Mvula performing at the #SheWill event for Global Citizen, at The View from the Shard, London, 7 July 2016
|Birth name||Laura Douglas|
23 April 1986 |
One of the things I haven't been ready for is how male-dominated the music industry is. I just didn't have a clue.
I don't think I always look in people's faces, like, as – I think especially when I'm doing my more intimate songs that are quite personal, I always feel it's a bit accusing if I stare in someone's face when I singing quite a personal lyric.
I always start with emotion. That's where I start all of my improvisations, on the piano. I always start with the mood or the feel of where I am in that moment.
My aunt is the director of the acapella group Black Voices. I was so struck by them as a child. They sang with such passion and conviction. By the time I turned 15, I had plucked up the courage to ask if I could join the group. Acapella is a different discipline from singing with an accompaniment – it is much more exposed.
I love church buildings, particularly cathedrals, and I like living in spaces that remind me of music or evoke that creative energy.
It's important for any artist – particularly female artists – to feel completely comfortable and to know what they're trying to do.
I've always had this passion to be creative, and wanted to sing or be in bands and make music, but I didn't have ideas as to what format it'd be, or how I'd do it. I'm not very good with plans. I didn't think it would be me at the front, either. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that was something I'd prevent.
I had a very thorough grounding in music; I'd grown up around songs. My parents listened to a lot of music. My dad was majorly into jazz, which was absolutely a big influence on me, even if it was more subconsciously as a kid.
For me, a wake-up playlist completely depends on what mood I'm in. If I need to get into action pretty quick, it will be between Beyonce and Miles Davis. I'm a massive Beyonce fan, and all of her anthems will do it for me. And Miles Davis, because I grew up hearing his music because my dad played it a lot, so that will always be special to me.
Taxi drivers used to ask me what kind of music I did, and I'd say, 'Well, it's kind of jazz, soul, classical' – but that makes no sense to anyone.
'Mvula' is my married name, but for some reason my nan calls me 'McVula.' I'm not sure if it's one of those jokey Caribbean things, or whether she's just getting it wrong.
I got into the habit of filtering out all the good in my life, focusing on only the negative. I'm not sure why I did it, but it's a pretty depressing state.
Limitlessness is important for me; I want to be able to use every opportunity to push me forward onto the next thing.
There was always a piano in the house when I was growing up – my dad played, and I thought it was cool – and when I was eight, I begged my parents to let me have lessons. After a couple of weeks, I wanted to give up, but my parents were very focused and made me keep going, which I'm very pleased about now.
I envy those who can wear red lipstick or any bold lip colour, really. My top lip just doesn't seem to take colour – there's nothing I can do to change that, so I usually just use a nude on the bottom lip.
'Green Garden' is about beauty and joy and lush green and dance and excitement and smiling from within.
I really love jazz, but I will never be a jazz musician as much as I dream. But, I think that the jazz music I love is there in my music.
I don't talk about Amy Winehouse as a 'singer.' She's a pioneer. I listened to her endlessly when I started writing.
I think, when I started writing songs, my voice just became another tool. It wasn't something that I was going to try desperately to woo a listener. As long as I'm using my voice in a way that helps people understand what I'm trying to say, then I feel like I'm doing all right.
Fame hasn't really affected me. I have a really close knit group around me, and my sister is always with me, so it's like a bit of a travelling circus.
I don't think I've ever been chatted up, and I don't think I've ever chatted anyone up. The Fresh Prince has the best chat-up lines.
Teaching was my first job after leaving university. It was a challenge, but I enjoyed it. Some of the kids were disruptive, but I could deal with it because I was only 24 at the time, and my own school memories were still fresh.
I have a younger brother and sister who actually play in my band, and we were always into Disney music, big time. The first time I heard myself sing was when I recorded myself singing a Disney song. I remember it because it was awful, and I didn't expect to hear that. I think it was 'A Whole New World' from 'Aladdin.'
I remember listening to Miles Davis in the car with my dad. I had just done my Grade 5 piano exam, and I was quite cocky. I said, 'It sounds like he's played the wrong note there.' I remember the look of horror on my dad's face, and thinking, 'Wow, I have to figure out why that is not acceptable.'
