Beckah Amani: the indie folk storyteller with a voice for the ages

The 23-year-old singer-songwriter’s debut EP ‘April’ showcases her talent for “falling apart and making it look like art”. Ahead of BIGSOUND and her debut Australian tour, she talks to NME about how her family nurtured her musical talent, reflecting her Burundian heritage in her songs and more

Beckah Amani is, in a nutshell, “falling apart and making it look like art”. It’s a lyric from ‘April’, the title track of her upcoming debut EP, and also a description that captures the singer-songwriter’s mission on this project: channeling inner turmoil into moving indie folk pop songs that foreground her rich, resonant voice.

Amani found her calling over a decade ago as a 12-year-old watching Ed Sheeran perform his ballad ‘The A Team’ on X Factor Australia. He was a “quiet inspiration” for her, she tells NME, who helped her realise that “there is a way to do music that feels real, honest and raw and in a way that you can tell stories”.

And Amani’s astonishing vocal ability was first validated by her elder brother, who was the first person who booked her a studio session, taught her how to use a microphone and put her onto a wide range of music. With his encouragement, Amani absorbed everything from Sheeran to Nina Simone to Avril Lavigne (“a huge phase”, she remarks) to Queen to Kendrick Lamar, singing as she went.

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“I would spend so much time singing all these different types of genres, and different types of songs in different ranges,” she recalls. “When you are a 12-13 year old, being exposed to a wide range of caliber, and your voice is developing – naturally, that develops range.” Her father, a choir conductor, definitely helped, too.

That certainly helps explain why Amani sings with an effortlessness that belies her 23 years. The expressive elasticity of her voice is on stunning display in her breakthrough single, ‘Standards’. The way she goes smoothly from a breathy falsetto to a full belt, floating through her upper range then dipping into the low, bolsters the song’s message of liberation – a commitment to unfettered self-love in the face of a racist world that seeks to diminish you and your worth.

“There was always that confusion of: ‘Where do I belong? What place is mine?’”

‘Standards’ began as a poem Amani wrote in 2020 as the Black Lives Matter movement reignited and spread worldwide, including Australia. “I was really surprised to see it resonate with so many people,” she says of the song it became. “I was getting so many messages going, ‘Yeah, this is what I’ve been through. I haven’t been able to find a song that completely expresses that’ – especially in an Australian context.”

Amani was born in Tanzania to Burundian parents who moved the family to Australia when she was eight. She and her four siblings moved around a lot as children, spending seven years in Western Australia; Amani was 15 when they settled in Queensland, where she first found Black friends of similar backgrounds. “It was very lonely, and I was exposed to so many different cultures,” she says of those itinerant years. “There were also the nuances of racism; I’ve lived in a couple of rural places. There was always that confusion of: ‘Where do I belong? What place is mine?’”

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Amani’s music-loving family had raised her on West African sounds, and she further embraced music from the continent as part of a wider African diaspora in Queensland – one that included people of Burundian but also Nigerian, Angolan and Congolese descent. It was important for Amani to tap into those musical legacies on the ‘April’ EP, and you can hear those influences on the gorgeous single ‘Lebeka Leka’. It’s named for something her mother often says, Lebeka being Amani’s given name Rebeca in the Kirundi language: “Rebeca, let go.”

Amani was admittedly nervous at first about bringing her heritage into her songs – about the reception, about doing it justice. But NME can hear the smile in her voice when she speaks about how ‘Lebeka Leka’ has connected with Burundian listeners in the country and abroad. “So many Burundian people around Australia actually rallied for the song, and that was really surprising to me,” she says. “But to see them crave hearing themselves within the music that’s coming up was just so exciting. I was like, ‘What? I didn’t know you were all here!’ I didn’t realise it could reach so far and so close to the people around.”

Burundian drumming also influenced the rhythms of ‘Waiting On You’, the latest single from ‘April’ out today. The song is about someone who doesn’t reciprocate the energy and care you show them. As Amani poetically puts it on the pre-chorus: “You put it in the sky / You want me to fall / I’ve been here for ages”. Elsewhere on the EP, she sings about anxiety (‘The Hills’) and unrealistic romantic expectations (‘I Don’t Know Why I Don’t Leave You’) over subtly melodic instrumentation featuring contributions from the likes of Matt Corby, IJALE, her brother and her dad.

The EP is about the experience being a twentysomething in this tumultuous world, and so Amani named it ‘April’ after the erratic Australian autumn: “It’s beautiful when the leaves are falling – but also it’s just chaotic, because it’s cold and warm!” She’s currently based in London, though, where she’s been working on music and booking gigs (including at tastemaking festival The Great Escape). But she’s now back in Australia to perform at festivals like BIGSOUND and Springtime, play her own headline shows, and support Ngaiire, Telenova and Big Scary on their respective tours.

She’ll be debuting the ‘April’ material live on this maiden Australian tour, which she’s got the jitters about. But the moment she steps on stage, all the nerves will eventually subside. After all, that’s where Beckah Amani is supposed to be. “There’s just something so special about seeing people receive a song and seeing it on their faces. It’s like – yes. OK. This all makes sense. Music makes total sense.”

Beckah Amani’s ‘April’ is out October 21. She will perform at BIGSOUND next week as part of her debut Australian tour

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