There are few people in this world who can pull off the mononym and Mahalia is one. Born in Leicester, the British singer has seen a meteoric rise to success, gaining an illustrious Grammy nomination with just one album under her belt.
At the tender age of 13, the star signed her first record contract and has gone on to change the game with her contemporary pop sounds on her viral tracks I Wish I Missed My Ex, Sober, and collaborating with AJ Tracey on Roadside and Burna Boy on Simmer.
She’s supported Ed Sheeran on tour, won Best Female Act and Best R&B/Soul Act at the 2020 MOBO Awards and is about to embark on a headline tour of her own and yet remains humble and chatty, appearing on screen of our Zoom interview fresh faced and still in her dressing gown (it was only 11am to be fair).
We caught up with Mahalia to discuss her AW21 campaign with Levi’s in which she appears alongside Maya Jama and to find out the items she can’t live without.
What are you up to at the moment?
For the past five or six months, I’ve been trying to get the crux of my second album finished. That was a massive whirlwind as I was back in the studio with producers and all my friends making music again. There’s a certain pressure that I put on myself. I just want people to still believe what I’m saying. As a songwriter, everything that I write comes from my own stories - that’s always how I’ve written. The second album is different because you’ve done one, you’ve been through this process once before, but you’ve never made a second album. It’s a different process with the same outcome. It’s a bit daunting but I’ve been enjoying seeing where I’m at now and who I am as a woman and as a songwriter.
I’ve got my first headline show back after two years. Every day for the past few days I’ve felt quite anxious. It’s a mix of excitement and I’m a little bit scared. It feels like I’m doing everything again for the first time ever because it’s been so long.
How has life changed since you were nominated for a Grammy?
All of that stuff has been so weird because it happened in lockdown. I found out over FaceTime and I told my family on a group WhatsApp call, so that was strange. Things have been different because being nominated for an award like that feels like a recognition of everything that you’ve done and achieved. It’s given me a little bit of a boost going into the second album phase. Despite everything that’s happened worldwide, I’ve had a few moments in the past year and a half that were quite special. I wish I could have celebrated in a pub.
Who is your musical inspiration?
I have so many but if I had to choose one it would be Corrine Bailey Rae. I’m from Leicester and she’s from Leeds, so I love that she’s a Northerner and also of dual heritage so I really look to her for a lot. I saw this other woman that wasn’t from London and had a similar skin tone and background. She played the guitar and sang, and I wanted to be that. I got to interview her and it was lovely; she was lovely. Meeting your idol is mental.
What is your favourite song or album of all time?
My favourite song of all time is Rose Royce - Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. It’s the best heartbreak song ever and I love songs that make me sad, they actually make me happy. One more would be Bon Iver - Re: Stacks. It’s the one song I listen to if I’m feeling low or even if I’m feeling great. It’s there for all my moods. My favourite albums are Frank Ocean - Channel Orange, Corrine Bailey Rae’s self-titled first album, Adele 19 and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
What encouraged you to work with Levi’s?
Levi’s reminds me of being 14 with my mum. I was living in Birmingham and there was a vintage shop called Cow. I was new to the city and I found this amazing store where me and my mum bought matching Levi’s - we both still have them. It was so sweet doing it alongside Maya, I know her well. We were able to share stories and anecdotes together which were actually quite similar and I love that brands could do that.
How would you describe your style and what are your wardrobe staples?
My style is really simple so that’s why denim has always been so important to me. No matter what you like or your body shape, every person has a different denim journey.
I’ve got big hips, a small waist and big boobs and whenever I was finding jeans, I was finding things that were too big on the hips and small on the waist or the other way round. I must have 20 pairs of Levi’s in my cupboard in a bunch of different colours and 100 tank tops in white, black and grey. I am standard with my style. I would love to move out of that and have fun with it but I’m waiting for my big walk-in wardrobe. Right now I’m going to keep it simple.
How do you treat yourself?
I have a massive thing for vintage designer bags. I’ve always loved vintage - my mum got me into that. She has just opened a preloved store by her house. I give her stuff when I’m done with it. There’s something about finding something amazing and special that someone else has used before (and so it’s a bargain). I love the idea of wearing and passing it on. I love the journey.
I have this little black Gucci handbag that’s really understated. If I do designer things, it’s always understated. I have a couple little Louis Vuitton bags - they are slightly shiny. I was watching 13 Going on 30 the other day and realised that she has one in. I don’t buy trends.
What is your beauty routine?
I am definitely super religious about it. I do play around a little bit and recently I’ve been loving the Fenty Skin range - the Fat Water, the night cream that is so gorgeous on the skin and the day cream. My staples in my bag at all times are micellar water, Weleda Skin Food, and the Weleda Skin Food Lip Balm. I have a Glossier Balm Dot Com on me at all times and dotted around my house. I love my skin to feel moisturised.
What are your tour essentials?
Candles and incense are super important. And I always bring the same scents that I use at home to make backstage or my hotel room smell like home. I love Diptyque Feu de Bois - it’s unbelievable. My friends always get me that as gifts.
I never had a teddy bear as a kid but I have this one that I brought on tour that I got when I first started and he’s been with me since. Beyond smelly stuff and comfort, it’s trying to take home on the road which is difficult but having all your skincare and the right clothing helps. Outside of touring I spend a lot of time in pjs and tracksuits. I have to have a speaker with me so I can always bring the vibe.
What’s your advice to budding singers?
As easy as it is for me to say and as hard as it is to practise - be yourself but also it’s really important that you believe in what you’re doing. When I first started out, I found it really difficult to trust myself as there were so many people saying, ‘you should work with this person’, ‘you should do this’.
It took me a long time to be confident and trust what I was doing. If you can get on that road quicker, I think that’s the road to success.
Be your first champion.