Twenty year old singer-songwriter Mahalia may be on her way to well-deserved recognition after her recent BRIT nomination; yet one thing not to forget is that she’s still a normal girl who sends ‘drunk texts’ like the rest of us. Before her set supporting Anne-Marie at the O2 Academy in Birmingham, Burn FM’s Alev Omer and Charlotte Stapleton were lucky enough to have a chat with her about dealing with rising stardom at her age, writing songs ‘to heal, in order to heal others’, and of course, Birmingham.
A: How are you feeling ahead of the set tonight?
M: I’m good. I’m genuinely really good today. I’ve been kind of tired the past week, but today I feel re-energised and excited to be here.
A: Is it nice to be back in Birmingham?
M: Yeah proper. I spent four years here when I was at school, so even just walking around was nice. Me and my Mum went into the Bullring today, and it was just really nice to be around here. I bumped into a couple mates at school so it was nice!
C: I first discovered your singing on A Colors Show which was about a year ago. It now has over 21 million views, so I wanted to know what your expectations of doing that was and whether it surpassed your expectations?
M: My expectations were not 21 million views definitely. I always watched Colors and it has always gotten a big reach; some people have hit 100,000 which I had never really hit on any of my videos. When I did it, I was expecting it to be a really sick platform for me and a way to get out there but I never expected it to blow the way it did. Colors kind of kick-started this whole year for me.
C: Was the attention after it quite noticeable then?
M: Oh my god so noticeable! I always laugh about it because I had like 8000 followers on my Instagram and Twitter for maybe 4 years and then Sober happened and it was literally growing by like 2000 per like every 2 weeks – it was mad! The first kind of 2 weeks were crazy.
C: Do you feel like it was a turning point in your career?
M: Definitely. Last year was a massive turning point – it felt like everything turned, the gears changed and I was ready to go by that point.
C: And Sober’s a really good song as well, we’ve played it on our radio.
M: (Laughs) Thank you.
A: You’ve been building up your own fan base for years, but now it seems you’re getting a lot more recognition. SRA have put you in their Class of 2019 and you’ve topped YouTube’s Ones to Watch as well. How does it feel to be getting that recognition?
M: It’s definitely emotional. It’s weird. Recognition is a strange word, because, you know, what does it mean? I think for me when I was younger, well younger than I am now, I kind of got the word recognition confused, and I thought in order to feel good I had to be recognised in the industry. I was missing the fact that there were people that loved my music and there were people that wanted to come and see my shows. But at the same time being recognised in that way is really special. I think for me it was like 8 years in the making, and now being here at this point in my career where I’ve finished school and I’m twenty, and I’ve got loads of songs that I’m ready to put out, it’s just amazing! Yeah it’s super emotional.
A: Throughout those eight years, were there points when you felt like giving up? And if so, how did you pick yourself back up?
M: When I was around seventeen and eighteen, when all my craziness started – and when I say craziness I mean normal teenage seventeen year old girl loads of hormones craziness – when all that started, it was constant. If someone told me I wasn’t good, or if I felt any bit of doubt in myself, I’d just be like I’m not gonna do it. That’s also hard, coz’ you need to constantly pick yourself back up and constantly remind yourself this is all gonna be worth it – and if it’s not then we’ll just work it out. Yeah man it’s hard.
C: Following on from that, I noticed that you’re twenty which is the same age as myself so I was wondering how you deal with the stardom at still quite a young age.
M: I mean it’s not stardom yet.
A: It’s on its way.
C: Even performing live in front of a big crowd at such an age.
M: It’s mind-set you know. That’s what I wanted, I wanted to be on stage and I wanted to tell stories and talk to people. I was always the kid in school who would run to be the head of the school council, I was that kid! I was always wanting to be at the front.
C: It sounds like you’ve always been quite mature for your age.
M: Yeah, a little bit. I’ve got loads of immaturities as well. I’m a little bit strange, I still get super nervous when I meet new people but I just mask it in a way you learn to as an artist. I still get obsessed over boys.
