Work­ing in mu­sic since she was 13, Mahalia shows us the ben­e­fits of slow and steady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TAKE - LOUISE BRU­TON

“Well, you see this busi­ness is all about sur­vival of the fittest. If you don’t go vi­ral, you should quit it.” No, Mahalia isn’t singing about a ca­reer in new me­dia on her sin­gle Proud of Me, her col­lab­o­ra­tion with Lon­don rap­per Lit­tle Simz, she’s talk­ing about work­ing in the mu­sic busi­ness. Hav­ing been signed to a ma­jor record la­bel since she was 13, the now 20-year-old knows all about putting the time in be­fore you re­lease any mu­sic at all.

The Birm­ing­ham singer’s 2016 de­but al­bum, Di­ary of Me – re­leased when she was 17 – saw a mod­est teenager spilling out her heart and the scrib­blings of her own di­ary, com­plete with a soul­ful voice and an ob­ser­vant eye. Even though she made the cut for round-ups of 2018 Ones to Watch in the Guardian, Com­plex mag­a­zine, Glam­our mag­a­zine and the Fader, she’s had the ti­tle of “ris­ing star” for the en­tirety of her teen years. So now that she’s fi­nally break­ing through to the main­stream, she’s poised and set to shine. And that’s why she’s this week’s VBF.

The song that pushed her over from bur­geon­ing tal­ent to ris­ing star is Sober. She did a video per­for­mance for the YouTube chan­nel Col­ors, a place where mul­ti­tudes of ones to watch – in­clud­ing Kali Uchis, Jorja Smith, Ma­bel and Not3s – per­form with just one mi­cro­phone, no props, no gim­micks, against a colour­ful back­ground. With the poise of a vet­eran R&B singer in her bright red puffa jacket, she coolly runs through the power to be had in re­sist­ing a drunk dial. Sage ad­vice lies within that song. She looks to iconic R&B per­form­ers such as Lau­ryn Hill and Erykah Badu for in­spi­ra­tion, their strong will res­onat­ing in her lyrics while manag­ing to cap­ture the con­cerns and the whims of be­ing a young wo­man finding her place in the world.

Mean girls

Whether she’s tak­ing on the mean girls in Silly Girl, pon­der­ing past re­la­tion­ships on I Re­mem­ber or in­ject­ing some fun into the art of mov­ing on on I Wish I Missed My Ex, which sees her lean­ing more to the pop side of things, she uses her songs to give mean­ing to her mis­takes. Just like her peer Jorja Smith, there’s noth­ing vac­u­ous in her songs. Read like po­etry but sung like gospel, she takes the heartaches, chal­lenges and suc­cesses of be­ing young and adds lay­ers to them.

While Di­ary of Me was a se­ries of snap­shots of the press­ing con­cerns of be­ing a teenager, on her lat­est EP, Sea­sons, she takes a more ma­ture ap­proach to her song­writ­ing, singing style and de­liv­ery. Writ­ten mostly from her bed, ei­ther alone or with com­pany, Sea­sons plays with the con­flict be­tween try­ing to find in­de­pen­dence and be­ing to­tally be­sot­ted with some­one. Over­whelmed by de­sire, she runs through the check list of wor­ries that come along with a new and rocky re­la­tion­ship. Open­ing with One Night Only, her tone is sul­try, but make no mis­take, she’s no pushover and won’t be taken ad­van­tage of. On the pi­ano bal­lad No Rea­son, she knows she has the power to up and leave when­ever she likes. Even in the deep­est throes of a crush, she as­serts that she’s the one in con­trol.

Now that 2018 is com­ing to a close, the prophe­cies of the Guardian, Com­plex and Glam­our mag­a­zine are prov­ing to be ac­cu­rate. She has yet to hit the top 10 with her sin­gles but song­writ­ers like her are in it for the long haul. At 20, Mahalia is an old hand in the mu­sic busi­ness but rather than burn­ing too bright and too quickly, she’ll soon show us the ben­e­fits of the slow burn.


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