Today, the landscape of Black British music is blessed with so much talent and the lines of genre are becoming increasingly blurred. Versatile artists are drawing from a broad range of experiences and sounds to create forward-thinking work. Amongst all this excellence, up-and-coming South London vocalist / producer Sola shines brightly. Signed to Jamz Supernova’s Future Bounce label, her brand of ‘warped soul’ stands out as truly unique.
Sola’s vocal delivery is rich and full of depth. There’s a transcendent, timeless quality to her voice, which paradoxically took time for her to embrace. “I started producing and was playing instruments a long time before I started singing. When I did start singing I was mad self conscious because my voice was different. It’s a little weird, and not necessarily what people would expect. I took a lot of time to grow and learn to love myself.”
Sola looked to the rich history of Black women vocalists for comfort and grounding. “Nina Simone was a big factor in that journey. Her voice was so distinct and haunting. She really embraced every part of it that is unconventional. She taught me to use those parts of my voice that other people might not love or wouldn’t expect.”
Her exceptional debut EP ‘Wealth Has Come’ blends those gorgeously deep, textured vocals with self-produced electronic soundscapes, reflective of a long-standing love for music. “I got told the other week that my music sounds like if Burial and Timbaland had a baby. I love that! I’m also obsessed with Portishead and Massive Attack, that whole Bristol scene from the 90s. On the other hand I’m super inspired by classical music. I love Rachmaninov and Franz Liszt. I’m always drawing from that side of my upbringing. I’ve been playing the piano since I was six.”
‘Wealth has Come’ is largely influenced by a four year stint at the prestigious New York University. “I learnt a lot from my surroundings and was able to mix and collaborate with people from across the world. London is a multicultural, international city, but New York was that on steroids! As a musician it’s where I grew. I also did a lot of DJing which helped inform my music from the club side of things.”
The intersection of her Blackness and Britishness with white-liberal sensibilities in New York impacted Sola on a very personal level too. “Being a Black British person in New York was really interesting because I feel like a lot of white Americans that I encountered hear your British accent and see you as a different type of Black. I had someone who I considered a friend, I don’t consider them a friend anymore, say to me they thought my Britishness cancelled out my Blackness. It was so rude on so many different levels. It’s crazy how so many people who think they understand the struggle are so ignorant at the same time.”
The sum of Sola’s experiences had a transformative effect. “Being over there politicised me so much more. I learnt so much and did a lot of unlearning too, because growing up in the UK, I grew up in a pretty multicultural area in South London, but was still a minority in my schooling experience. I had to do a lot of unlearning of self-hate and anti-Blackness that the education system teaches us in this country. I think being in New York helped me a lot in that process.”
There’s a quietly brave, radical nature to Sola’s music, both sonically and thematically. Standout cut ‘Mami Wata’ uses African spiritual traditions to explore the fact that women throughout history have been forced to downplay their ‘dangerous’ sexuality. “I’m definitely a feminist, my experiences as a woman, especially a Black woman have always guided me and definitely shaped my world view. I’m inspired by a lot of great women thinkers, like Audre Lorde. I’ve been reading a lot of her work over the past year. The stuff on feminine sensuality is inspired by her work.”
While Sola’s production on the project is cinematic and expansive, there are further depths to her artistry which she plans to reveal in the near future. “I should hopefully have another project out in Spring next year. I’m trying to figure out exactly what shape I want it to form because I have a lot more acoustic, piano stuff and a lot of ambient stuff that I really love, that I’ve been sitting on for a really long time. It didn’t quite fit in with this project, but it’s a big part of my musical identity that I want to find a way to fuse together and make work as one.”
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Words: Robert Kazandjian
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