Ahead of her show in The Grand Social on Wednesday March 7, we caught up with Mahalia to discuss how exciting the last few years have been for her, and how her collaboration with Little Simz came about.
Signed to a label at 13, worked with Rudimental, toured with Ed Sheeran, acted in Noel Clarke’s ‘Brotherhood’, and just finished supporting Jorja Smith around the UK, Mahalia has achieved a lot in her rapidly-ascending career.
However, one moment recently has catapulted her even further into the stratosphere. Popular Berlin-based YouTube channel COLORS features vocalists and rappers performing an original song. Mahalia sang her track ‘Sober’ with them in September in front of a blue backdrop, dressed in red overalls, a red puffer jacket, a red bandana and red Pumas, fast forward to February and the video has 6.3 million views. On the phone we talk about her being a lot more than just that one viral song, in the music industry, an alternative life as a counsellor and finding confidence.
Ok, so you’re currently on tour with Jorja Smith, how is it going?
You know what, the shows have been so good, more than expected. It’s always really hard when you’re doing support shows you never really know how you’re gonna be received. But honestly everyone’s been amazing. The crowd has been so lovely. So I’m really happy.
You just released ‘Proud of Me’ with rapper Little Simz, how did that collab come about?
So weirdly I had that song for like a year. The same night I wrote my song ‘Sober’ I wrote ‘Proud of Me’ as well. I was like ‘ok, what am I going to do with this?’, because I really love it but I always felt like it needed something else. So we all talked about the idea of having a feature. And I always worry with features because you have to get the right one, and you have to get one that makes sense for you, but is also credible. This song is personal so I wanted someone who I knew could speak politically and talk about themselves and I also wanted a female voice. So I said to my management team, ‘look, I’d really love to get Little Simz’. So we parked it for a bit. Then six months later we picked it back up and it all rolled out so fast from there, and I’m so happy.
What is the song about?
I feel like I’ve been floating in the music business for a while. When I was writing that song I was really lost about what I was doing music. The main thing is, when I started out I loved playing music and I loved the feeling of how I felt on stage, and I also loved the feeling of knowing my parents were watching me. I was their little baby and they were really proud of it. So that’s where the song came from. There was this time where I was lost and confused about what I was doing. So I needed to go back to where I started, back to when music was the only thing that mattered and the only thing I cared about. Also my family and my friends basically.
If you weren’t a musician what would you be doing?
Hmm, I think I’d probably work with kids you know? I love kids, kids of all ages, I just love teaching, chatting with kids. I’ve done a lot of school talks, and I love the feeling of knowing that I’m giving something to them. Younger people are so willing to absorb and listen. And I miss that feeling of when you were a kid and the whole world is at your feet. I think that’s why I love working with them, because for them there are all of these possibilities and I love that. When I was a kid my mum was a counsellor, I think I have always followed in her path, I’m really sensitive and I love to talk about things.
What advice would you give to young creatives trying to get into the music industry?
I was actually talking about this last night, because a girl asked me at a gig. And I think my first answer is always that you need to know why you’re doing it. And if you can answer why first then you can work out what to do. My thing is if you’re doing something because you want to be famous or because you want money or whatever, you need to really look at it and think, ‘ok can I actually do this and can I make money in this climate?’.
And my thing is you really have to believe in yourself, as cliché as it is. My parents always said it to me, and I never did. And then when I did, everything started going right. So the second that you totally believe in your mind and your music and all that kind of stuff, those things will just start working. And I really believe in positive input and positive output. What you put out is what you get back.
You’ve been signed for a few years; do you think ‘Sober’ changed things for you?
Oh my god, 100 per cent, in fact I think before ‘Sober’ I had been signed for five years, and I was really like, ‘ok what am I doing?’. With this career, you can feel like you’re rinsing yourself out. And you can feel like you’re giving loads but not getting a lot back. I think when ‘Sober’ happened it was just like the last little jigsaw piece.
When that happened, everything in my head turned around, I was like ‘ok here we go let’s get in gear. Let’s go’. You know what I mean? It’s been a really emotional few months, and it’s been amazing to see so many people connect with the music.
So when you say it changed, do you mean you realised you found out what people want to hear or do you mean that having a viral hit like that really got the ball moving on your career?
I think I was waiting for that [a viral hit], because you’re waiting for people to grab onto one thing, then you can give them everything else. And it’s like, if I think about it, I’m not just ‘Sober’, I’m not just that one track, so I had to strategically figure out what I was going to put out next, and what I was going to go with. But I was just waiting for that one thing to get the ball get rolling and now it’s rolling and I’m so ready.