Laura Mvula is an incredible sight. Angelic yet full of a powerful musicality not seen in black British music for some time. Her sounds and her image are refreshing, revitalising and futuristic.
Probably all the qualities that drew the legend, Prince, to her. It’s well-documented that the celebrated musician admired Laura greatly. It’s felt like British music has been waiting for her for so long, and she’s definitely delivering.
Her current single Ready or Not (a cover of the 1968 song by The Delfonics, but also expertly rebooted by The Fugees in 1996) was the backing tune in the recent Marks & Spencers’ Christmas TV ad. Laura’s also been wowing audiences across the UK on a live tour showcasing albums from her critically acclaimed debut album, Sing to the Moon, and her second album, The Dreaming Room (pictured on the left), was released last summer, 2016.
Melan Magazine contributor, acclaimed TV and radio presenter, Marverine Cole, caught up with Laura backstage at her homecoming gig at Birmingham’s O2 Institute, one of several pre—Christmas dates before embarking on her first ever US tour in February 2017. Touring can be an exhausting business, what with traveling from city to city, with new audiences to enthral night after night, the pressure is real. Laura has one key way of handling it all.
“I keep focused on the music. The music is so lifegiving, for me, anyway. I always find, for the most part, nine times out of ten, that once I get on stage, and I embrace the opportunity to share music, then I’m sort of self-reenergized, if that’s a word. It’s a strange sensation, but it’s one that I look forward to, you know. No one can ever really take that away, not even me. I enjoy playing.”
Laura is a classically-trained pianist and composer, having graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire at Birmingham City University. But at the heart of composition is collaboration. Her second album features the London Symphony Orchestra as well as grime artist Wretch 32 and musical powerhouse, Nile Rodgers. The art of a performance is key: looking good on stage being integral to that and therefore beauty products to help her achieve her striking image are always at her side in that endeavour. She’s a big fan of Kiehl’s beauty range and also of MAC and Bobby Brown when it comes to make-up. Her make-up artists are ever keen to push the boundaries and try new looks for her live performances.
When we get down to discussing her inimitable style and fashion choices, it stems from childhood ambition. “I was always interested in clothes and developing a personal style or something in my subconscious. I just, the same way I enjoy making music, love putting ensembles together. I like things that look and feel unusual. I thrive on having a strong physical presence, as well as bringing the music. And yes, you know, it’s important that as a black woman, for me, my blackness in inverted commas is as well-represented as possible. I love my mahogany skin. I enjoy my body shape, and so yes, I love to feel good in clothes. And I am also aware that I represent a group of women particularly who might not otherwise in mainstream media have light shone on them. I’m what is considered unconventional when really, the reality is there are many, many women who look like me or, you know, have dark skin with short hair and whatever. So I’m aware now, more than ever, of how important it is for me to carry myself with pride. And I also just love fashion, I’ve always loved fashion, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with the art of making music, you know; there’s so much you can say with clothes, through clothes. I’m thankful that I think I’m a good muse, I’m a good canvas to kind of express, you know, I’ve had amazing opportunities to work with designers who enjoy using my face and my lines, as it were, from which they can be inspired by, so yes. It’s all part of the art.”
Getting time at home is a welcome retreat from public life. Laura spent a lot of time in Kings Heath, the song Green Garden from Laura’s debut album was her way of reflecting on the happy times in the diverse suburb of Birmingham. Imagine a cross between Shoreditch and Brixton: upwardly mobile, yet also refreshingly down- to-earth with a fabulous cultural mix of people, no fussing, no fighting, just peace. “Whenever I get the opportunity to walk down Kings Heath High Street, I take that chance. I spent so much time there as a youngster, and also in my early twenties, you know, amazing fond memories, meeting up with friends, and it’s familiar, isn’t it? Because I guess my life has no routine any more, whenever I get a chance to be in a place where my life has a rhythm to it I’m going to take it, and King’s Heath is definitely one of those spots for me, whether it’s going to the Hare and Hounds pub.”
And if it’s not reminiscing about the buzzing Kings Heath High Street, the pictures she conjures up in our minds of her being at home for Christmas just makes you want to pack up your bags and spend the holidays with her because the family vibe sounds so good.
“Christmas came around so quickly for me. The festive period is always a food fest in our house. And we just love getting the chance to be around each other. I come from a very large and busy family, so it’s always really important when we get together to catch up. You know, there’s always loads that’s happened in a year. And also I’m really well-supported, I have a great network of friends and family who, all year round, are rooting for me and so it’s always nice to actually catch up in the flesh. It’s total bliss. I look forward to it every time, but sometimes it’s a bit strange, because it’s such a drastic change of environment. Because for most of the year, I’m kind of someone else? But at Christmas I just get that chance to not be available, which is amazing.”
Laura is embarking on her first ever US tour in February 2017, and being as social media friendly as she is, even if we can’t get to one of her gigs, we can enjoy her Instagram feed along the way!