My songs are very personal, which means they are fantastically therapeutic to write, but performing them night after night is emotionally draining.
I first played the Royal Albert Hall when I was 14. I was a violinist with the Birmingham Schools Concert Orchestra, and we travelled down from the Midlands for the last night of the School Proms. We played some pieces from the Harry Potter films, and the violin parts were really hard.
If I'm uncomfortable on stage, everybody can see it. I'm not very good at hiding it. I like long, loose jacket dresses – anything that I can literally have room to move in – not that I'm a very big dancer, but because sometimes I'm sitting down at the keyboard, and then sometimes I'm standing. It just has to feel good.
I bumped into my cousin after she'd shaved her hair very short, and she looked incredible. She seemed so effortless and cool, and I wanted that. And, I've had it like that ever since.
I respect hippos. They just look the way they do; they can't do anything about it, but they don't seem bothered.
Topshop is one of my favourite shops, and I love shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti. There's a graduate fashion designer called Kate Falcus who makes me beautiful commissioned pieces – one of my favourites was the white Glastonbury dress she made me with the puffy skirt.
I'm by no means a pianist. I think that's safe to say, but the piano, for me, I would say it's the enabler. It gave me what I needed and gives me what I need in order to write a song. And I think playing or improvising on the piano is where I feel most liberated and sort of less conscious of all my insecurities or inadequacies.
I always said when I was younger, I wanted to write film music, and I think that's what my ultimate dream is.
I listen to a lot of choral stuff at home, but I'm also liking Labrinth, Emeli Sande, Tom Odell and Wretch 32.
I come from an African Caribbean background. I've been influenced by a reggae church music style, contemporary gospel, and rock all fused together.
Lizz Wright is my favourite singer. Her voice moves me and takes me to another place. She also grows her own food, and that inspires me.
Lots of people think I'm telling porky pies when I say how nervous I get about singing. I was good at working out how music was put together, and I was good at being at the back, but if you asked me to sing up front, then I looked like I was going to pass out.
I regrettably wasted time at university by being overwhelmed and intimidated by the talent of other composers. I felt stuck and didn't know what I was doing there. I enjoyed my experience, but I didn't grab it in the way I would now.
The first time I sang in church, when I was ten, the applause was so overwhelming that I started to weep. My mum had to rescue me from the stage.
I thought I had to help people get me, but I don't think they need to be spoon-fed. If you connect with me, that is cool. I don't need the whole world to feel like I am a soul angel.
My parents were quite strict; we couldn't just listen to whatever music we wanted. It was very much like they monitored what we listened to.
I like pastels and lighter shades on darker skins. I feel like it lifts everything and accentuates being chocolate.
I'm not like my siblings, who are musical but can turn their hands to other professions! I'd always wanted to be involved in music – I'm a great believer in doing things that fulfil you.
I grew up playing in youth orchestras, so they were my most treasured memories, so to be in front of an orchestra playing my own material would be incredible.
What I wear is everything – from how I carry my hair to what I'm wearing on my feet. I have to feel comfortable on stage, so I like to wear things that have room. My mood changes a lot, so sometimes I wear 6-inch heels, and other times I'll perform in bare feet.
You don't have to aim to be the best of everything, thinking that one day you're going to be the top of the world; I don't think it exists.
If I'm playing a gig in London, it feels so important. The adrenaline rush here is bigger than anywhere else. I kind of like the pressure that London puts you under.
I love my complexion, but like so many of us, in the early years at primary school, I grew up thinking that my dark skin wasn't a great thing. I've found freedom in music and songwriting, which has given me a freedom in how I present myself. I'm glad I've got makeup to celebrate that with.
My parents encouraged us to commit to things, so if we wanted to learn an instrument, it was all the grades and all the theory.
Being a pop star is something I don't think I'm very good at. I'm worried it's making me too paranoid, because all of a sudden, life has become this constant assessment. When you put something out there and people get to hear it, then those people react to it, socially, culturally.