwanda, his birthplace. Himbaza said he wrote the song to acknowledge his desire to return to Rwanda, but he added that the song can have different meanings for each member of the audience.

Himbaza described “Pinocchio’s Song” as one of those songs you write when you realize you’re growing up. The song’s chorus line declares: “It ain’t easy to be loved so much better than you love.”

In songwriting, Himbaza tries to recreate "that moment when you're feeling something" while playing the acoustic guitar, and translating this feeling into song lyrics. Although Himbaza has not performed frequently in the past, he is hoping to perform more during his last year at Duke.

Most Relatable Lyrics: Mikayla Shatley

Mikayla Shatley performed next, also singing four original songs. Shatley’s songs centered on feeling broken and not having it all together. Her songs, entitled “Broken,” “Make You Whole,” “Circus” and “Fallen Leaves” resounded with members of the audience. Shatley’s soft, haunting lyrics spoke out against the pressure that many Duke students feel to appear perfect to their peers. She comforted the audience by conveying the message that it isn’t worth it to put on an act for others, and it is better to be honest with the world.

Best Technique: Roy Auh

Freshman Roy Auh was the only act of the night without vocals. He instead chose to perform only on a double bass, playing the “War” portion of “War and Peace” and part of the piece “Ode to Spain,” both pieces by Francios Rabbath. 

Auh exhibited the best technical skills of the night, producing entrancing music that filled the entire space. He played “Ode to Spain” without a bow, producing a blues-inspired sound by plucking the strings of his bass. His pieces stood out from the rest of the acts of the night in their originality and deviation from the standard “sing and play guitar” acts.

Lyrics Most Likely to Get Stuck in Your Head: Weekend Shirt

The last act of the night was Weekend Shirt, who described their style as being “singer-songwriter, but aspiring to be more rock n’ roll.”

Sophomore Pascual Di Tella sang vocals while sophomore Quinn Scanlan accompanied him on the guitar. The duo performed five songs, three of which were original. The overall feeling of the act was happy and whimsical, with DiTella dancing around the stage and whistling in between lyrics. The two covers of the night, Bob Dylan’s “It's All Over Now, Baby Blue” and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” provided a calmer break in between the more upbeat pieces.

DiTella and Scarlan said the band formed during their freshman year, as they met each other during Orientation Week and started playing music together shortly thereafter. Weekend Shirt has not performed at many venues yet, since they are currently focused on creating and recording complete songs.


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