Hamzaa is the London singer-songwriter radiating rawness

Hamzaa backstage at Glastonbury | Photography exclusive to gal-dem

Hamzaa is a fresh personality joining the UK’s revived R&B and soul scene. The 20-year-old singer-songwriter’s music radiates rawness, which she utilises to send the message that “it is okay to feel the way you do”. It’s this personal touch that makes the east London-based artist stand out. She provides listeners with a liberating and blissful sound.

The release of her debut EP First Signs of Love last year was inspired by her experience of heartbreak, and the seven tracks break down her cycle of emotions. The release has put her on a rapid come up: last year she was selected to perform for Jools Holland, her first-ever solo show sold out and earlier this year she performed at Glastonbury.

With the recent release of her new EP, Phases, Hamzaa reflects her growth as an artist who has stepped outside of her comfort zone of working alone as she entered a collaborative space with LA-based songwriters Britten and Dayyon. Phases takes a different turn from her first project as she brings together a selection of subtle and upbeat melodies paired with vibrant vocals, making each track enjoyable in its own way.  Take ‘Sunday Morning’ and its mellow, summertime sound; or the heartfelt ‘Hard to Love’, with its bass-heavy beat.

I sat down with Hamzaa over breakfast on her release day. We spoke about her journey as an artist so far, the importance of emotional vulnerability and what she considers as self-care.

gal-dem: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about your background and life growing up.

Hamzaa: I was a kid that was always into performing arts and creative things – going to Saturday schools, drama schools, all sorts of things. When I was into something, I was really into it. I sang, picked up instruments and learned how to produce on the way. I also did YouTube covers, all while still being in school.

Was music always something you wanted to do? 

Everyone will tell you that never in my life did I think I’d be a singer. I love music and making music and just having an outlet, but never in a million years did I think that music would actually turn into my career. It was silly of me to have thought that because it was the one thing I have always done.

“I don’t want people to feel like they need something I have. I want people to feel like we’ve already got the same thing”

A lot of your songs advocate an emotional rawness that I actually adore. Tell us more about your choice to be so free and honest through your music?

I think it’s the best way to connect to people on a real level. People don’t connect to fancy cars and nice clothes because they have them, it’s because it’s their desire. For me, I don’t want people to feel like they need something I have. I want people to feel like we’ve already got the same thing, we’re already on the same level, me and you are the same.  I think it’s important that I’ve been given a space to do that.

Speaking about emotions and remaining honest, how do you practise self-care as an artist?

I think I’m still figuring out what I like doing and how I like doing things because I just naturally go in the deep end. Right now, I think my self-care is doing nothing – like, staying at home doing nothing. And also, being honest with myself about how I feel going to therapy. I just try to do a bunch of collective things, not just one thing.

The first song of yours I encountered was ‘Breathing’. I feel like this track resonated with me and so many others. What are you speaking about in it?

It was kind of like a letter to my friends saying, ‘Look, I know I was in a mad place, but this is what I was going through and how I felt – but I’m okay now. I’m emotionally available to some extent, where I can be there for you as you try to be there for me.’

After the release of First Signs of Me, what did you set out for yourself in 2019?

Can I be honest? 2019 has somewhat exceeded my expectations. I always hoped people would connect and be drawn to my music, but the level has been so mad. People really message me on a daily like, ‘Your music has touched me or helped me’ and it’s crazy.

Would you consider yourself as a part of the UK’s new wave of R&B/soul artists?

I wouldn’t say I represent any genre; I just flow through. I would say I’m a soul artist more than anything else. I think if I represent anything, it’s a new style of modern soul where it’s not super traditional, but you still get the same feeling from the music when you listen to soul music. 

How does it feel to have performed at endless festivals, shows, events, etc – especially Glastonbury? 

I mean, come on, legendary stuff. These are like bucket list things. A lot of the things I’ve done so far are things artists are supposed to do in the first couple years and I just came along and was like ‘well, hey!’. Opportunities just kept presenting themselves to me and we could’ve been like, ‘No, we’re not ready yet’ but we’ve just gone with it. All crazy though and fun!

Your new EP is out! How would you describe the whole process of putting the EP together?

This is the first EP where I’ve actually co-written songs. Being open to that process and letting people into my world so closely was a really cool experience. I stepped out of my comfort zone for sure, but I found that collaborating with people isn’t a bad thing, and I shouldn’t be scared or offended by it.

“You help yourself the most when you are honest about how you feel”

Give us a little break down of every track?

‘Sunday Morning’ is an anthem where I’m infatuated, I’m in love and I’m in a situationship – whatever this is, we don’t need to do anything more or anything less. ‘Home’ is like “make up your mind!” The moment when we decided to try and put a title on [the relationship] and it’s like, maybe it was easier when we didn’t know what love was. ‘Hard to Love’ is another letter to my friends and family, telling them that I know I’m busy and I’m not around. I know sometimes I’m hard to love. I speak to them less, but they’re always there for me. I appreciate them. ‘Unlucky’ is that I’m a hopeless romantic and literally the chorus says it. My judgement of character – especially with men – has always been bad, and maybe love isn’t for me. Then ‘Someday’ is the optimistic song. Maybe it’s [love] I want, but it’s not what I need right this second and I’m sure I’ll find it someday. I’ll be alright and live my life as a happy young girl in the city of London. It’s a feel-good, fall in love with myself song.

What advice would you give to young women specifically surrounding the freedom to be able to express yourself emotionally? 

To remember that it’s not for anyone but yourself. You help yourself the most when you are honest about how you feel. In turn, you help other people through your realness.

Hamzaa’s ‘Phases’ EP is out now, listen here. She plays London’s Scala on September 26, you can get tickets here.

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