Mali-Koa: Dance, you don’t have to be a dancer!
Text by Indera Tamara
Dancer – a message about freeing yourself the limits of external factors.
I was really excited for this interview with Mali-Koa as her style and music create an uplifting tone and expression. Mali-Koa is an Australian born musician who we can all learn a thing or two from, particularly through her new song, Dancer. Dancer is not only an alt-pop, country-esque song, with lyrics that can empower us all, but it holds a sincere message. Have you ever felt like you weren’t good enough to do something, and perhaps gave up? Through speaking to Mali-Koa, in an exclusive interview about her latest song and upcoming debut album, I learnt more about the power of overcoming challenges and trying something new. Here’s an insight into our recent conversation…
Indera: What was it like moving to the UK on your own?
Mali: I’ve been here for six years now, which is a really long time. I think in 2012 or 2013, I visited the UK for the first time. I kind of just said to my mom at that point, I’m going to move to the UK. When I moved here I wasn’t doing music because there were so many more ground level issues. Like I have no friends. I had no job. Like how do I begin again, and start this new life? It was very empowering, but it was probably the most challenging thing that I did, but I wanted to do it. And I don’t regret it. But it’s not for everyone.
Indera: It looks like the risk has paid off now though as I heard that you’ve got a debut album coming out this year. What can we expect to hear and how is it going for you so far?
Mali: So it’s quite funny because I could have written three albums over the years of becoming an artist. But I did two and a half years of developing, which is when you kind of just figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it. With this album, which will be my first project, it is the culmination of all of my experiences up until now. I’m still learning and growing and I feel like this has helped my process. I’m super proud of it because I think it sounds and feels the way that I wanted it to. I’ve got really lucky in being able to have a lot of creative control and write all of the songs, with amazing producers. I did some stuff in Nashville that really inspired the rest and then we wrote more of it here in the UK. I don’t know if people are going to be expecting what comes next. Dancer was a good kind of preview but Dancer is probably very different. You know, compared to my other three songs, Sorry, Pretend and Honest, Dancer is very much me wanting to do something that people wouldn’t expect.
Indera: It is interesting to hear about your time in Nashville. How would you describe the genre of your new music?
Mali: It’s been difficult for me because I do love so many different types of music and I’m sure that every artist goes through this but I’m very influenced by singer-songwriter music. I really like pop music, popular culture, and I love country music and country writing. I guess it’s just all very good music to me and I’ve got loads of influences coming in from different genres.
Indera: It sounds like the process of writing is important to your artistry. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you develop the narratives in your songs?
Mali: Every song definitely has that key element that people can take away from it. A lot of these moments are adapted from my vulnerable moments. The stories are predominantly a triumph, not too much of sadness. But there are some really sad moments and they’re very universal.
Indera: Do you have any future collaboration opportunities that you’d like to get involved with?
Mali: So I’ve previously collaborated with a guy called JP Cooper. He’s an amazing artist. When I was in Australia, I used to follow him and be a massive fan of his voice. So I was really happy that I got to do that. But for the future, Ryan Tedder, from One Republic or maybe Mumford and Sons! There’s usually a really strong storytelling aspect. It’s very visual, there’s a lot of metaphors, you’re able to kind of, you know, be in a place at a time and work through that story with someone. That’s the kind of element of song writing that’s that singer-songwriter foundation that I’ve kind of been developing over these three or four years and trying to be better at.
Indera: What are your best socials for audiences to reach you and follow the process of your debut album?
Mail: Well on Instagram at the moment, it’s just me talking to some other friends who are also very successful songwriters, very successful artists, here in the UK and people that have helped me along my journey. We’ve been talking about their experiences in the music industry and how they’ve been able to grow and overcome different things! I heard Tik Tok is the latest thing so maybe during this quarantine I’ll add some new content on there too.
It was lovely speaking with Mali and learning about her thoughtful process to song-writing and overcoming challenges in her life. She’s definitely inspired me to do more dancing! To stay up to date with her content, check out her recent video and follow her socials. @malikoa
Indera: Mali! Your new single Dancer has me hooked, and I’m loving your Instagram content right now, I’d love to hear more about it. What’s your main inspiration behind the lyrics of your new song?
Mali: Thank you! First of all, it’s crazy to be able to just make music so to hear someone say that is so nice and kind of why it’s important to not lose sight of why you do things, sometimes especially in the process. The lyrics come from a very personal and reflective place for me. Dancer is about wanting more for yourself, instead of being limited by the people around you, your circumstances or even sometimes by that voice inside of yourself. There can be so many limits in place. The message is an uplifting note to myself and then I managed to just put it into a song. Thankfully it can now be out there for other people, if they need it.
Indera: How do you want to inspire your audience through the music that you make?
Mali: I’ve done a lot of learning and growing in my life and I’m 28 now so I’ve kind of been through the ups and the downs. I write my music, hoping it will be there for someone to connect to in a moment when they need it. It’s something that comes from my heart and means a lot to me so if someone else can connect to it, then that is amazing. I don’t make music looking to preach as I know I will encounter more ups and downs on my journey but it’s really about using my experience to share with other people, if they can relate to it.
Indera: I’d love to hear more about the process of making your song Dancer. I saw that there was a lot of choreography that went into your dance rehearsals, via your social media, and behind the scenes video. What was your experience like for the video?
Mali: So I started off by writing the song, and then the idea turned into something more tangible. I showed my manager my ideas, and she was really supportive and I explained how I wanted it to be dance based. I had a lot of creative freedom, but hadn’t really thought far ahead as to how many rehearsals we would have. I just had the idea of this whole song to be about challenging yourself and being in an uncomfortable situation, then growing from that. I wanted to do something to show this. It’s very easy for an artist to speak about being vulnerable without actually doing so. I don’t want to be someone who says it and only sings about what they believe in: I also want to do it, too. So that’s what I did in the video, but obviously I was petrified!
Indera: In your music video, you looked like a professional dancer. Have you had any previous dancing experience?
Mali: I’ve not danced professionally before. When I was like four years old, I was in a dance group in Australia. But that was a short-lived career. I guess my own experience would have been like, you know, we’ve all done it – watched those movies like Honey and Step Up and imagined that we were the lead in it! I did that a lot growing up, ha! And one of my closest friends, at this choir I used to go to, was a dancer. And I think I always used to watch them and be like, wow, I want to do something like that! But not no formal experience. Darcy Jayne Wallace who choreographed it, she’s done loads of other great music videos as well, which are predominantly dance based. I think she kind of made the moves, even though they look impressive, not as complicated as they look. I mean, obviously, it was super complicated. But I think the other dancers were breezing!
Indera: It definitely looked seamless. I think it goes back to that idea of you willing to challenge yourself and trying something new. Is there another time where you have felt outside of your comfort zone and could you tell me a bit about that situation?
Mali: I think growing. Just growing into who I am as a person has been in many ways an uncomfortable situation. I think lots of people, teenagers, however they identify, overcome the challenge of coming face to face with themselves during that kind of growing and learning stage. I guess that is where this song comes from, as well as that uncomfortable situation of having to change things in your life to be better, to do better, to be better for someone, to be better for yourself, you know. On top of that, I moved to the UK, on my own, which was a challenge. I think I’ve always kind of been that person that’s kind of me against the world, which is a great way to be. But there is a way to be like that and also have a really good network around you.