Leicester-born, singer-songwriter Mahalia was signed to a major record label at the tender age of 13; evidence that she was destined to grace our minds, bodies, and spirits with a genre-bending sound that she’s previously labeled as ‘psycho-acoustic soul’. She may only be 21 but the last 6 months have seen the release of Mahalia’s third EP alongside her biggest UK tour to date, and 2019 is only set to get bigger with her highly anticipated debut album. I challenge anyone to absorb Mahalia’s lyrics and not be met with a sudden surge of empowerment, self-worth or the strength to finally delete the number of that toxic ex. I had the pleasure of grabbing a quick 20 minutes with the rising-star while she was on tour in the US with Ella Mai and we talked all things love, loss and success!
So you’re currently on tour in the US with Ella Mai. How has that been so far and being able to fly the UK flag together?
So far it’s amazing! It’s kind of bonkers being able to see parts of the US I never thought I’d see. Ella’s so great and it’s so sick being able to fly that flag with her. It definitely feels like a kind of British sisterhood and I really like that.
It was also your birthday a couple of weeks back and I can’t believe you’re only 21?! You must be so proud of all the success you’ve achieved at such a young age.
I really am and I feel like there are so many times that we as human beings forget to say, ‘You know what I’m proud of myself!’ I think that definitely on this tour I’ve had a lot of moments where I’ve felt genuinely proud of what I’m doing. I’ve been out here touring and at the same time wrapping up my album and it’s amazing. I feel so grateful for the position I’m in right now!
You were signed to a record label when you were just 13. From then on have you had a quiet confidence in reaching the success you’ve got now?
For me, it was definitely a maturity thing. As I got older I think I realized what was going on and I realized that music could be something I guess. It was around 18 when I thought, ‘Ok, I can really do this.’ I had a bit of a stumble and I thought I was going to quit music but then at 19 I started to get a little more attention at home and then I was like, ‘Ok, lets go, lets go, let go!’ Until you have that moment when you realize you can do well then its really difficult to believe in yourself.
You’re from Leicester, aren’t you? Would you say you’ve had to work that extra bit harder to break into the music scene because you’re not from London?
Yes definitely! It’s weird because for so long the fact that I was from Leicester worried me because in my mind I thought people were thinking, ‘Oh, she’s from Leicester, she doesn’t know what she’s doing,’ you know, being in a big city like London and what not. I had all of these things in my head that actually weren’t true and actually the fact that I was from Leicester meant that I stood out more!
Definitely, your strength lies in your difference! How was it moving to London for you coming from a much more smaller and quieter city like Leicester?
It’s crazy because I didn’t realize that being in London would focus so much on where you live, how much money you have and so on. London’s a really difficult city to live in if you can’t afford it. For the first 6 months I was staying round different friends houses, sometimes even strangers, I was staying on sofas and I was just kind of roughing it I guess. I moved back to Leicester because I couldn’t handle it and I thought, ‘You know what, I’m a 19-year-old girl and I don’t want to be doing this.’ I went back to London a year later and now, because I actually have the means to be there, I love it.
It’s reassuring to hear that because a lot of the time we look at others and think, ‘How have they managed to get where they are?… Why can’t I do that?’ But it just goes to show that good things take time.
Yeah! I think a lot of the time artists leave out that part of the story and so it’s really easy to look at an artist and think, ‘God, how has she got there?!’ It’s a rough journey and I think the people who are able to survive it are the ones who are supposed to do it I guess. It’s a difficult thing to bare.
I first came across you through your Colors performance of your track ‘Sober’ which now has over 30 million views and it’s currently the fourth most viewed Colors video. That’s insane! Do you think this performance has played a significant part in your career?
Yeah, that performance was definitely the turning point! That was when I was about 18 and I was still in Leicester. It came out and it started doing really well and that was the moment when I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is happening!’ I actually always wanted to do it and I was talking to my team at home and they said they’d get me out. So I was literally out in Berlin for one day and I, in no way, thought it would do what it’s done.
