Going Through Phases: Clash Meets Hamzaa

Going Through Phases: Clash Meets Hamzaa

The East London vocalist will make 2020 her own...

Last week Hamzaa performed at a Clash Live event – a Hallowe’en special, she wore a hand-made costume before racing towards a friend’s party.

This week she’s preparing to go on tour with Mahalia, running her live show while continuing her regular writing sessions. Her schedule is, she admits, a little packed.

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“I don’t think I saw the year go,” she gushes. “I think the year just happened, and now we’re in November and I’m turning 21 and that’s it. I don’t know… it’s kind of crazy.”

“Usually it takes forever to come to my birthday,” she adds, “and now we’re like… here.”

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Right now we’re sat in a cafe in East London, close to the house she grew up in. We both pick the toasted banana bread – it’s her recommendation – and she’s relishing the opportunity to just sit still for a half hour, and reflect on the past few months. New single ‘Write It Down’ is out now, this soulful piece of naked reflection that acts as a mirror for the way she views songwriting itself. 

“It allows me to actually understand how I’m feeling,” Hamzaa says. “To understand what it is that I’m trying to say. Sometimes you don’t really know how to say things. And you bottle up all this emotion and anger towards it, and then you put it in something, you write it down, and you let it go. And it’s like, oh, that was easy.”

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Hamzaa has been able to bid adieu to a lot of different emotions over the past 12 months. Take her ‘Phases’ EP – stark, unrelentingly honest, it was marked by her distresses and failures in love.

“I feel like the first songs by me were very straight to the point and in your face, and then ‘Phases’ was more like: make of this what you will. I wanted it to be directly related to my situations.”

“I went through a phase – literally – of meeting guys, meeting girls and feeling like… this is so boring. No one is stimulating me. Everyone is just so… it wasn’t fun. And I love really hard. I catch feelings in an infatuation type of way, so when it’s not reciprocated it just feels horrible.”

She adds: “I’ve met people who like me, I’m a hopeless romantic, I know that things aren’t perfect, and things don’t always go how you plan… but then I met my boyfriend shortly after that. No, literally!”

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‘Phases’ felt truly original; sure her influences shone through – 80s pop, vintage soul, even indie groups such as Jungle – but the voice was resolutely her own. “Every time you go into the studio, it’s like: what am I even writing about today? How many break up songs can you write? So why not write about something different?”

It’s this approach that leads to ‘Write It Down’, and to the collection of ideas that circumvent her debut EP. “I’m saying I might need to learn from my past mistakes, learn from my past relationships, and then maybe I’ll find love. Maybe it’ll come to me, and I’ll be happy. And then literally, it happened! And I was like: woah. Hello universe!”

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She’s been able to manifest a lot of positivity in her life. Working constantly, it’s a sense of expression that echoes her personal independence. “When I turned 18 I suddenly realised how much I didn’t care about a lot of things. And I found that when I had conversations with people that I seemed insensitive, like really insensitive.”

“I thought, well, instead of going at people or trying to put my views on them, I’ll just write about it. And if they hear it, and they want to ask me a question, then it’s a more open conversation than it was before.”

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Chatting amiably, Hamzaa moves quickly from topic to topic. She’s like this in the studio, too – throwing down ideas, she moves from her own material to a flurry of collaborations, recently pairing up with DJ Spoony to re-record a garage classic.

Too young to experience it first hand – though her boyfriend, is, she tells Clash, “a massive garage head” - she’s attracted to the scene’s independence, its ability to exist on its own terms. “I think garage is a genre that’s almost like grime, now, where it’s such a culture around it. At that time the adults and the older generation were like: what is this garage music…? Same with now. People are like: what is grime, or what is drill? It’s got its own little sub-culture.”

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Hamzaa works in a similar space. She’s already looking towards her debut album, and it’s a challenge she relishes. “It’s not easy,” she says. “It’s 14 songs. And you have to pick and make 14 of, essentially, your best songs and then put it together, and give it to the world to judge… it’s a big deal.”

“Everything right now is in my head,” she adds. “It’ll soon come to pass. I’m ready to get in the studio and do the late nights, the nitty gritty, sitting at a desk attacking the words. I’m ready for that.”

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Catch Hamzaa on tour with Mahalia at the following shows:

November
18 Bristol O2 Academy
21 Manchester Albert Hall
24 Birmingham O2 Institute 1
25 London Roundhouse

Photography: Meara Kallista Morse

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