Mahalia on what to expect from her “epic” Brixton show and reflective new material

“As a young woman, I had no idea who the fuck I was”

Ahead of her debut headline show at London’s O2 Brixton Academy this week, Mahalia has spoken to NME about what to expect from the gig and her reflective new material.

This past summer saw the return of live music following a lengthy break due to the coronavirus pandemic. British R&B star Mahalia bounced back after with a summer calendar jam packed with festival dates including Boardmasters, All Points East, Tramlines, and Standon Calling.

On Friday (November 19), she takes to the stage at Brixton Academy for her first headline show in almost two years. With support from Berwyn and backing from her live band, it will mark the Leicester singer-songwriter’s first time performing at the famed London venue.

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We caught up with the former NME 100 star ahead of the show to talk about her return to the stage, new single ‘Roadside’ with AJ Tracey, and how lockdown helped with the creation of her third album, the follow-up to 2019’s ‘Love And Compromise‘.

NME: You’re about to perform your first headline show in almost two years at Brixton Academy. How are you feeling?

Mahallia: “I’m excited; I love touring at this time. I usually do my European tours around October, November time. So I’m quite used to getting off the tour bus in a big coat and running inside. It just always feels lovely and cosy. Cold outside, but warm inside. I’m also definitely really scared.”

Why are you scared?

“I’m scared because it’s my first proper show back. Festivals are a bit different. They’re shorter sets. You kind of run on, do the thing, then run off. It’s quite fun. This is different. It’s been two years. My therapist would say it’s because I’m wanting to please. I want people to always think that I’m great, and talented and lovely and funny. I don’t know where that comes from. I feel like with success that this has maybe gotten worse, there’s potentially even a slight anxiety about wanting to make people proud as well. I am definitely my worst critic. So I’m nervous, but also it’ll be a good chance to see all my family, my friends, everyone comes down because it’s London.”

What can fans expect from the show?

“I brought on a creative director this year, just because I wanted to treat myself. I wanted to work with somebody to kind of bring this to life. I’m quite bad at passing over the baton. But for this one, I thought that there’s a shit tonne of stuff going on and maybe it’s time to work with somebody else. I’ve been working with this great girl: we had a meeting at the start of this week just talking about the creative and colours and whatnot. I was really emotional the whole time because it’s amazing every time somebody else takes your idea and brings it to life. She just made me think, ‘God, this is gonna be epic’. I’m hoping that people go, ‘Wow, that was worth a two year wait.'”

Will there be any special guests?

“There are special guests, which also makes it nerve-wracking. Because you are the total lead player in that game. Berwyn is supporting me and I love him. He’s the shit. He’s amazing. We’ve been spending a bit of time together in the studio recently. I also have a live band. It’s the same band as before, they’re my boys. I would never change them.”

You recently released your new single ‘Roadside’ featuring AJ Tracey. How has the response been?

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“It’s been great. But one of my ways I like to measure how great a song is doing is through performing. You can see crowd reaction and how they feel about it. Do they know the words? Do they love it? Do they want to dance? So I think I’ll know more come Friday. But the reaction online has been lovely.”

It’s a powerful and very personal record about a breakup you went through. Have there been any particular reactions that have struck a chord with you?

“I’m always shocked at how many people go, ‘Fucking hell! I really feel that.’ I always get loads of messages from girls when I put songs out. It’s been really sweet hearing people’s stories. I also had a really cute moment with Miraa May the day after it came out. She sent me this 40-second long voice note of her just screaming the chorus and just shouting in the phone: ‘You’re amazing. I love you!’ All of that stuff is really special.”

You’ve previously mentioned that you’re currently working on your second album. When did that process start?

“I first moved to London when I was 18 and I started touring pretty much as soon as I came to the city. Because of that I never felt like I had a place to lay my hat or a solid group of friends. So I took about five months off [during the coronavirus pandemic] to just live in London, build all that back up again and then I started writing but I didn’t really know what I was writing for. I was going through a break-up and I was ready to start again. I don’t think it was until February this year that I was like, do you know what? I think I’m writing my second album.”

Mahalia
Mahalia. CREDIT: Melody Maker

Does the new music have a particular theme?

“There’s definitely a theme, although it’s not clearly pin-pointed. Last year, after releasing the first record, touring it – or getting through half of the tour and then getting thrown into a lockdown  I realised that as a young woman, I had no idea who the fuck I was. I felt like I knew Mahalia on the road, and I knew her inside out, through and through, but then I came home and was told I had to stay in the house and it freaked me out because I then had to get to know this other part of Mahalia that I hadn’t seen in four years.”

How did you handle that?

“In those five months I had massive highs and then I really plummeted; I didn’t know what my purpose was. There was the breakup which was shit and I had to deal with that, and then I moved in on my own, which I thought was a great idea but then realised that I am actually really lonely on my own. So I was going through all these normal life changes as a 22-year-old but in the middle of a lockdown, losing money by the fucking minute and not knowing what was going to happen. I feel like this new record is about me coming out of all that. It’s my most vulnerable work because it’s me delving into things that I probably couldn’t have ever done had we not gone through a pandemic.”

When do you think you’ll release it?

“It’s definitely going to be next year. I don’t know if it’s going to be quarter one. But if it’s not quarter one, I’m not going to let the people starve. I’m probably going to put out something, maybe an EP.”

Mahalia plays Brixton Academy on November 19. Her new single ‘Roadside’ featuring AJ Tracey is out now on Warner Records

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