Born in Tanzania before relocating to Australia as a youngster, Beckah Amani manages to weave all the different global influences she’s experienced into her sound. Now living in London, where she hopes to rise amongst a packed scene (and stands every chance of doing so), the singer has recently dropped her debut EP April onto the world.
As the next artist to feature on our new series, whynow Is The Time To Listen To…, we speak to Amani about her journey into music, her hopes and vision for live performing, and her keen fascination with political dramas.
Hello Beckah, how are you? To start with the most obvious question: how did you get into music?
I’m very good thanks… I was very much influenced by my parents and their love for music, listening to my parents play. My dad was choir conductor, so I grew up being involved in choir. But, for me, songwriting began with Ed Sheeran. I fell in love with him when I was about 11 and thought I just want to write stories and play the guitar and share music with the world.
Was there a particular Ed Sheeran track you heard that inspired you?
‘The A Team’, when he was super emerging. I was listening to it wondering how a pop song can be so emotional, and really deep and story-driven.
It’s that storytelling element that you gravitated towards, then?
Yeah, 100%, because I’ve been journaling and writing poems since I was a kid. But I hadn’t really connected with music on that level of using writing and music as a platform for telling stories, being vulnerable and exploring my thoughts and feelings about things. It was very life-changing for me.
Your upbringing is quite interesting: you were born in Tanzania, to Burundian parents, and moved to Australia when you were eight. What did that do for your influences and your worldview?
I feel like it exposed me to a lot of different music. Burundi itself has a different music offering to Tanzania and then obviously Australia has a whole different thing. I think it made me get used to the idea that there are many different ways people express themselves. And it made me really enjoy and love music from everywhere.
My brother was a big influence for me; he loved J. Cole, Kendrick, Tupac. And discovering Ed Sheeran also meant I discovered a lot of UK artists. So being born and then moving around just made me love culture in the world and knowing what’s happening in different places and diving in and getting to know those places through music. I grew up listening to almost everything and it’s been impactful in that I’ve realised there’s so many stories out there – and so many ways you can see the world and express what you see.
And sonically as well, your track ‘Waiting On You’ has a variety of different styles and genres. What is ‘Waiting On You’ about? Is it a love song?
Yes, it is a love song. I particularly wanted to tap into Burundian rhythm and talk about something everyone relates to. It’s about waiting on somebody to finally decide whether they want to go all in with you or not; there’s always that initial spark with somebody and you’re giving them everything but they’re kind of sitting on the fence. So it’s about that weird space of waiting to see whether somebody is as all in with you as you are with them.
And the music video for that was shot at Somerset House and in Walthamstow, is that right? How did that come about?
So I moved to London in May earlier this year. It’s been a long-term dream of mine. I love the UK and really want to come up from the UK and immerse myself in the music culture. When we were looking into people who potentially could film the music video, we really wanted someone from the UK, someone experienced, and I really always wanted to do a music on film and capture that feeling of waiting on somebody on film. And Jess Colquhoun [the video’s director] was all in and just had amazing ideas.
You said you wanted to move to London, that that was a goal. How have you found the London scene and breaking into it?
It’s been amazing. For me, coming from such a small industry as Australia, where there isn’t a lot of scope to really experiment; for me it’s been really important to experiment with the afro genre and tap into my heritage that way. Coming into the UK has been so awesome because [afro] is a genre that’s massively celebrated and is kind of everywhere.
It’s busy as heck, but I love that. There’s so much going on. People are so on it, and there’s so much culture. It’s obviously very competitive, but that also made me excited to dive in and find my place in it. And figure out how I want to present myself amongst all these amazing things that are happening. I genuinely love it. There’s just so much.
And you played at The Great Escape Festival earlier this year. How was that?
So good. I really enjoyed it. It was the first UK show, so I sort of dived straight into it. It was really cool meeting the industry down there and seeing all these emerging artists from all over. It was a good way to get to see everyone and everything.
If you had to succinctly describe what you want a Beckah Amani show to be like, how would you describe it?
Warm, soulful and I think for the audience to walk away with a sense of belonging; that they’re united. For me, people and stories are a big part of who I am, so people feeling like they belong or feel heard would be cool. I’m definitely developing the live show and figuring out what a Beckah Amani show looks like. I’ve really enjoyed playing around with a more acoustic set, and then with the full band.
Let’s talk about your EP, April. A lot of artists say their first project can be funny, because a lot of it is music they made from a while ago. How representative of you now is this project?
I feel like it’s still me because I feel I’m still in this phase where I’m discovering what that Beckah Amani sound is. I thoroughly enjoyed creating this EP and trying different things. So for me, I’m still very excited, I feel very much on that journey and I’m really happy with the work.
Why that title, April?
The whole EP is about a reflection of these 20-somethings and how crazy they are; just how beautiful it is, as a young person growing up discovering, what love is, what I want out of life. And then also dealing with climate change and all these world issues and crises and injustices. It’s just a whirlwind of beautiful chaos and to me that felt like autumn. Autumn as a season is very beautiful, there’s the changing leaves, but summer’s over, it’s about to be winter, and April is right in the middle of that.
I read an interview that you watch any and every political drama series you can get your hands on. Is that still the case? And why does that interest you so much?
I love knowing, with dramas and stuff, how people think, and what makes them put out policy like that. What are the driving forces? What are the human reasons behind why people advocate for the things they do? And I just love seeing a drama depict that and then I think about how the world works.
Where do you think music stands as a political instrument, then? Have you ever felt like you can use it to tell a story about something or bring attention to something?
Definitely. One of my biggest influences would be Nina Simone, and the way she used music as an instrument, not only to tell her own truth, but to look at the world around her and tell the stories of the people who are hurting, people who are in love, all landscapes of life.
Through ‘STANDARDS’, a track on the EP, I very much did that. I was like, ‘This is what I’m going through, this is what a lot of people of colour are going through’; ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ as well reflects on the climate crisis and how that’s affecting people and the young generation. So I like to believe that music has a place in political issues; not that it always has to be central, but I think it can be very impactful and meaningful to write songs like that. And for me, that’s important; it’s telling a story of us and the world.