Mahalia finds it “funny” that she’s being called an emerging artist, because, aged 19, she says: “I feel like I’ve been doing this for my whole little life.” Indeed, it’s been all of her teenage years. The singer-songwriter, whose surname is Burkmar, was 12 when she started playing guitar at open mics in her hometown of Leicester. A year later she was signed to Atlantic Records. A track with Rudimental, gigs with Ed Sheeran, and a part in Noel Clarke’s 2016 film Brotherhood followed, as well as studio time with the producer who made Drake’s Hotline Bling.
Practically an industry veteran now, Mahalia’s sticky, slow jams have finally stuck: neo-soul given a fresh lick of contemporary R&B production. Her breakthrough came last year with a video performance of her drunk-dial ditty Sober on the YouTube channel Colors, on which rising artists sing against a brightly-hued backdrop. Her smiling delivery, in matching red bandana and puffa jacket in front of bold cerulean, has helped rack up more than 8.5m YouTube views. “This business is all about survival of the fittest,” she sings on new track Proud of Me, featuring Little Simz, over a looped gospel sample. “If you don’t go viral you should quit it.”
That perseverance has paid off. Mahalia is about to head out on her third UK tour, after recently supporting her similarly soulful peer Jorja Smith. “I had to get to a place where I understood that not everyone would get what I’m about,” she has said of her newfound confidence. “Once I grasped that, I felt like I was winning.”
• Mahalia headlines London’s Scala (1 May), and performs at festivals in Brighton (17th), Manchester (25th), Bristol (26th) and Nottingham (27th)