Amahla is a unique voice in modern British soul. Known for crafting intelligent and thoughtful songs that tackle complex subjects including race, gentrification and myriad other social issues, the Hackney-based singer-songwriter won praises from Bandcamp, CLASH, the Ivor Novellos, the PRS Foundation and more for her debut EP Consider This. Now, after a period of reflection during the pandemic, Amahla is ready to reintroduce herself with her new project, Where Do We Go From Here?
Inspired in equal measure by her time spent volunteering with mutual aid groups in the pandemic, the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement and her own introspection during lockdown, Where Do We Go From Here? builds on the “deeply intelligent” (CLASH) songwriting of Amahla’s debut. “I’m learning to say things a lot more directly,” she says. “What I learned over the last year is that sometimes I need to say what I mean… I want to challenge the people that listen to me.” Whereas her debut project Consider This – championed by Bandcamp as one of the best soul records of 2019 – served as a sort of musical manifesto, for its follow up, Amahla wants her audience to reflect on their own relationships to the topics raised. “I was trying to write a record with no resolution, that left more questions than answers,” she explains. Instead of just telling the listener what she thinks, she says, “Given the year we’ve just had, I want my fans to come up with their own answers, where do we go from here?”
It was while studying Anthropology at UCL– where she led a campaign to decolonise the curriculum and wrote her dissertation on the Black Lives Matter Movement – and attending workshops at the Roundhouse, that Amahla’s current approach to songwriting began to take shape. Gifted with an analytic and perhaps overactive mind, songwriting became a way for Amahla to order her thoughts. “I think a lot, and I think a lot about thinking. It’s long,” she laughs. “Songs for me are a way to understand the world. It forces you to condense your thoughts and to align them in your head.” The result is an EP that spans only three tracks but covers topics as diverse as romance, religion, protest and performative allyship.
Where Do We Go From Here? was also shaped by her experience working with her mentor Nile Rodgers. The pair connected after Amahla was nominated for an Ivor Novello Rising Star Award in 2019 and worked together, mostly virtually, throughout the last year. “Having somebody who is Black – especially during last year – explain to me their experience in the music industry – even at such a high level – how some things have changed and some things really haven’t, “has been invaluable,” Amahla says, reflecting on her surreal experience working with the musical pioneer. “He’s made me realise that all the things I think don’t make me the typical pop star are what’s going to help me succeed.”
As well as Rodgers’ influence, you can hear Amahla’s obsession with soul music even more clearly on Where Do We Go From Here? Whilst at the Roundhouse, Amahla supported the likes of Omar and Beverly Knight in concert, further strengthening her connection to the music she grew up around. It’s a tradition she resonates with both thanks to its influential sound and ethos as a genre. “I think soul music is just as much about culture and storytelling as it is about sonics,” she says, explaining her approach to the storied canon. “You know, if you think of soul food in America, it’s like a way of being and a way of living. It’s about telling stories and passing on ideas, folklore and education to the next generation.”
While she hopes to continue that tradition with her new EP, Amahla is also cautious about her expectations in what is still an unpredictable time for the music industry and the world. Instead, she’s focusing on gratitude. “I decided not to set goals, but to write down things I feel I’ve achieved instead,” she explains of her mental shift. Poised to strengthen her reputation as one of the UK’s strongest breakthrough singer-songwriters and to make her live return later this summer, there’s little doubt Amahla’s list of achievements will be an extensive one before the year is over.