Mahalia's lockdown listening: 'Quarantine has been difficult for my confidence'

The Brit-nominated R&B singer has been dancing to Drake in her kitchen and getting lessons in self-worth from India.Arie

I had a couple of friends staying with me just before lockdown happened and we were like: “Let’s do it together”. Having my friends and partner with me, this time has actually been really nice. But it’s crowded. I find it funny watching people back at home [in Leicester] posting things such as, “What are you Londoners doing going out? Sit in your garden!” I’m like, really? We live in a two bedroom flat, there’s no outdoor area. We’ve all been cooking a lot and most nights we will sit together and watch a film. I’ve got a little French bulldog, she’s four months old and she’s making sure I get that hour of exercise every day.

Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock reminds me of being with my family, being a kid and things being easy. When I was younger, my mum used to play reggae in the house and the car. We’ve been listening to a lot of reggae in lockdown – when you’re cleaning and dancing around the flat, it’s a vital part of the morning. It just sets you up right for the day.

Put Your Records On, that song makes me feel great. Corinne Bailey Rae was huge for me, growing up, because she was this brown-skinned girl with her curls out who grew up in Leeds. Even though I’m not from the north, it resonated with me more than artists from London. She really inspired me. That song for me is all about nostalgia and youth.

Toosie Slide is a jam and it’s on every day. It’s been really fun because we’ve all just been pretending that we can do the little dance. I’ve been doing it in the kitchen, but I would never film it in a million years.

HER just put a new song out called Comfortable – I play it mostly in the evening when I’m taking my makeup off or doing a little skincare routine. She oozes this really calming thing in her music and talks about love in the most delicate way. I love the way she shapes relationships, she does it exquisitely.

A song I was playing yesterday, that I’d completely forgot I loved, is India.Arie’s I Am Not My Hair. She’s talking about the struggle that she went through as a black woman in the US with her natural hair. As a kid who struggled with that, it took me a long time to accept and love what I looked like. India.Arie was a huge part of that development. Quarantine has been difficult – I’ve definitely, in this time, gone through a journey with my confidence. Because we’re all not wearing makeup, not getting ready to go anywhere, it’s easy to feel a bit shit about yourself. That song is very empowering for me – that whole notion of: I am not my physical appearance, that isn’t all I am.

When you have certain things that make you feel like you’re in control, it’s a lot easier to get up every day and get going. That’s why being able to write music at home was a huge plus for me. It meant that I had purpose again. When I was younger and first started writing songs, I began on [production software] Logic, using tools and working with vocals. So [going back to it] was like muscle memory. I was looking at a load of music in a file I’d created when I was making the album. I found these three songs, and I was like, oh my God, I love these songs – and it’d be sick if, in isolation, I could finish them and get them out. So I called my manager and we made a plan for a new release, Isolation Tapes.

• Isolation Tapes by Mahalia is out now on Asylum Records.


Interview by Aimee Cliff

The GuardianTramp

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