Photo Credit: Alice Fisher
First Look Friday: Mahalia’s Soulful Grooves Prove She’s The Sound Of The Youth
19-year-old Mahalia Rose Burkmar is the creator of “psycho acoustic soul,” and you would be out of your mind to not give it a repeat play.
The first time hearing Mahalia Rose Burkmar was like seeing the sun parting dark clouds after a spring shower. It was just that impressive. Her range, the songwriting, her look were all reflective of a wave that came in like a tsunami. As the innovator behind her own sound known as “psycho acoustic soul,” this Leicester original absorbed the sounds of her city and shared those diverse melodies with the rest of the world.
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After signing a deal with Atlantic Records, Mahalia honed her skills and learned her craft diligently. Her 2016 effort, Diary of Me, presented the life and times of a teenager who was trying to find herself while being in this big, bad music industry. She would go on to tour with Mabel, release two full EPs and the gorgeously infectious single, “Proud Of Me,” which you can watch the video for below and features Little Simz on the record.
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With the new year providing a new chance to breakthrough, we here @Okayplayer want to share with you this week’s First Look Friday subject, Mahalia, a voice of the youth with a style that is all her own. In our sit-down chat, we speak with the Leicester singer-songwriter about being true to her art through her “psycho acoustic soul,” why turning 18 was a huge stepping stone for her and how she feels about the evolution of the music industry. Enjoy!
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact. What is it that those in music game are seeing and hearing that the rest of the world has yet to discover?
Mahalia: That's a big one! Wow, I don't really know... I think I have a voice that people can relate to. I would like to believe that I'm an original artist and songwriter. I have a lot to say and maybe people can hear that. My sound is kind of strange too. I've always described myself as "psycho-acoustic soul". I'm trying to pave my own way and create my own genre that other musicians feel like they can fall into. It's important to me that I'm not categorized in a way that doesn't feel true to my art. I'm excited for everyone else in the world to begin to see and understand that.
OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?
M: One of my most cherished influences has always been Amy Winehouse. She started playing gigs really early and doing her thing from a young age which I have done, too. I just found it so inspiring to watch her grow as an artist and as a person. India.Arie, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill were also three incredible women in my music life. They inspired me growing up to always reach for new things to talk about lyrically.
OKP: Can you talk about how your life was while developing as an artist? How did you react to your first bits of press?
M: It was strange, I'll tell you that! Being at school helped me stay grounded and enjoy all the normal things about being a kid signed to a major record label. I've always tried to just take things in my stride, I think. I've got a great family, too. Having them around definitely helped me develop and grow without the stress of the big, crazy music business.
OKP: With incidents involving people of color, police and racist occurring almost on a daily basis around the globe — how can your music help to relieve the trauma that is being experienced by the masses?
M: There's a lot of pain in the world. We're in a very strange climate right now. With social media and online press, news spreads like wildfire and I feel lucky to be a generation that are so willing to talk about it. I think I just have to be true to myself and my writing. You know, I'm not one to shout my opinion about online. But I will always put it into a song. I just try to always give my side of things and hope that somebody somewhere will gain something from it. I've always wanted to spread love through Music. It's such a powerful thing. And I feel blessed to be able to share what I do with the world.
OKP: What have been the most definitive obstacles that you’ve overcome in your career thus far?
M: Turning 18 was a huge stepping stone for me. You know, coming of age. There's a point in everyone's life where they have to change gear. And mine was then. I had to work out how to now turn my headspace from a young teenager to an adult. I had to face the world on my own and I struggled with that really hard. I soon realised that I'd be in big meetings and being introduced to big words that I didn't understand. But, I'm here, two years on... still navigating my way through. It's a struggle but, I know it will all be worth it one way or another.
OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of the music industry scene as how you’ve experienced it? How do you see it evolving in the next five years?
M: I've only been in the music industry for five or six years and it's changed drastically. I think streaming and online is totally at the forefront now. And I think younger kids are looking to find new stuff that they can get their hands on. You know, when I was a kid, the only music I really heard outside of my household was on the radio. Nowadays, there's buckets of playlists and streaming websites where young people can find new and exciting artists. I think it's great.
OKP: What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in your music?
M: I'm very sensitive! I realize that more and more when I write. Sometimes, if I'm really down about something and I start writing about it, I find myself getting physically upset just putting pen to paper. You know, I make music with my heart, body and soul. I think that shows when you hear or read my lyrics. It's the most important thing in my life right now. It's my own little coping mechanism, I guess.
OKP: What were some moments from your recent travels that will forever stick with you? Why?
M: The first one will have to be from a couple months back... I missed my flight to Iceland for an important show because I was late coming from Leicester to London. It's kind of funny when I think about it now but, if I think about the place that I was in, it wasn't good at all. I allowed myself to forget the priority of my day because I was emotional and so got on a slightly later train. The train turned out to be delayed an hour and by the time I'd gotten to London, everything started going wrong. I'm a huge believer in what you put out, you get back. My energy was all wrong that day. And that happened. Hopefully, that'll never happen again!
OKP: What was the first song that you ever wrote entitled? Can you talk about what it has come to symbolize since you’ve entered into the professional life?
M: I wrote a song when I was about eight called "My Angel". I'm still not too sure what it was about. But, I was talking about somebody who had died coming back to me as my guardian angel. My mum always told me I had a guardian angel — ever since I was young. When I was really young, my parents gave me a naming ceremony. I remember all of their friends passing me around the circle chanting, "Mahalia, Mahalia, we give you this day," it's a symbol of luck. That's what "My Angel" was to me, too. And ever since, I've always felt lucky. I've always felt like there was somebody next to me helping me pave my own way and do good.
OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?
M: I think it’s important to try and make music that I believe is timeless. That's where the real success is for me. I feel as though I'm a voice trying to talk about real issues and real love and heartbreak et cetera. That's how you stay different, you know? Give people something new. Something that they don't want to dispose of necessarily.
OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with this year going into the next and why?
M: My biggest two dream collaborators have always been Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. They're the two artists that I truly believe have something to say and I respect them dearly. As I said, it's important to me that my music feels like it has credibility. That's what I feel like they both have.
OKP: What is the overall message that Mahalia is trying to present in her music?
M: Honesty. It's that simple, for me. The day that somebody tells me they feel like I have been dishonest in my music, I will feel like I have done something wrong.
OKP: How do you get over any anxiety before hitting the stage to perform live? What are some lessons or tips that you’ve learned from others about doing a stage show?
M: I don't think I ever will! It's more like a crazy adrenaline rush. I just shake a little before I go on. Shake out all my limbs and dance around abit - that totally helps me. But, I'll be honest, I've always been pretty okay at calming my nerves. I used to dance and act when I was younger. That used to make me really nervous. But, with experience, you learn to control it.
OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with Mahalia — what would it be?
M: I talk a lot!! [Laughs] I'm a little bit nutty and I love it. And that I'm a Leicester girl through and through. I love my little city. It's the reason I am the way I am and why I won't take any bullshit. Thanks for reading! With love, Mahalia.