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Q&A with jazz singer Malaika

12 July 2017

Originally from Ireland, Leeds-based jazz songbird Malaika has had a staggering career since she graduated from Leeds College of Music in 2013.  

In such a short space of time, Malaika has already achieved monumental success. Alongside the honour of being backed by BBC Introducing and PRS Music Foundation to take part at the 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival, Malaika has had Jamie Cullum himself sing her praises, she's collaborated with Snow Patrol songwriter Ian Archer, has supported Mica Paris and amongst all that, has managed to release her debut EP as well.

Now playing gigs around the country and with a tour hopefully on the horizon, we thought it was best to get a word in with Malaika now, before she sprints off even further down the road to stardom. 


Malaika | Genesis AAA sunglasses in white marble


What's been the defining moment of your career so far? 

My most amazing memory so far was definitely playing at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2015. I had just released my first track 'Call Me Honey' on Soundcloud, purely just to see if I could get any local gigs with it. I didn't think I'd actually end up on a plane to Canada!


If you could be any other music artist for the day, who would you be and what would you do?

Oh that's a really tough choice! Can I choose a mix of artists? I'd have to say, as my vocalist, it could be no one else but Amy Winehouse and then maybe Nile Rogers on guitar. Quite a potent mix! I think I'd chill out all day in a studio session as opposed to spending the day live on stage. 


Malaika | Brook optics in marmalade tort


OK so, apart from Amy Winehouse and Nile Rogers, who are your musical influences?

Well alongside those two, who are my two greatest inspirations, I really love a lot of new jazz artists, it's great that there are so many around in the mainstream at the moment. I love Eryka Badu - she's just amazing and she has such a beautiful soul. Also Esperanza Spalding is another great voice. I guess just strong independent female vocalists who are just doing their thing. They don't seem to be corrupted by the industry whatsoever and are doing so well for themselves and it's just so inspiring. 


So when did you know you wanted to be a jazz artist?

Well, I didn't start writing music until I was 18. Before that I just played the guitar casually; I'd started because I'd found a guitar in the attic and as soon as I saw it I just knew I had to learn and pretty soon I knew it was what I was meant to be doing. I played metal music to begin with, which people are always surprised to hear! It wasn't until I started to study music properly at college and got that education that I moved over to jazz, especially with my own black african roots. That's what made me want to delve into my own ethnic history and get into jazz and the blues.


Malaika | Genesis AAA sunglasses in white marble


What do you love most about coming to play in London?

What I love about the London music scene is the fact that there are so many different micro-niches and dedicated nights for different genres. Especially for my type of music, I'm not just going to be put in a line-up with an indie band. I know that there are specific nights on and I have confidence in the fact that every fan that comes to that gig is going to love my music. Its' just a really comforting feeling to get on stage and know that when I do, I'll be giving the audience exactly what they want.


You've already supported the legendary Mica Paris, and BBC Radio 1 and even Jamie Cullum have all sung your praises over the last year, and it seems like everything is moving at quite a fast pace for you. So, where do you see yourself in two years time?

In two years time, I'd love to be at the point where I have enough material to be able to tour and be a full time original musician. I think the dream for every musician is to be on the road and to perform and sell music. So yeah, an international tour would be amazing! 


Malaika | Brook optics in marmalade tort


What are you up to for the rest of the summer?

I'm taking it quite easy this summer. I have a couple of low key gigs planned at Bill's Restaurant and then a festival in July but apart from that and a few little gigs here and there. The aim is to work on material and build up to a little two-week tour hopefully after Christmas. 


What do you like to do in your down time? 

I love to travel and see different places but I get to do that with music anyway. So honestly, I don't do anything else apart from playing music! Now and again, to keep the money coming in, I'll focus on covers for weddings or parties etc. So in my down time is when I work on my own stuff.


Malaika | Genesis AAA sunglasses in white marble


What's your go-to fashion staple? *Pssst, say sunglasses* ... 

I was going to say sunglasses! I guess I always wear checkered shirts, buttoned up to the top. They're always a safe bet and I wear them throughout the year!


Describe your personal style in 3 words.

My personal style is extravagant, contrasting and ... I'm actually going to go for boring. I say boring purely because I stick to what I know, so I don't switch it up too often. It's pretty extreme as it is, today I'm dressed remarkably casual.


Malaika | Brook optics in marmalade tort



Missed our last blog story? Catch up with our review of 'Community Festival 2017'



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