BY: BELEN SELASSIE
How would you best describe your sound for someone who is new to your music?
A soulful vibe, with echoes of jazz with a pop twist!
You are considered to be Elton John’s prodigy. How did he discover you and what is he like to work with?
I was on holiday in Hawaii when I was just 13 years of age. We found out we were staying in the same hotel as Sir Elton [John] for just one night. I became a serial stalker, loitering around the lobby hoping to bump into him - but alas not.
The next morning at breakfast, I see David Furnish having breakfast with friends. I thought, 'This was my moment, a one in a lifetime chance.' So I wrote a letter and approached him with my demo and asked if he would be so kind as to pass it on to Sir Elton. He was the most charming man ever. He was so chatty and genuinely interested in my music, my style and promised to pass it on.
We left the hotel that morning, and were traveling back through San Francisco airport and my mobile rings - yup, it was Sir Elton. After a series of disasters like the battery dying [and] being stopped by security, I eventually spoke to him and he was like, ‘You have one of the best soul signatures I’ve heard in years,’ then asked me to open his football stadium concert in Scotland that summer. So six months later, I opened to 17,000 people. It was really one of those moments that will forever be ingrained into my head, and in all honesty, it’s David Furnish who really gave me the break.
What made you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music?
I’ve always known I wanted to be a singer. My father is a very talented musician and composer, he plays jazz music, and we jam together--have done since I was about 6 years of age on the piano. I loved the soul greats like Ella, Dinah, Sarah Vaughan, and grew up singing jazz and Motown.
Being in the music industry, what have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned regarding staying true to your personal aesthetic?
I think it’s as important about what you say ‘no’ to as it is about what you say yes too. There is no rush; people want instant coffee. I’m in no rush. I’ve been offered things that sound very attractive, but they are not me, nor my vibe, so we progress with on integrity interacted--no matter how long it takes. I’m in the process of crafting my sound, my style--that takes years. I’m constantly writing, learning, experiencing this crazy business and grafting. That’s what it’s all about.
What is your most memorable live performance in your career so far?
It has to be opening for Sir Elton, but I think jamming on stage with the legend that is Nile Rodgers has to be a close second place at the O2 in London.
Where do you draw most of your inspiration from for your music?
Life, my passion for the art of music, the way other artists have crafted their sounds. I love Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Kendrick Lemar, Drake, Beyonce and John Legend. I think you need to find your own sound, which is of course influenced by others, but something that is intrinsically yours--then share it with the world. That’s my aim.
If you were able to choose the ultimate collaboration with any artist or producer, who would it be?
Gosh I have a huge wish list: John Legend, Kendrick Lemar, Jill Scott and I would just LOVE to work with Quincy Jones and hang out with Clive Davis, if only to listen to his wise words and advice for someone like me. So hey, if you know him…pass on the message!
Tell me about the accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
I think being honest, working hard, and never forgetting the people who you love most in the world. If you can stay true to God and that, then the accomplishments will follow. I feel blessed that I’m following my career path; I never take that for granted. I sing and rehearse every day like an athlete. So for me, the biggest accomplishment is simply to keep doing what I’m doing.
What upcoming projects can we expect from you?
Well I’ve just published my debut novel called POP GIRL by Scholastic in the UK--think of High School Musical meets Gossip Girl. I have a two-book deal with Scholastic and we are working on the second book soon, so that’s exciting. I’m also working a lot with TEDXTeen in New York with Nancy Hunt and Nile Rodgers. I just love the way these guys empower the youth of today to be the best they can. I’ve got about 10 new tracks done and hope to bring out another EP this summer and possibly a big TV project so it’s not dull.
What do you see yourself doing in the future and what goals do you want to achieve?
My most favorite thing in the world is to sing live. That’s where it’s at for me: live performances, big or small, and to keep doing my thing. The big dream is to sell out stadiums. I totally appreciate it will take years, but I’m here for the long haul and don’t expect any favours. I will put in the time and hopefully one day realize my dream.