- 28 Mar 22
Grammy-nominated R&B star Mahalia has announced her return to Dublin, with a headline show at The Button Factory on May 18th. To celebrate, the Leicester native sits down for a chat with Hot Press about her decade in the industry, life since debut album Love & Compromise was released and her love of good quality Guinness (yes, really!).
It's been a whirlwind road for R&B sensation Mahalia, who finally dropped her debut album Love & Compromise in 2019 after signing a deal with Asylum Records at the ripe old age of 13.
Now 23, the Syston native (whose father is British-Irish and mother is Jamaican) has racked up a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance for ‘All I Need’ alongside Jacob Collier and Ty Dolla $ign, plus an Ivor Novello songwriting nomination for her 2020 Pa Salieu collaboration ‘Energy’.
Armed with a knack for creativity that takes influence from past hits or underrated gems, it's no wonder the slew of artists she's joined forces with has become such an extensive, and star-studded list. Everyone from Little Simz, Kojey Radical, Burna Boy, MNEK, Ella Mai and Rico Nasty has either featured or supported Mahalia Burkmar.
The 'Letter to ur Ex' artist wrote her first song at age eight, performed live for the first time aged "eleven, or maybe 12" at an open mic before releasing her debut EP, Head Space, in 2012. Mahalia was later introduced to Ed Sheeran, who she went on to perform as a supporting act for.
The Leicester-raised act's Diary of Me EP in 2016 and Brotherhood film (2016) gained her further attention, but it was her much-lauded YouTube COLORS performance of 'Sober' in 2017 that sent her into the stratosphere. In 2018, she was ranked number one on YouTube's Ones to Watch list.
Since then, it's been a never-ending supply of R&B gold singles, her May 2021 Isolation Tapes EP and 2019's debut LP Love & Compromise - released via Atlantic Records. The album was inspired by the likes of Eartha Kitt, Jill Scott, Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill. Not a bad bunch to keep close to your heart, musically.
Mahalia concluded the year with two MOBO wins for ‘Best Female Act’ and ‘Best R&B/Soul Act’, and is gearing up for her headline show in Dublin's Button Factory this May to promote an upcoming EP. New single 'Whatever Simon Says' follows on from fellow 2022 single 'Letter to ur Ex', with both presumably appearing on the work.
Speaking to the singer-songwriter from the UK, she's gearing up to head into the studio after our conversation. She's not one to rush any press, however.
“I love interviews. I think as long as you have a great conversation, it feels quite easy. I'm definitely not thinking about how bad a time I'm having!” she laughs, warmly.
It's been a number of years since Mahalia performed in the Irish capital, but has only positive things to say about Dublin. After all, she's got plenty of Irish connections, having been a frequent guest on Tara Kumar’s RTÉ 2FM show.
“I became friends with Tara through Erica Cody," the vocalist explains, smiling widely. "I did a tour in Dublin about four or five years ago, when I was 19, and Erica was my support. We became super close. I met Tara on that tour, and we all just became mates.”
Mahalia is familiar with the feeling of being a support act, and makes sure her own tour talent is chosen with care.
“There are a few types of headline touring artists, but you want the ones who have chosen you specially and want you there with them. I remember the time when I supported Ed Sheeran, and I felt like he genuinely chose all the artists - or he had real sway at the very least," she recalls. "It was different because he was excited about the people that he'd asked to come and support him. But you definitely get the people who don’t know who you are. They don't necessarily care, and that doesn't always work.”
“Being a supporting artist is difficult because you want to make a good impression on the crowd, but also on the artists. It can honestly go either way.”
"I’m taking an act named Ruti out on another whole UK tour, but she's doing Ireland too," Mahalia adds, her management confirming the support. "Sometimes I have different support when I come here, but this lovely gal is coming along for the whole ride. I've always worked quite closely with my agent in terms of who comes on tour with us, and I just thought she was so sweet. I’m really excited to have her with me. It’s great that we can go through that space together. I can’t wait to have more Guinness when I get to Dublin, too! Have you ever had it in the UK?”
I confirm the lacklustre experience, making sure to rep Cork lad Ian Ryan's 'Shit London Guinness' Instagram page that's gone viral multiple times.
“My boyfriend's close friends try to split the G," the producer continues, grinning. "I’d actually never seen it until a few months ago when they did it. I need to step in and try that.”
“I remember giving Erica her first Guinness, which is hilarious because she's born and bred in Dublin! I know that it's a cliche, but I don't mean it in a cliche way. I mean it in a serious way," she laughs. "I've been starved and I need to come and have it. Every time I come to Dublin, I always have a great time. I'll probably go and see Erica. I love Howth so I’ll try to make it up there, have some seafood by the water. There are plenty of things on my list to do.”
Fans are currently seeing a matured sound from Mahalia, with earthy neo-soul and '90s-inspired R&B cuts. Samples are one of her strongest aids, with 2021 single 'Whenever You're Ready' (written with friend MNEK) using Montell Jordan’s 'Get It On Tonite' from Save the Last Dance.
Naturally, the consistent release of new anthems is building up anticipation for her next long player, three years after her first.
“I've got an EP coming in May, which gives me more time to get the album finished," Mahalia concedes, laidback despite the deadline. "It’s so difficult, I thought it was almost done about six months ago! Then I decided I wanted to go to America and have some time out there, which I just got back from. You can definitely expect all of the things that you've heard from me in the past, whether that be some great collaborations or some great samples. When it comes to what the project actually is, I wish I could give away more. I just don't even know if I've got the full, realised idea yet, but I'm getting there. That's a lie - I have the vision. I just don't have all the pieces yet.
Given the impressive phone contacts she must have gathered over the past decade, has any collaboration in particular become a favourite?
“One of the collaborations I did recently was with Justin Nozuka, who’s a New York-raised artist. It's funny because it was one of those things that when it came in, I'm sure my label or people in my team might have been going, ‘Who is this guy?' But for me, I used to listen to Justin Nozuka when I was like 11!" the R&B sensation smiles, nostalgic. "Then when I was 14, when I moved to a new school, me and my best friend met because she was listening to Justin. Nobody knew him at that time. He felt like a little secret. I remember when he asked me to be on that song a year or two ago, my head was so blown. I remember calling my brother and being like, ‘Justin Nozuka just asked me to be on this song, what the hell?’ People might not have heard of it, but that was huge for me. That was somebody I was a fan of forever, who I was now doing a song with. Wild.”
Having risen up the ranks of the music business as a teenager, Mahalia's more than qualified to offer advice to any young acts breaking into the mainstream from TikTok or Soundcloud at lightning speed.
“I struggle, particularly for the ones that are under 18. I worry because I was obviously super young when I got signed. I wasn't even in that TikTok world, so I had time to develop and understand who I was as a growing artist," she says, thoughtfully. "If I had a piece of advice, I would say that the real work starts here. It isn't as simple as putting videos online. It's so much more than that. And also, just be careful. When you have a kind of quick rise like that, it can be daunting, and everybody's suddenly offering you everything. It's important that you know your mind and who you are. Be aware of what stamp you want to leave on this world. Take time out when you need to. It's really easy to get dragged into a crazy world when you’re signed to a label.”
“I'm sure everybody worried about me when I was a kid," Mahalia considers. "Artists have to know what they want. Nobody else can tell them.”
Catch Mahalia play Dublin's Button Factory on May 18th, 2022.
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