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Mahalia’s letter to her younger self: ‘Don’t let anybody dim your light’

When Mahalia was 13, she went from writing songs about her school crushes to signing a record deal. Mahalia has teamed up with Dr. Martens to take on a mentorship role through the Dr. Martens 'Tough As You', helping create a more diverse, inclusive and accessible music industry for underrepresented talent. Here the singer-songwriter imagines the advice she’d share to help her younger self navigate that time.

20 Jun 2022

Photography provided by Mahalia, graphic design by Karis Pierre

In partnership with Dr. Martens

Dearest baby May,

I’ve always wanted to do something like this for you; something to help with how you must be feeling right now. 

First of all… 13!!! What a milestone! You’re in your first year of teenhood and look at what you’ve already achieved. So, although I know you don’t need any help running after and securing your dreams, I just wanted to offer you a little bit of advice for where you’re going next. 

To begin, I don’t want you to be scared. What is happening for you right now is so great. People are seeing you for your talent, your brilliant songwriting and your sweet nature; but the industry you’re going into is not the easiest for a young woman of colour. 

Your first trip to London to meet some people will show you that the music world is FULL of men – older white men to be totally transparent. Most, if not all of them, are in the highest positions. They’re the ones you’ll have to ‘impress’. They won’t always understand you, but you have to be firm. You have to know what music you want to make and stand by it. 

Who says a girl of dual heritage from Leicester can’t make British alternative music? Who says that girl can’t play the guitar and sing her love songs? Nobody. Yet still, the industry will try to box you in. They will tell you that your music is R&B before you know it is, just because that’s what fits with your profile. It’s important that you go on your own journey. 

Don’t let anybody else dim your light, speak over you or make you feel like you should be making music differently. You were signed based on the music you made before, so you’re doing something right. 

People will try to tell you what to wear. They’ll use words like “young,” “fun” and “stylish” when describing what you should look like, without realising you’ve already got the first two covered just by being who you are. 

Wear what you want. Don’t be intimated by an industry that doesn’t understand you yet. Stay in school. Finish your exams. Love yourself and be confident in your body. You are so fucking great and you are going to achieve so much. Gosh little baby… so much. 

I love you forever, 

23-year-old you xxx

Dr. Martens is running a new mentorship programme for emerging voices within music.  Mahalia is one of The Tough As You initiative mentors, and is aiming to support underrepresented artists, collectives and grassroots organisations with events, one-to-one industry guidance and help with realising creative visions. Find out more here