Having played legendary venues such as The Jazz Cafe and The Roundhouse, and garnered support from the likes of BBC Radio 1 Extra and 6Music’s Tom Robinson, Hackney native Amahla was also been a recipient of the second ever MOBO Awards X Help Musicians Grant for her exceptional voice. Following the lush sounds of last year’s ‘Old Soul’, she’s now returned to grace our ears with poignant new single ‘Dorothy’s Verses’.
We had a little chat with Amahla to find out more, and asked her to pick a few of her favourite songs for a special guest playlist…
Hi Amahla, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do
Hey, I’m Amahla! I’m 22 and I’m a soul singer-songwriter from Hackney. Some of my music branches into folk because I write primarily with guitar but it’s definitely in the bracket of soul. I’ve been lucky enough to play some amazing venues so far, like the Jazz Cafe and Roundhouse main stages. Usually I play with my band but I’ve also been doing more intimate acoustic shows recently.
Your new single ‘Dorothy’s Verses’ is out on Friday, can you tell us what it’s all about?
‘Dorothy’s Verses’ is a story inspired by my grandmother. She came to the UK with my mum and Grandad in the early ’60s from Guyana. She’s always been super independent but three years ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had to change her lifestyle. Since then my family and I have had to learn to see her world through this new lens. ‘Dorothy’s Verses’ is about her reflecting on her life, but also about the need to push women’s stories to the forefront into all of our collective memories more generally.
You’ve been compared to the likes of Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse, but who would you say are you main musical influences?
Have I? That’s nice! It’s hard to say who my main influences are, but here are a few on my mind at the moment… Amy is a huge one, I was 11 when Back to Black came out and she showed me that I could sing soul but still retain everything that makes me a London girl – the accent, the honesty – and not compromise my identity. Listening to Etta James taught me how to sing with conviction, plus the phrasing of lots of the early Jazz pioneers like Ella and Nat King Cole is just exquisite and has fed into the way I now write my melodies – it’s all about intention.
You graduated university with a first in Anthropology, how would you say what you’ve learnt about this feeds into your music?
I wrote my final thesis about the impact technology (particularly camera phones) has in recreating an archive of violence against the black body – one that the US government sought to repress after the civil rights movement. I think this thesis broadened my mind in terms of how I think about social movements, how they occur and why. These topics consumed my life for a year and I think you can hear its impact on my upcoming EP Consider This – thematically I explore similar themes of memory, justice and using one story to tell many.
And how important do you think it is for musicians to use their creative platform to address issues of politics and race?
At the moment it’s important for me to address issues of politics; I’ve always wanted in some way to impact social change in my lifetime. I don’t know how yet, but for me putting my thoughts into my music is a start. But, as much as music is a place to dissect these issues, it’s also a place to escape from them. Having the freedom to create and innovate is the most important thing.
And would you say movements such as Me Too have allowed more musicians to be more honest in their songwriting?
It’s an interesting question, I don’t know how anyone would go about quantifying its impact yet. I think that the impact of Me Too as a movement won’t really be felt on a broad level for a few years still.
We’ve asked you to pick some songs by artists and bands you admire for a special playlist, can you tell us a bit about each of your choices?
Miss Jacqui – ‘These Walls’
I’ve known Miss Jacqui for a while now, she is a songwriter and poet. She performed at the 2012 Paralympics ceremony but hasn’t released anything officially ’til this year. She’s exceptional. We need more voices like hers in the music industry.
Hejira – ‘I Don’t Belong To Anyone’
One of the most underrated bands in my opinion, their sound and visuals are so unique – every single is fire. The rhythm of this one particularly, captures you from the beginning.
Cosima – ‘Hymns For Him’
Cosima is uncompromising in her sound and has such a cutting tone to her voice, she reminds me of Prince. I love this song!
Fatima – ‘Westside’
The bassline in this track is something else and Fatima’s low register is gorgeous. I was lucky enough to support her at her Roundhouse show last month, she’s even more magical live. Her music came alive and her voice and presence filled the room, I haven’t been able to switch it off since.
Nai Palm – ‘Crossfire/ So Into You’
Her voice of course is out of this world, but there is nothing conventional about her songwriting. The way she uses guitar as harmony and percussion to complement her vocal lines is something I’ve admired for years.
Shae Universe – ‘Tell Me The Truth’
Shae’s voice is simply incredible. I’d love to write a song for her catalogue, the range and melodic possibilities with her voice are just gorge.
Massive thanks to Amahla for answering our questions! Listen to her guest playlist here:
And you can catch Amahla live at The Roundhouse on 19th February.