With the release of her debut single and an array of opportunities at her finger tips in her hometown of London, 21-year-old singer-songwriter amahla is making waves in the music world with her soulful sound and poignant lyrics.
Your single Old Soul is very nostalgic and suggests you fell in love with music at a young age. When did you start singing?
I’ve always sung, I was in school choirs and I loved it. I thought I was Rihanna or Leona Lewis or Beyonce. I don’t think anybody thought it’d be a credible route for me to go down though. I always wanted to be a singer but I didn’t know if I was good enough.
When did you start playing guitar?
I actually grew up playing piano, but I was playing classical music which I didn’t like because I couldn’t sing along. I switched to guitar when I was 14. I learnt 4 chords and then tens upon tens of songs. I feel like my guitar has been around more in my journey as a song writer.
How would you describe your sound?
I think soul or adult contemporary are the closest to my sound. I’ve tried very hard to make it succinct! Genres have changed a lot over time, so I don’t feel like I’m R&B anymore. The British adaptation of soul or adult contemporary alludes to early Adele or Amy Winehouse, which I think is more what I’m like.
When did you start writing your own songs?
When I was about eight, I would take songs and change the words so that they’d mean something different. So I guess that was the first time I realised that I wanted to make narrative to fit my own interpretation of the world. I think I was 10 when I started actually writing my own songs, they were very Destiny’s Child Independent Woman-y!
Who are your musical inspirations or influences?
I feel like there’s been phases. When I was a teenager it was people like John Mayer. I was learning guitar so I was into guitar bands like Green Day and Coldplay. However, people like Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Otis Redding trump anyone else. All of those artists had something to say, their lyrics aren’t just throwaway and they all participated in social justice so they influenced me in a more personal way.
You often speak about being inspired by artists who are politically active, both in their music and in a wider sense. Is this something you strive for?
Since I was a child I’ve always wanted to change the world in some way. I was aware of so much injustice. My parents are immigrants and have had their fair share of struggles and, although I’ve been able to grow up fairly privileged, it is something I’ve always wanted to do. I still don’t know how, but by talking about injustice in my music and using it as a way to explain what’s going on in 2018 or even in 2025, that is timeless but contemporary at the same time.
You’ve had some great opportunities to perfect your craft this year, one of them being your Roundhouse Residency, how have they helped you grow as an artist?
I joined the Roundhouse two years ago as part of a music collective made up of 11 young musicians under the age of 25. It was absolutely brilliant and was made up of people playing so many different instruments. I got to write music with a live band and think about what style of music I wanted to do. I was also at University studying Anthropology, so it gave me an outlet that wasn’t academic and was more creative. The Roundhouse has been huge in building up my confidence and skill for sure. I then applied for the residency which lasts for a year. They are really supportive of all of their resident artists, but I feel like because I’ve been able to create a bit of momentum by myself over the last few months, they’ve been able to help me get to that next step.
A very exciting part of your year must have been receiving the PRS Foundation’s Lynsey De Paul Prize?
I was so shocked! I had to do a video application about why I needed the grant at this point in my career. Most of the money is going to be used on studio time. I’m going to use the rest to make a music video, the visual side of my music is something I’m learning to like! It doesn’t feel essential for me because you can’t see music, so why would you want to do all of this other stuff! But obviously we’re living in a visual world.
amahla’s debut single Old Soul is out now on Spotify and Apple Music.