‘‘My Mum was born in Guyana and Dad was born here in the UK, as was I’’, Amahla explains with a clear and pleasant tone. Born and bred in Hackney, this 22-year-old songstress is a flourishing fusion of both Guyanese and Jamaican heritage. Pressing on to give a sense of what life was like growing up in her Caribbean household, she recalls, ‘’music was everywhere. From Soul, to Reggae, to Jazz, to absolutely random stuff.’’ Speaking with gratitude, she says ‘’I feel like I was brought up in a really rich environment with lots of great records. I always sang. In my schooldays, I used to print out lyrics and tried to get my friends to sing with me. It was always something I really loved to do.’’
But in spite of always singing and learning to play the guitar from age 14, the Anthropology Graduate had challenges conceptualising the idea of pursuing a music career. ‘’I didn’t really think I could be a singer because I didn’t understand what trajectory that would take and how I would get from where I was, to where I wanted to be”, she explains. ‘’So instead of focusing on music predominantly, I focused on my studies. I went to University College London (UCL) and studied a completely unrelated subject because that was what I thought I would’ve ended up doing’’, she says, with hints of reminiscence. ‘’I don’t think anyone else thought I would’ve ended up doing music either’’ she adds. “It has sort of all come together in the last two years I feel”. She’s pleased.
We caught up with Amahla whilst she was down in Brighton to perform at the Great Escape Festival. Ahead of her upcoming gig on Wednesday May 15th 2019 at St Pancras Old Church, we talked music motivation, performing live and her university experience with the BBC-endorsed soul singer / songwriter.
Discovering music through guitar
Touching further on her university experience, Amahla, soundly details ‘‘It was really great. It opened my mind a little bit more and made me think a bit harder about what is going on in the world. And yeah, I think I needed that at 18.’’ Leaning into how she expressed herself creatively during this time, ‘‘I joined a collection at the Roundhouse in my second year of university. We performed and wrote original music’’. With around 14 young musicians hand-picked to be part of this mentorship project, Amahla’s talent secured her place. ‘’That group really solidified to me that music is actually what I loved. And not only am I good at it, but I’m getting better, as there was space to grow. So, I think that was definitely something that helped me believe that it was possible to pursue a music career. I think my guitar has also really helped me to find my voice more and developed my song writing.’’
And find her songwriting she did. Her debut single, Old Soul, was released to acclaim in 2018 and she received the PRS Lynsey De Paul prize for outstanding songwriting. She rounded off 2018 as a recipient of the second ever MOBO Awards x Help Musicians fund for her exceptional voice.
Authentic storytelling for the people
Honey-sweet melodious deliciously high vocals on vintage-feel soulful production, coupled with socially conscious lyrics are the key elements that characterize Amahla’s music. When asked whether she is intentional with her topical lyrics, she responds, ‘‘It is, but it is also something that just happens. I hope my music inspires people. I don’t want to say it’s too analytical, but it is aware of what is happening in a situational sense.’’
Portraying her passion for purposeful topics in a calm and cohesive manner, Amahla proceeds, ‘’I want people to look back at my catalogue and understand what is going on in the world through my songs, so I’m conscious of that when I write. It’s hard when you are a black woman to not talk about what is going on around you, especially today. So yeah, I want to make something that stands the test of time and document that.’’
Authenticity permeating all she does, Amahla describes her sound as Soul. ‘‘However, it changes because it borrows from genres such as, Folk, Jazz, R&B and Pop. But at the end of the day, I just want it to be classic and write great songs. Because my voice is reminiscent of artists that have come from a previous era, I think Soul music encapsulates all of those things”.
Consider This, The EP
Exposing the layers and process of creating her debut EP, Consider This, she explains, ‘’It’s weird looking back now, I wrote all of the songs about 8-9 months after finishing university. I did my dissertation on police brutality, specifically on mobile footage and how it is creating an archive of brutality against the black body in America. A very heavy subject matter. I also led a ‘Decolonise The Curriculum’ campaign in my final year. So, because that was such an intense year, I just stopped watching the news and reading books for the following 4-5 months after graduating. I just needed to switch off and that’s what I did’’. ‘’The songs on the EP took around two and a half months to write and I think that is where all those emotions I hadn’t dealt with, for those few months prior, needed to come out. And they did’’, she explains.
Amahla lets us in on the inspiration for Dorothy’s Verses, ‘’My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s during my second year of university and I was quite heavily involved in helping her with attending appointments and all of that stuff.’’ Delving deeper, she calmly details, ‘’It was really hard, emotional and scary to see someone that you love sort of melt away. My grandmother talked to me about things in her life that were hard to deal with, emotional or very happy. I wanted to touch on that experience, but as the song developed, I realized it wasn’t about me at all, but about her life and what women in general deal with and how we overcome situations.’’ She cohesively summarises.
Carrying that same theme of originality across all her records, Amahla discloses what she enjoys most about being a musician. ‘’I love performing live – that’s what I live for! I love talking to people about music and how they found my performance to improve, touring, working with my band and everything that goes into a live performance.’’ She also optimistically unveils with a jovial and fearless tone, who her dream collaboration would be with. ‘’I will say this forever until I die – Stevie Wonder. I downloaded Spotify at age 12 or 13 and was like ‘omg all his songs are here’, she chuckles. ‘’So, I listened to them over and over again’’, she adds. Demonstrating her strength of character yet again, she cheerfully and confidently states, ‘‘I’m holding out hope!’’.
With less than a week until she graces the stage at her upcoming gig, Amahla notes ‘’I think that because it will be held in a church venue, coupled with the acoustics, it’s the perfect place to see my show. It allows you to understand the depth of instrumentalism. But it’s also a comfortable environment. I sometimes say that I want my music to feel like a cup of tea. Homely, familiar, comforting and warm. I feel like St Pancras Old Church is a beautiful venue to share my music and songs I will be releasing”, she gently concludes.
Speaking with Amahla was truly refreshing and you can experience her exceptional talents in the flesh on Wednesday May 15th, at her headline show at St Pancras Old Church. Tickets are available at this link: https://www.metropolismusic.com/shows/1257981/. Doors open at 7pm.
Stream the stunningly beautiful Consider This EP here https://amahla.lnk.to/ConsiderThis.
Keep up with Amahla on social media: @amahlamusic.