On my radar: Lianne La Havas’s cultural highlights

The singer on her devotion to Christopher Hitchens, the magic of Alexander McQueen, great Indian food and her new favourite crooner, Keenan O’Meara

Lianne La Havas grew up in south London, where her multi-instrumentalist father taught her how to play piano and guitar. Two weeks into an art foundation course she dropped out to focus on music, and toured with Paloma Faith as a backing vocalist. La Havas was signed to Warner in 2010 and released her debut Is Your Love Big Enough? in 2012; it was nominated for the Mercury prize and won iTunes album of the year. In 2014 Prince played a gig in her living room; later that year she sang on his album Art Official Age. Her second album Blood was released in July this year and she is touring, 4-14 December. On 14 March she will play the Royal Albert Hall, London.

1 | Film

Belleville Rendez-vous

belleville rendez vous
Belleville Rendez-vous: ‘You come back to it years later and it’s even more amazing.’ Photograph: Moviestore/Rex Shutterstock

I had an ex-boyfriend who lived in France and got me into a few French films but this [cartoon] really stuck out. It’s one of those things where you come back to it years later and it’s even more amazing. There’s all these nuances in the music that I kind of want to have for myself. There’s a scene in there, where we first meet the three old lady singers, the triplets of Belleville, and they perform an impromptu song where they click and slap their knees and stamp their feet to the rhythm. And the rhythm that is created is so off-the-cuff but it’s impeccable: it’s like some amazing jazz journey but almost like the blues as well.

2 | Nonfiction book

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

christopher hitchens
Christopher Hitchens: ‘wit, class and impeccable use of language’. Photograph: Felix Clay/The Guardian

He was one of my favourite people ever: he said things like they were but with the most eloquence I think I’ve ever heard. This was his final book: it was left unfinished because he passed away, but they’ve included his notes and it’s like seeing into his mind. The book is short but so potent. It’s about his living with cancer and how it made him feel, and his devout atheism. Lots of people said, “Maybe you want to become religious now,” and he was like, “Absolutely not, but you know, it doesn’t mean that I’m happy about dying.” It’s so honest and heartbreaking: I love the depth he goes into, because it’s so personal. I never saw him speak, but I watched all of his debates online that I could find: I loved seeing him tear down his opposition just with wit and class and his impeccable use of language.

3 | Exhibition

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A, London

alexander mcqueen
A model sports a creation by Alexander McQueen during Paris fashion week, 2009: ‘He used nature, the environment and his heritage in his clothes.’ Photograph: Pascal le Segretain/Getty Images

I caught this on the very last day and I felt very lucky. It was so inspiring: I was thinking about it for months afterwards. And it was all the more poignant because we know how his life ended. But you’re left with these incredible artefacts, and you can see how he used nature, the environment, and his heritage in his clothes. There was an incredible dress that was completely covered in duck feathers, arranged in such a way that the shape of the body was so beautiful and feminine, almost like bondage. It was quite gothic and a little bit scary. It’s all so iconic: even if you didn’t know something was designed by him you would guess. I came away from the exhibition feeling like my heart was full.

4 | Restaurant

Bengal Tiger, New York

bengal tiger new york
Bengal Tiger, New York: ‘Incredible: the flavours were so deep, and it tasted like proper home cooking.’ Photograph: Yelp.com

Being from London and liking Indian food, you don’t think that anywhere is going to be as good as either India or what we have here in London. And America is certainly not the place I thought I’d find amazing Indian food but this is probably the best-tasting I’ve ever had. I had veggie pakora, samosa, and chana saag with roti and rice. It was all incredible: the flavours were so deep, and it tasted like proper home cooking but in a lovely cosy setting. It was up this set of stairs and you think it’s going to be this disgusting place but actually you open the door and it’s this really welcoming restaurant. There’s only a few tables and it was busy and bustling, yet with a calm atmosphere.

5 | Music

Keenan O’Meara

keenan omeara singer
Keenan O’Meara: He could have been singing with Bing Crosby – but then his guitar-playing is something that’s his own.’ Photograph: YouTube

This is a singer I really love: basically no one knows about him yet but he is incredible. He’s just supported me on my US tour. He’s at the beginning of his career but it seems like he’s got a wisdom beyond his years that you can hear in his voice and guitar-playing. His voice sounds like he could have been singing with Bing Crosby perhaps, singing those songs years ago, but then his guitar-playing is something that’s his own. I can hear lots of styles in there, maybe some gypsy jazz, maybe even some Grizzly Bear. I know he’s a fan of James Blake: you wouldn’t think that immediately when you hear his voice, but it is something kind of otherworldly.

life of pi book cover

6 | Novel

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This is a great book: I loved all the humour and subtle wit. And the fact that it challenges the concept of telling a story itself: it’s like a thing within a thing. There’s a point in the novel where you feel like you’re reading and reading and nothing is happening, but then suddenly so much is happening and your hunger is satisfied. It’s like the author has been having a laugh with you because he knows what’s going to happen. It’s amazing writing: it makes you feel so immersed. I was kind of disappointed by the film: you didn’t get all of those nuances and that tongue-in-cheek side of it.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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