Penning her very first song at just 8 years old and signing to a major record label at 13, Leicester’s very own Mahalia didn’t rush into releasing. Taking time to listen to herself and refine her sound before making her mark in the music industry.
We sat down with the singer to talk about the music scene outside of London, life on tour and her dream collaborations.
Jumper: Ksenia Schnaider | Jewellery: Shashi
You’ve just kicked off your tour – what are the highs and lows of being on the road?
Hmmm… touring is great, firstly. It’s my happiest time. I love moving around, meeting people all over the country and kind of just testing the water! That’s the fun part – seeing who’s listening to your music. There could be 20 people in the audience or 200, it wouldn’t matter. After starting out playing at different open mics in Leicester and Birmingham where people were screaming in conversation at the back of the building, playing to people who know/love your music is the most unreal experience in the world. The only low for me really is that I’m such a big home bod. I love my place in Leicester – it’s home. Plus, my kitten Blue Bell lives there and I miss her loads when I’m away.
You’ve worked with Ed Sheeran, Rudimental – who would you most like to work with next?
I’m not really sure anymore… I’ve always wanted to work with Chance The Rapper. That’s always been a dream of mine. But, I think with anything collaborative, you kind of just have to meet people and see how your energy is together. I love the women coming up in the UK music scene right now… there’s a lot of artists I’d just love to get in the studio with.
Your musical influences include Amy Winehouse, Adele and Corinne Bailey Rae. Do you find there is pressure for you to leave your own distinctive mark in the music industry?
Yes, 100%. But you have to not worry about that, you know? It’s a natural thing to maybe sound like someone or sing like another singer. We (people) will always try and compare artists to other ones – mostly because we’re lazy ha! It’s easier for us to put a load of girls together and say they all sound alike because it makes it easier to understand. Do you know what I mean? As an artist, you just gotta do your thing and make sure you don’t compare yourself. That’s when you’re winning, I think.
As well as featuring on Noel Clarke’s Brotherhood soundtrack, you also appeared in the film, what did you take away from this experience and would you like to do more acting in the future?
I was scared sh*tless, I’ll tell you that! Haha, no seriously, that’s the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve missed those nerves though. I think because I’ve been playing and doing live shows for so long, I don’t get as nervous as I used to when I was younger so it was great to feel completely scared by what was coming. I’d definitely like to do more acting! But I’m solely focused on music right now. Plus my brother’s an actor, I should leave that one to him for a bit…
Suit: Bespoke | Bralet: Freya | Earrings: Stella and Dot
You come from a very close knit musical family – what has been the best advice they have given you musically?
Gosh, I’ve been given loads of advice from all of my family. My parents have always told me to “listen to myself” above anybody else. Be my own person essentially. My dad used to have a huge sheet of paper blue tacked up on the wall in our old family home. It was a brain storm kinda thing. In the middle, he’d written “MAHALIA” and he wanted me to write on the outside everything that described me as an artist. I tell you, for a good couple years, I argued with him about it. Mostly because I’m a stubborn bitch. But, really because I didn’t know how to. And that’s where my biggest downfall was. I didn’t know myself.
But I eventually did it and it was the biggest learning curve as a teenager. Once I worked that out, I felt completely switched on. I love my parents for that. They’ve always brought the best out of me and my three brothers.
Coming from Leicester, how is the music scene over there different to London?
Totally different. I feel like London’s in a bit of a bubble… that’s not always a bad thing. It just means that when you’re not from here, you feel a little excluded from the club. You know, artists that are big in London, aren’t always big everywhere else. I find that really interesting – I’ll mention artists I like to my mates at home and they have no clue what I’m going on about ha! Leicester’s cool. There’s a load of different scenes to get involved in. I was really into indie bands when I was like 14 and me and my mates used to go to loads of dingy pubs and jump up and down. There’s a lot of really sick MC’s here too. My brother was in a group called BLG. They’re pretty big here. I dunno, it’s different… hard to explain.
Jumper: ASOS | Choker: Custom
Any good spots in Leicester you would recommend us check out?
I used to do a monthly residence at a little venue called “The Cookie”. It’s still one of my favourites there. I would gig there for the rest of my life if I could! You should definitely check that out.
Name an upcoming artist we should listen to?
I’m going to say Jelani Blackman. I’m doing a show on the same bill as him in Leeds soon! He’s really, really great.
Interview: MJ Gotidoc
Photography: Lauren Maccabee
Styling: Nathan Klein
Makeup: Mary-Jane Gotidoc – skin using Embryolisse | makeup using Lord and Berry