Through her playful beats and earnest lyrics, London-born, Oxford-based artist chika. creates intimate R&B sounds that reflect her personal experiences of growing up as a queer second generation Indian immigrant. Describing her music as “11pm on a Tuesday night,” chika.’s personality fizzes through on her new EP Unlearning, an exploration of heartbreak and self love which she’s self-released today (9th Feb.)
We caught up with chika. to talk about her musical inspirations, her anticipations for her new EP and her new music recommendations.
Hello chika, how have you been getting on during Lockdown 3.0 here in the UK?
Hey hey hey! Is this Lockdown 3 or 33? They’re all blurring together, but somehow, I’m making it through! I’m a uni student so term has been keeping me busy, for better or for worse, and I’m playing a virtual gig on February 19th – JoyRuckus Club 3, the biggest Asian music festival ever – which is sending reliable shots of dopamine to my brain. Big fan of the dopamine shots! finding ways to obtain them has been my method of survival during all these lockdowns.
That sounds good. Can you remember who or what first inspired you to start making music?
Honestly, I spent a lot of time trying to model myself after what I thought was the ‘perfect’ Asian daughter. I was studying law, going to legal events and genuinely despising my everyday existence. At some point, my ability to cope just…flatlined, I guess? I had a huge burnout, switched courses at uni and got diagnosed with ADHD (which explained a looooooot wow.)
Once I’d given myself permission to stop being perfect, I also stopped locking up the part of me that wanted to do music. As a kid, I wrote lyrics, sang a lot and constantly dreamed of being on stage and performing. I assumed that everyone just felt unfulfilled and daydreamed of being an artist. During Lockdown 1.0 I just automatically started writing lyrics again and found beats on YouTube to pair them with, and then like an uncontrollable snowball of happiness and good vibes I couldn’t stop myself from making music! It kind of feels like a calling.
So I guess my answer is… me? Therapy? ADHD? Ultimately, I realised that if I wanted to be happy in life, that was gonna include pursuing music.
Talk us through your recent single ‘gr8ful/h8ful’. What inspired it, how you recorded it etc.?
Ooooh ‘gr8ful/h8ful’! It’s the pre-release to my EP but actually the last song I wrote for it. I was dealing with some complicated relationship stuff, where both sides had their issues and I was vacillating between anger at the other person and a lot of self-blame and anger at myself, and then they told me that I should be ‘grateful’ for everything they’ve done for me. And sure, objectively that might be true – but in that moment the only thing in my head was: “?!?!?!?!?!?!? KJSAHKDSAHK how about nO, i will be HATEFUL, you don’t get to tell me how to feel!” And so the hook of this song was born. It’s a petty refusal to take accountability and a little childish (hence the formatting of the title). I recorded it at InspireSounds Studio in Oxford during our summer break from lockdown and got to work with a professional sound engineer for post-production, which was super duper exciting and such a huge quality improvement to doing it myself!
What are you anticipations for your new EP Unlearning? What are you most proud of about this release?
I’m excited as heck for Unlearning to come out. It’s going to be the foundation and origin of my music career (I hope), so whether or not it gets any exciting press or does numbers, I want it to be something I can continue to view with pride. That said, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that everyone who listens to it vibes with it as much as I do and that once covid is less of a threat, that I can perform it at some gigs. I’m proud of the variety of moods that this EP covers and just generally of having a professional-esque finished EP in my (digital) hands. It feels like it’s the start of the start of the start of something big, which sends little frissons of excitement and bounciness through my heart.
Are there any particular themes that have informed the songs on the EP? You’ve mentioned that it’s a reflections on a past relationship, but tell us a bit more…
Well, ‘gr8ful/h8ful’ is a retrospective “eff you” kind of track and then ‘SAVIOUR’ is much more of an “in the moment” realisation of how messed up and co-dependent a relationship has become. Those two tracks are both set during/after relationships, so kind of form a set in my head. ‘Real Deep’ is moving on from the previous two tracks; it’s forming an instant connection with somebody and wanting to know know know them in every way possible, diving in but with safety goggles on. And then ‘INCREDIBLE’ is healing from ‘gr8ful/h8ful’, taking in and processing the self-blame too and coming out the other side stronger for it and creating self-belief and being proud of how far you’ve come. I wanted Unlearning to feel like a complete story in and of itself, so hopefully it feels like a conclusion/resolution to the EP.
Do you have a favourite track on the EP? If so why?
I’m 50/50 between ‘SAVIOUR’ and ‘INCREDIBLE’ for completely opposite reasons! ‘SAVIOUR’ is a really vulnerable track that I was kind of scared about putting out there and is the most “still” track on the EP I think – like still water on the verge of something breaking the fragile peace, which happens by the end of the song. It’s the most delicate of the tracks and holds a pretty special place in my heart because of it. But then ‘INCREDIBLE’ is really “BAM! I’M AWESOME!” which is so fun to sing and perform! It’s a mood changer and so unrepentantly full of self-love and I take a lot of joy from it.
Are there any new bands or artists you can recommend we listen to?
I’m gonna try to narrow it down to just a few…
I’ve loved Dounia’s music since the very beginning and look up to her a heck of a lot! Think dreamy yet focused R&B with fantastic lyrics. She just improves and impresses me more with every release. I’d particularly rec ‘Playboy’ and ‘Renaissance’ from her.
There’s also Hope Tala, another artist whose song ‘All My Girls Like to Fight’ got me through a very stressful exam. I’ve been streaming ‘Cherries’ a lot, too. Hope Tala’s voice is so intimate and crooning and such a good experience. Finally, Ivan Furber just put out their first single ‘Stopping Time’, and the soundscape it creates really pulls me in! For fans of Florence and the Machine vibes with ephemeral visions and lyrics.
Finally, if you had to describe your music in three words, what would they be?
I’m the wordiest person I know so this is TOUGH, but…. “dialogue, intimate, unwavering.” I hope that makes sense!
Thanks to chika. for answering our questions!