Let’s talk about your new single ‘Grateful’. It’s funny because your previous single ‘Do Not Disturb’ helped me get over my ex but ‘Grateful’ is making me rethink the whole situation!? What were your inspirations behind this track?
You know what it was…I’ve never been lucky with guys, ever! You can probably hear that in my music and I’ve just never truly met somebody who I’ve thought, ‘Ok, yeah. You’re the one for me.’ But just before I wrote ‘Grateful’ I had met this guy and it was the weirdest thing!
It was this time last year and I told myself I was just going to chill out and take a break, write some music and not even think about relationships because it would just stress me out. But then I met this guy and I was like, ‘Oh my god, no! You’re not supposed to be here yet, just leave me alone for a bit!’ But he just totally surprised me. For all this time I had been hurt by guys and spoke about it through my music but then I met this guy and I wanted to speak about it from the perspective of, ‘Actually, I really want to be with you’ and I hadn’t felt that in a long time.
I had a lot of controversy with the fact that in ‘Grateful’ I sing, ‘We don’t need to have a label.’ For me, I was always so obsessed with a guy telling me I was his girlfriend; I always had to know what was going on. It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on anymore but it’s just that I wanted to take a bit of pressure off myself and off the relationship and actually in doing so meant that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
If we go back to your last EP, Seasons; I’m sure it has been the soundtrack to many peoples relationships and then breakups and subsequently their empowerment. What would you say have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned in love and relationships to date?
To never compromise your own self for somebody else. When I was younger I was definitely a people-pleaser and I definitely had in it me to make a guy feel better by changing myself. When I was writing that EP, it was basically me saying, ‘Well…fuck it!… If you’re not going to be there for me, then I’m just going to carry on getting on with my life because I don’t want to have to change who I am to make you feel better.’
Well clearly, with tracks like ‘Grateful’, it seems that having this mindset has benefited in the long run!
Yeah definitely and that is what basically my new album is focused on. To be honest, that’s the message I always want to get across. It’s not a message of hating men, it’s not a message of hating myself, it’s me saying, ‘I’m not going to change and so you can either love me for me or not at all!’
I was looking at the YouTube comments on the ‘Grateful’ video. A lot of the comments were along the lines of, ‘What a queen! Undoing her knots and while doing contemporary!’ It’s clear that we feel refreshed and are able to relate more when we see artists performing as their most authentic selves. Was this a conscious move from you?
Definitely because with the Grateful video I wanted people to see me in my natural state. It was really funny though because I wasn’t actually supposed to have my hair like that. Before I pull my hair out into its ‘fro, I’ll twist it and then leave it up. So just before we started the video I was doing my hair but they just started filming me and so we just carried on! It just by chance turned into the most amazing thing. It was literally me and a small team. I did my own hair and makeup, I got my own clothes and did the choreography and it was just us. We made it special. It was me in my natural state. No smoke and mirrors.
And the dancing? Is that something that you been wanting to showcase?
Yes! I’ve wanted to for ages but I just didn’t know how. I trained in African contemporary dance from the age of 7 to 14 but what it is about dancing is that when you lose confidence it’s really hard to get it back. As I got older my body changed and I got boobs and a bum and I felt like I had to learn how to dance all over again. Which is why on the ‘Do Not Disturb’ video I brought in my brother to choreograph because he’s amazing. Working with him has definitely brought back my confidence.
Also I think it was down to the slightly dance mom, competitive side of me because I kept seeing other artist dancing in their videos and I was like, ‘Fuck, I’ve just studied dance for like 10 years so why don’t I just do it?!’ I think I definitely wanted to show people that I could do more.
Lastly, what can we expect next from you in 2019?
So I’m out in America right now wrapping up my album and that’s going to be the biggest thing for me this year. As well as loads more touring and just loads more music. I just want people to hear everything I have to say for as long as they want to!
Mahalia’s latest single, Grateful, is out now on all platforms.