- 13 Aug 14
Having swapped Sierra Leone for rural Westmeath, Yasmin Kadi is establishing herself as Ireland’s answer to Marina and the Diamonds
You could be forgiven for thinking Westmeath would have little connection to West Africa. It’s not an association that could be described as obvious. But for singer-songwriter Yasmin Kadi, a midlands village has proven to be a perfect reminder of the country she left behind.
“Finnea is so similar to Sierra Leone,” she laughs. “It’s a tiny, tiny village of about 70 souls. There aren’t a lot of young people there because everyone has migrated or emigrated. Their values are the same; family, spending time together, and people aren’t motivated by money.”
The blood diamond conflict in her homeland forced Kadi and her family to flee to the UK, where they found themselves homeless. From there she moved to Ireland. “We were refugees, and seeking asylum, and then we were in a homeless shelter for years and years and years.”
At the same time, the move presented Kadi with opportunities she would never have had back home. “I’d always wanted to do music, but in Africa it’s an impossibility. Normally people expect women to just marry and have babies. I’d always had a big mouth, said what I felt, and got in trouble for it. I guess I express that through my music now.”
Her message is being heard loud and clear, and in numbers; debut EP Earthquake shot straight to the top of the iTunes RnB charts in Ireland. For the singer-songwriter, it vindicates her belief that writing with honesty is the way to go.
“I write a lot about socio-political issues,” Kadi explains, “which is not the most popular subject that labels or management want to hear. The funny thing is that they say ‘people don’t want to hear this stuff’, but they do. When my EP succeeds without any hype or money thrown at me, then surely they do want to hear it.”
The songs on Earthquake are rather varied; the title track is a balladic lament, ‘Model’ brings to mind the sassy commentary of Lily Allen or Marina and the Diamonds, while ‘Letting Go’ is the sort of bombastic tune that one might expect from the production desk of Mark Ronson. At the centre of all, though, is an unflinching candour. The lyrics are unapologetically warts-and-all; “I write about what I want to write about,” reasons Kadi.
The release has been well-received both critically and commercially, but it’s the feedback from punters that means most. “The reaction has been very positive, especially from young people. They’re the ones going through these issues. People relate to imperfection. My insecurities and my honesty, I think people can relate to that as well.”
Not having a major label has been a positive; there is no pressure to conform to the expectations of industry execs. At the same time, Kadi points towards valuable lessons learned from the Hot Press MIX course.
“This course made me realise the music industry is a business; I know it sounds obvious. However, as an artist you don’t think of what you’re doing as a business. You don’t go in thinking, ‘I want to be a businesswoman’; you just want to create music. But you quickly realise that you need to think of it that way.”
Looking at her career in business terms has served Kadi well. Currently on tour with Roots Manuva, while working on her next release with some of the team behind Plan B’s The Defamation of Strickland Banks, success is the culmination of a long struggle.
“I’ve been in this business for years,” she reflects. “It’s nice when you’ve been getting ‘no’ for years – and praying to find the strength to stick with what you’re doing – for stuff to finally start happening.”