A: You’re still a normal girl basically…
M: I’m so normal yeah. I still send drunk texts and do stupid things! It’s sick being the age that I am and doing this because everything feels so real and honest. When I talk to girls like you there’s a lot of common ground so I don’t feel that separate.
A: I wanted to ask about your lyrics and storytelling, it’s all very honest. It always seems your pushing empowering women and loving yourself. Do you think that’s an important message to convey as a young female artist?
M: Oh my god yeah totally! It’s weird. The thing with me is I don’t really try, I don’t think in my head this is exactly what I’m gonna say. If I have a feeling about something, I’ll try and get it out in the way that I’m feeling it. I’ll think it in my head and then I’ll write that exact thought down, and I’ll somehow work that into a song.
A: Oh so that’s the process?
M: Yeah! If I’m being honest, I really love when people tell me they get something from it. This geez tweeted the other day ‘Mahalia writes songs for girls who cheat on their man’, and I was like well that’s a bit mad, no. I write songs to inspire strength in women, and also in guys. I’m always talking from a girl’s perspective but I think anyone can relate to them. Your message as artist is really important and how people take that. I’m totally trying to inspire strength in women and empowerment. Also whilst I’m writing it, I’m learning it and I’m teaching myself as well. I write music to heal, in order to heal others. Some of the things I say in my music I’m still trying to manifest.
A: I think that’s what makes you more relatable as an Artist, especially to girls of a similar age.
M: Yeah totally!
C: I saw that in 2012 you did a duet with Ed Sheeran which is crazy to kick-start your career with someone like him. Obviously, you’ve now collabed with Koji Radical and Russ so I was wondering in the future who you hope to collab with?
M: It’d be really nice to collaborate with a girl next. I did a collaboration with Little Simz at the start of this year which was sick. There are so many sick female artists, especially in the UK. There are a lot of female artists who I really love.
C: Any in particular?
M: There’s loads. I went on tour last week with a girl called Poppy Ajudha, she’s sick. She’s a total kind of new jazz. There’s Anne Marie, Jorja Smith, IAMDDB, Ray BLK, Elli Ingram, God there’s loads!
C: How do you differentiate yourself as there are so many female artists? Or would you rather all just support each other?
M: I think we do. What’s hard is that people sometimes expect too much. It’s like if you’re in school, you don’t run around shouting about your classmate who’s done really well, I think we all silently support each other. I think it’s really nice when you meet each other and you’re like ‘you’re doing really well’ by the way.
C: Because you’re all sharing similar experiences surely?
M: Exactly. People take it as if you don’t support each other on social media then you can’t be supporting each other – that’s not how human experience works.
A: It’s the vision of social media nowadays.
M: Totally. Everything you think you have to put on there but actually if I think Elli Ingram’s album is amazing, I’m going to get in contact with her and tell her the album’s amazing.
C: That’s a much nicer way to do it.
M: Yeah, it’s just real. I think we live in such a virtual world, especially as an influencer, your whole world is virtual and everyone is always on you online so I think it’s really important to have those normal human connections. And if you don’t have those connections, then that’s fine as well – who has a great emotional connection with everybody? Nothing is inspiring you to have a human connection.
C: It’s like if you’re not on your phone, or replying to that message, then you lose that connection which shouldn’t be the case.
M: I’ve had friends that I’ve lost who have said ‘you haven’t text me,’ but you haven’t called me or asked me where I live.
A: It’s a two-way street.
M: It’s totally two-way.
A: Have you heard of Amber Mark?
M: No I haven’t.
A: I think she’s from America. Give her a listen I can imagine you two working well together!
M: Oh sick! That’s what I mean though, there are so many girls and there’s so much music! This is so much more than I had when I was thirteen or fourteen. I can’t even imagine how kids are finding everything now.
C: I think that’s when social media is a good thing for getting yourself out there.
M: Totally. It’s sick.
A: The debut album ‘Diary of Me’ tackles lots of difficult subjects like bullying and suicide. What advice would you give to your fourteen year old self now if you were to speak back to her?
