Mahalia is making moves. After a live session of her performing went viral last month, the 19-year-old’s Twitter following doubled to a healthy 26K, and she swiftly announced a set of live dates – several of which sold out immediately. Smooth manoeuvres indeed. Yet it was her decision to return to her native Leicester after a year in London that really changed everything.
“When I left Leicester to come to London, aged 18, I was happy to leave,” she says. “But I realised it was a bit too much for me. I needed to focus, and I got that once I left.” Having signed a major-label record deal aged just 13 – and released a variety of fingerpicking pop projects – moving to the capital had felt like the next step. “You definitely feel like you are losing something not living there,” she admits. “I totally did at the time.”
The move back proved fruitful, however. It was where she wrote her breakout song, ‘Sober’: think an R&B version of Dua Lipa’s ‘New Rules’. “I think with age and experience comes
a certain maturity in writing,” she says. “When I showed the song to my mates, and they were able to relate to it, things started working cohesively for me.” Follow-up ‘Hold On’ confirmed that her revamped sound was finally clicking.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that it took a little while, as 2017 feels like the prime time for young female acts to take over. “It felt very male-dominated before; now there is that space for us to come through,” she says. “When Jorja Smith and Mabel burst out, everybody else was like, ‘Cool, this is our time, let’s do it all together’ – and it’s working… Not that I’d put myself in that bracket, necessarily,” she admits. But whether Mahalia likes it or not, she’s very much a part of that group gloriously storming into the mainstream. Just another step in the right direction, then.
Buy: ‘Hold On’ is out now
Live: Omeara, London (Mar 14)
Best track: ‘Sober’ – This track is stuffed with wise lyrics and her silky-smooth vocals. A delight.
For fans of: Jorja Smith, SZA
Strange but true: Though ‘Sober’ was Mahalia’s breakout song, she initially “hated” it and nearly binned it completely.photos: