here are few people in this world who can remove the mononym and Mahalia is one of them. Born in Leicester, the British singer has enjoyed a meteoric rise to success, earning an illustrious Grammy nomination with just one album to her credit.
At the age of 13, the star signed her first recording deal and turned the game around with her contemporary pop sounds on her viral tracks. I wish I had missed my ex, Sober, and in collaboration with AJ Tracey on Side of the road and Burna Boy on Simmer.
She’s supported Ed Sheeran on tour, won the award for Best Female Act and Best R & B / Soul Act at the 2020 MOBO Awards, and is set to embark on her own tour while remaining humble and talkative, appearing at the screen of our Zoom interview and still in a dressing gown (it was only 11am to be fair).
We caught up with Mahalia to discuss her AW21 campaign with Levi’s in which she appears alongside Maya Jama and to find out which items she can’t live without.
What are you doing at the moment?
For the past five or six months, I’ve been trying to finish most of my second album. It was a huge whirlwind as I was back in the studio with the producers and all my friends making music again. There is a certain pressure that I put on myself. I just want people to still believe what I’m saying. As a songwriter everything I write comes from my own stories – that’s always how I wrote. The second album is different because you made one, you’ve been through this process once before, but you’ve never made a second album. It’s a different process with the same result. It’s a little intimidating but I enjoyed seeing where I am now and who I am as a woman and as a songwriter.
I have my first headline back after two years. Every day for the past few days I have been feeling quite anxious. It’s a mixture of excitement and I’m a little scared. I feel like I’m redoing everything for the first time because it’s been so long.
How has life changed since you were nominated for a Grammy?
It was all so strange because it happened during the lockdown. I found it out on FaceTime and told my family about it on a WhatsApp group call so it was weird. Things have been different because being nominated for an award like this feels like recognition for all you’ve done and accomplished. It gave me a little boost to get into the second album phase. Despite everything that has happened in the world, I have had a few moments over the past year and a half that have been quite special. I wish I could have celebrated in a pub.
What is your musical inspiration?
I have so many but if I had to pick one it would be Corrine Bailey Rae. I’m from Leicester and she’s from Leeds, so I like that she’s from the North and also of dual heritage, so I’m relying on her a lot. I saw this other woman who was not from London who had a similar complexion and background. She played guitar and sang, and I wanted to be that. I had the opportunity to interview him and it was lovely; she was adorable. Meeting your idol is mental.
What’s your favorite song or album of all time?
My favorite song of all time is Rose Royce – Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. It’s the best heartbreaking song ever and I love songs that make me sad, they actually make me happy. One more would be Bon Iver – Re: Stacks. It’s the only song I listen to if I’m feeling weak or even if I’m feeling fine. He is there for all my moods. My favorite albums are Frank Ocean – Channel Orange, the self-titled debut album by Corrine Bailey Rae, Adele 19 and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
What made you decide to work with Levi’s?
Levi’s reminds me of my 14th birthday with my mother. I lived in Birmingham and there was a vintage store called Cow. I was new to town and found this amazing store where my mom and I bought matching Levi’s – we still have them both. It was so nice to do it alongside Maya, I know her well. We got to share stories and anecdotes together that were actually quite similar and I love that brands can do that.
How would you describe your style and what are your wardrobe basics?
My style is really simple, which is why denim has always been so important to me. No matter what you like or what your body shape is, everyone has a different denim journey.
I have big hips, small waist and big breasts and every time I found jeans I would find things that were too big on the hips and small on the waist or vice versa. I must have 20 pairs of Levi’s in my closet in a bunch of different colors and 100 tank tops in white, black, and gray. I am standard with my style. I would like to get out of this and have fun with it but I’m waiting for my big dressing room. For now, I’ll keep it simple.
How do you treat yourself?
I have a weakness for vintage designer bags. I’ve always loved vintage – my mom made me love it. She just opened a pre-loved store near her house. I give him stuff when I’m done with it. There’s something about finding something amazing and special that someone else has used (and so it’s a good deal). I like the idea of wearing it and passing it on. I like the trip.
I have this little black Gucci handbag which is really understated. If I do designer things, it’s always underestimated. I have a few small Louis Vuitton bags – they are slightly shiny. I was looking 13 In progress 30 the other day and I realized she had one. I don’t buy trends.
What is your beauty routine?
What are the must-sees on your tour?
Candles and incense are super important. And I always bring the same scents I use home to make backstage or my hotel room smell like home. I love Diptyque Feu de Bois, it’s incredible. My friends always get me this as a gift.
I never had a teddy bear when I was a kid, but I have this one that I brought on tour that I had when I started and it’s been with me ever since. Beyond the smelly stuff and coziness, it’s about trying to get home on the road, which is tough, but having all of your skincare and the right clothes helps. Outside of touring, I spend a lot of time in my pajamas and tracksuits. I have to have a speaker with me so I can always bring the mood.
What is your advice to aspiring singers?
As easy as it may be for me to say and as difficult to practice, be yourself, but it is also very important that you believe in what you are doing. When I started, I had a lot of trouble trusting myself because there were so many people who said: “you should work with this person”, “you should do that”.
It took me a long time to be confident and to be confident in what I was doing. If you can take this route faster, I think it is the route to success.