M: There are certain girls I would have told her to stay away from. I was always this girl in school that had to be friends with the shining people, like the girls who were the most talented. When I say that I don’t mean it in a shallow way, I wasn’t searching for those people, but I was always drawn to people who were shining as bright as I thought I was. That can be weird coz’ you can both end up colliding reaching for the same thing. I’d definitely tell myself to stay away from a few people. Wow fourteen. What else would I tell my fourteen year old self? It would be about energy and people. I let a lot of people get in my way, and I let a lot of people sap my energy. From fourteen to seventeen I was pretty bad at really seeing people, and I feel like I lost a lot of time and I lost a lot ground. So I think that’s something I would tell myself, be careful of everyone’s energy and also to hold onto your own energy. I’m a pro at giving away my own energy, well not anymore, now I have to remind myself to give a little more. When I was younger, if any mate was in need I was the first person to be like here you go, and actually it takes away from yourself. You can give without giving away too much energy. I can help someone out now and not feel like I’ve just killed myself trying to do it basically.
A: Considering you lived in Birmingham for four years, it only makes sense to have a little chat about Birmingham! If you were to shoot a music video here, where would you do it?
M: I did one actually! I did it three years ago for my song ‘Silly Girl’ at The Custard Factory.
A: Oh really! I’ve watched that one, that’s the song where the lyrics really spoke to me, but I didn’t realise it was there.
M: They change the artwork there every few months. But now, I’d probably do it at the Jewellery Quarter! There’s so many really cool spots there and it’s still quite desolate, so I feel like it’s quite cool. They have warehouse parties where you have to text the number and get the address, I love that stuff.
C: If someone was to visit Birmingham for the day, where would you advise them to go? Do you know of any secret or undiscovered places?
M: It’s totally not undiscovered but the Library is so beautiful. We used to go up there at lunch. It was built while I was a student here and it’s just so nice, even as a library itself it’s so nice to sit and read books. Also, Brindley Place.
C: Just off of Broad Street?
M: Yeah. I used to take a walk down there on my own as my bus stop was on Broad Street. I’d walk past all the restaurants, as if you’re walking away from the Mailbox, and if you go over the bridge and down there are some steps. I used to sit there on my own maybe 3 times a week and just not talk to anyone. In my last year of school, I was working things out and I was writing a lot; I don’t think I’ve ever told my mum that! My mum used to call me saying ‘where are you?’ and I’d be like ‘I’m just waiting for the traffic to clear’ but I’d be sat down by the canal.
C: The canals are lovely as well.
M: So lovely. Birmingham’s got more canals than Venice!
A: I’ve read that, I couldn’t believe it!
C: Have you ever been to Lichfield? I’d say that’s quite undiscovered as well.
M: Lichfield’s sick! There was a girl who I was really good mates with in Year 10, she lived in Lichfield so I used to go out there all the time. Lichfield’s really cute, a very sweet place. I’m from Leicester but lived in Birmingham from 14-18 so did all my adventure stuff here, I know it really well.
C: It is a lovely place to grow up.
M: Super nice. If you’re smart and you know where to go and where not to go at what time then you’re fine. I’ve definitely had a few run ins here where I was like oh my god am I going to die? Maybe not, let’s go home.
A: And finally, what’s one thing people don’t know about you?
M: Everyone always ask me this question, but I tell everyone everything! My name means tenderness, it’s kind of vibey, its Hebrew.
A: That’s nice! Mine means flame.
M: Flame? That’s a vibe. I thought you said your name was Olive when you first came in!
A: Oh don’t worry; I’ve been called many things like that over the years.
M: I used to be called Malaria Bookmark! How dead is that.
A: That’s an unfortunate one.
M: And do you know who started it? My DT teacher! It was horrible. He was just doing the register and he said Malaria. I was like I’ve been here for two years, you know me – how can you say that!
A & C: Wow well thank you so much! Good luck for tonight!
Listen to our interview here: