What you do:
I’m a singer-songwriter, I’ve also dabbled in journalism and currently also running a media platform called CounterPolitics
You have written for the likes of Guap and Young Music Boss – but I’d like to let our readers know that as much as you are involved with music and events, you are also something of an activist specifically for women/POC. You led a discussion at UCL about ‘how to support students of colour leading decolonial campaigns’ – what was the main message you went in with and what came out of this discussion?
Well during my final year university I led a campaign to diversify and decolonise the reading lists of my department. I studied Anthropology, which is the study of human-kind. Often this means you are studying people or cultures different from your own. It was a subject founded in colonialism and many of its revered scholars believed in the superiority of the white race and this obviously impacted their ‘research’. Yet, this was never discussed during my 3 years at university. In response, we presented lots of evidence demonstrating how detrimental this was to the department, discipline and current and future students. Over time the department became receptive to our demands and evidence. It was a big accomplishment but is still going on. We received funding to run this project and presenting at the UCL Education Conference 2018 was part of the fulfilment of the funding. The funders wanted a talk on how the funding helped our cause, but instead I gave a talk about how staff can use their white privilege to help students of colour who take on the risk of leading these campaigns. Since then I’ve been talking to staff and departments about collaboration and am helping the current final years design a leadership course for student activism for the next academic year.
As someone who personally works with young people, I know that getting young people involved in politics and activism can feel like a reach, but with high levels of violence and knife crime sweeping the city this is something we need to inspire. How can the industry use music and media to encourage them to do more? What should artists who already have a platform be doing?
Honestly, I don’t know. There are plenty people much more for qualified than me who are still struggling with this question. For me, music and politics go hand in hand, so being socially aware and politically active is a stance that runs through my music. But not everyone wants to be that sort of figure and I think there is a place for all personalities to fight against these issues. This year I started a media platform called CounterPolitics, and its aim is to use youth culture to engage youth in the political system and to support them to make social change. I hope it will grow
alongside my career and I’ll be able to bring other musicians, creatives and young people into this conversation.
I think we forget sometimes that celebrities are just ordinary people with a spotlight on them. There is a lot of talk right now from middle class media about drill music creating violence. But the same thing happened in the early days of Hip Hop, it’s an attack on black art which forces black artists to justify their artistic expression of their environment – an environment which they did not create on their own! It’s very important that white artists also educate themselves and their audience about these issues, because otherwise we make the assumption that knife crime is inherently black.
So, how long have you been working with music and when did you start singing/writing music?
I’ve been singing since I can remember and I’ve always loved it. I used to beg my mum to print the lyrics to my favourite songs (basically anything Rihanna) and I’d take them into primary school to sing with my friends!
I started writing songs at approx. age 11, I remember my first proper song was a spinoff of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Independent Women Part II’. I really loved Ludacris’s song ‘Runaway Love’ at the time too, so I stole the structure and my song focused on a different woman in each verse. It was pretty bad, but not that bad for 11!
When I turned 14 I started learning the guitar and I found it easier to write songs on the guitar because I could just repeat 4 chords. I used to be incredibly shy and playing music has helped me become more confident in myself and my ability, I owe everything I’ve achieved to the strength that making music has given me.
(amahla wins the first stage of Westside Radio’s Urban Talent Search at Westfield)
Tell us about how your collaboration with @iamshunaji came about?
I absolutely love Shunaji she is one of the most intelligent, talented and hard-working people I know! So, we officially met at a panel talk about music business earlier this year. But I’m pretty sure we’d
seen each other around The Roundhouse a few times before. At the panel I walked into the lift and Shunaji said ‘i think I know you’ and I said ‘I think I know you too’ , so that’s how it started.
A week or so later she sent my the track red honey but forgot to include the chorus, but I didn’t know this so I wrote one and we recorded it the week after. Schimples 😊
You clearly have such an amazing passion for the roots of certain genres of music and how they’ve developed from Jazz to RnB and Soul – your very first single is called Old Soul – tell us about how this idea came about and the message behind your first release?
You know, thinking back now this single makes so much sense. I grew up in a Guyanese household that played a lot of R&B, Soul and Reggae. I loved it but quickly discovered people like Etta James and Billie Holiday through YouTube. I found their songs and style was a lot easier for me to sing. I couldn’t sing like Beyonce but each time I practiced I got closer to (what in my head at least) sounded like Etta or Billie! I also really admired the civil rights work of artists like Sam Cooke and Nina Simone, they actually changed the world with their voices. So for me leaving a legacy that is bigger than me is huge.
‘Old Soul’ is a thank you to all those artists who have inspired me.
I’m really excited to share it with the world!
You guys can officially find amahla’s debut single on all major platforms now! #OldSoul