Speaking to Amahla on her latest single 'Apathy', winning the Lynsey de Paul Prize and finding a balance between the old and new.
What was the inspiration for your latest single, ‘Apathy’?
I started writing ‘Apathy’ in February, so just after I released my EP, ‘Consider This’. I felt like I needed a bit of a break and a bit of a breather after I put out that record. So, that’s what I did, I didn’t watch the news, stopped watching News Night and all of that stuff, stopped reading the newspaper and I did that for about a month and a bit. I realised that at the end of that month, I was just so much happier and healthier, seeing my friends more and just felt in a better place. ‘Apathy’, is sort of born out of the realisation that, yeah it’s great that I’m feeling better, but I have the privilege to turn those things off, some people can’t.
What was the inspiration for your single, ‘Have Mercy’?
Both of them were sort of written at the same time, at the end of 2018, beginning of 2019. I just felt that there was a lot of doom and gloom around. A lot of people had passed away, there was a lot of young people losing their lives, whether that be in the media or just citizens, in general. I just kind of wanted to say how can all of this be happening and we still go to work the next day and live our lives, like nothing has happened. So, I wanted to write a song about that kind of debate, like where does activism start and end and how can history keep repeating itself and what can we do to address it?
What was the creative process for your EP, ‘Consider This’?
I think I wrote it pretty much over a year, so, I graduated from university in 2017 and I spent the next year writing new songs. It’s not complex, it just sort of reflected all the emotions I was feeling. Whether it being uncertain about what area I wanted to get into or how to be a singer or songwriter, looking at my friends going to do masters degrees, and me being like, ‘Oh God’. My Granny being diagnosed with Altzheimer’s, like that happened in my second year of uni, so the aftermath, I think I was in a better place to process that at that time. So, it’s like a collection of experiences, like the title track that was born out of me going back home to Hackney and seeing my family and seeing that it had changed so much.
How does being from London influence your music?
I would say the most obvious thing would be my accent and my word choice. I’m aware that I’m a soul-singer and as an African-American genre and lineage that I don’t necessarily share, I feel like what I can bring is the kind of diversity and grit that comes from growing up in London. I’ve experienced so many things and there’s massive wealth inequality and poverty, the amount of people that you meet and the opinions that you hear and how open and free you’re allowed to be - I think that comes through.
What kind of music were you listening to when you were writing and recording the EP and did it have an influence on your process at all?
Yeah it did change because pretty much before last year, I didn’t listen to modern music. I listened to like Etta James, Otis Redding and Frank Sinatra and that kind of stuff. When I was writing, I was like I need to figure out how to make this not sound old.
A lot of soul-inspired artists have spoken on the same issue of trying to find the balance of mixing the old with the new …
Yeah, for sure. I think I focused on songs. So, for ‘Dorothy’s Verses’, I wanted it to feel like old-soul. I was listening to a lot of old-soul and a lot of gospel music and to their song arrangements and harmonies. I think ‘Consider This’ as well, I was listening to a lot of acapella music. Just to understand like placements of vowels and how to enunciate a word to make it feel more emotional. Then going back to the older greats and looking at what was amazing about these songs? Like for ‘These Time I’ll Wait’, the acapella one at the end, I listened to so many songs from the 1960’s, to try and figure out how to express how I was feeling - it was a definite process of research and emersion.
How did your collaboration with Brookes Brothers on ‘In The Moment’ come about?
They’re so lovely! I think they heard ‘Old Soul’, after it came out. They really liked it and wanted to write something that was in the same sort of style. Their manager approached me and wanted to set up a writing session. ‘In The Moment’, we wrote that super quickly it must have been like half an hour and we had all of the melodies down, pretty much.
How did your collaboration with Shunaji on ‘Red Honey’ come about?
Shunaji is amazing, she’s so talented and I’m so happy to be able to call her one of my friends. We both sort of met a few times at the Roundhouse, she had seen me perform a couple of times but we hadn’t really spoken, like in conversation. We both went to this music event that was for PR and she was like, 'I need a vocal on a track and you’re really cool, would you do it?', so I was like, ‘Sure’. So, she sent me the track but forgot to send the chorus, so I just assumed there wasn’t anything and wrote one. When I sent it back to her she was like, ‘uhh what is this?’, but it stayed that way and we recorded it pretty much the next week.
Who do you work with to create your album artworks and what is the inspiration?
It’s a girl called Ami Vadi, who is based in Leeds, she graduated from doing Graphic Design. She does all of my art work. It all sort of stemmed from the ‘Consider This’ artwork, where I think I wanted to represent all of the different things that were going on at that time. My head is basically like the artwork - it’s all over the place. Thinking about so much and doing so many things aIl at the same time, I wanted it to represent a bit of that chaos and I kept on coming up with images for it and yeah that’s kind of how the collage came about. Since then, I’ve just wanted to make sure that it’s consistent.
How was it to be selected for the Lynsey De Paul prize?
You know what, I didn’t really think that I could do this as a career, until I won Lynsey De Paul Prize. As a kid, I always sang but I was never the best, I was ok. Putting out ‘Old Soul’ was literally me being like let’s see what people think about me, rather than what I think. Winning that prize, was completely unexpected, but it gave me a huge amount of confidence in myself and in my ability. It helped me structure my career pretty much for the next year, the application process was like, what have you done? where do you want to get to? Set some goals and figure out how you’re going to allocate the funding and how you’re going to use your income to cement it. So, it basically really helped me to learn how to run myself as a business. The process itself is really important, especially if you’re at an early stage.
What can we expect from your upcoming show at The Lexington?
I feel like a lot of people, when they hear my music, they say they feel like they know me. It’s really kind of personal and biographical, so I feel like when you come to my live show, you really do get to understand me and my personality. I like to have a bit of a laugh, I don’t take myself too seriously, even though I’m singing about life and death! I think I just wanted to invite you in to my world a little bit, I’m going to be playing some new songs that haven’t come out yet, which will be really exciting to see what the fans think of that. I think I’m at a cool stage because I’m starting to solidify my sound, I feel like all of the songs I’m writing now could be an album, you know. I’m just trying to make sure that they’re all as good as the last, if not better.
Name 5 artists you would recommend to your listeners?
Sasha Keable, I think is phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal, her vocals and songwriting, the emotion in her voice are out of this world - she’s definitely one.
There is an artist called Miss Jacqui, she’s a poet and also a singer/songwriter and she also has a disability, so she talks a lot about her experience and being a disabled artist and a black woman and how she navigates the world, she’s super talented and she actually supported me at my last headline show.
There’s another singer called Sans Soucis, who is the support act for my Lexington Show. She varies between sort of singer/songwriter and jazz, I would say but her songwriting is really, really interesting.
There’s actually this classical artist that is friends with one of my friends, his name is Edward Cross, he put out an EP called Bybrook. I listened to it just because it was one of my friends mates and it’s absolutely phenomenal, actually a phenomenal piece of music and piece of art, it’s not in my genre but it’s absolutely stunning.
Do you know Jazmine Sullivan? She does not get enough credit for what she does. She has put out solid bodies of work and I think as a vocalist, as a performer, as a songwriter, she’s phenomenal.
What’s coming up for the rest of 2019 and what can we expect from 2020?
The main thing for this year is The Lexington show, and in 2020, I have some new music videos, some EPs and stuff and headline shows - so lots of fun stuff.