THE independent Scottish singer-songwriter emaé intrigues me…
before a single word has been uttered. I have featured a few acts from Aberdeen over the years but none for quite a while. Although she is based in London; I ask about her hometown and the music scene there. Not only has it been a while since I have gone to that wonderful city: a vibrant, young songwriter with that R&B/Soul sound – that is not often heard in Aberdeen. I ask emaé about the new track, Better, and what we can expect in terms of new material. She has been mentioned by MOBO as one of their artists to watch – I ask about this honour and how that made her feel. On the issue of black artists in music: I wonder whether there is injustice and imbalance and what needs to be done to correct this. She talks about the year and her memories; how she has changed since her 2015 debut and what words she would provide any new songwriters emerging right now.
Hi, emaé. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi! I’m great. I can’t complain. This week has actually been a mellower one, which is nice.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
Sure thing. My name is emaé (you pronounce that like em – may) and I’m a singer/songwriter from Scotland – who lives in London. If I had to, I’d describe my music most of the time as Soul – Pop. I also love to express myself through lyrics, so they’re an important part of my style.
Aberdeen is your hometown. What is the music scene like there at the moment?
Yes, Aberdeen raised me.
I actually have no idea. Before I moved, I wasn’t involved in the music scene whatsoever (and now that I am). I haven’t really been back since. I’d love to go and find out; I imagine it to be vibrant and exciting. It’s a beautiful city and when I went briefly in 2016, I imagined what it would be like to play there every time I passed a music venue or saw a concert poster.
Scotland rarely receives the same sort of attention the likes of London does. Do you think more people should be aware of the terrific music coming from the country?
I definitely think they should. Scotland has such a rich musical legacy; different cities have unique vibes – that’s what makes touring so special.
London is one of the music capitals of the whole world let alone just the U.K. So, I feel like it’s unfair to compare them like-for-like or focus on one over the other. There’s room to appreciate music from everywhere.
Better is your new single. What is the song about and was there a particular moment that inspired it?
It is, yeah. Better was my response to a super-tough year. It wasn’t inspired by one isolated moment: it was just a song that came out of me when I was as close to the bottom as I’ve really ever been.
I believe you have an album due later this year. Can you tell us anything about it?
Can’t believe it’s finally so close! It’s an album that will show lots of different sides to my journey. It has highs and lows and will be an extended introduction to me really. It’s me opening the door to the next chapter of my life; I’m so ready for it.
In 2015, your debut single, Something Beautiful, gained huge respect and gathered huge critical acclaim. Was it intimidating and strange getting that sort of attention right off the blocks?
It was so weird because I didn’t expect it. It was the first time I’d opened myself up to the public scrutiny you get when you put a song out.
I remember one day when I got featured on a Japanese blog and the whole of my social media was filled with messages and notifications from Japan – which was bizarre but so special to me; sitting at home in London.
How does your new material compare to your older stuff? To me, it sounds more confident and unique. Would you say that is a fair assessment?
I’d definitely say I sound more confident. Confidence grows for anyone as they get more experienced in what they do; it’s part of learning. To say it’s more unique is a difficult statement for me personally just because I feel that, if an artist stays authentic to themselves, then, by default, they are unique because no-one else can be them. That’s my viewpoint at least. I’ll always be developing my sound and each song that comes out is like another piece of a jigsaw puzzle to who I am as an artist. So, it’s hard for me to compare what I did before to now because it’s all relevant and important to my story.
You have been lauded by Gospel Touch Music and nominated for a Critics Choice Award. You also wrote and performed the soundtrack for the motion picture, The Sunrise Storyteller. Where do you get the energy to keep creating and what has been your fondest memory from the past year?
Yeah, those were two highlights of 2016 that I’m very thankful for. My fondest memory is being at a studio in Southampton at 1 A.M. We had finally figured out the right sound for one of my songs – which is now one of my favourites. I remember laying back, staring up at the ceiling while my producer played the piano over the same four bars in a loop; wondering where in the world this melody might take me. Who will I sing it to, who will I share it with: what might it mean to someone else out there? That moment will stay with me for life. It was magical.
Despite you possessing Scottish roots, you are based in London. How does the city inspire you? Is it quite different to Scotland in terms of the music and scene there?
London is relentless. So busy and hungry. I feel like it swallows people whole but I still do love being immersed in the energy of it all.
When I went back to Aberdeen last year, I just remember being pleasantly surprised at how quiet it was (and small). It seemed so big when I was growing up. It’s a very rich and beautiful place and there was always space to walk – which sounds strange until you’ve tried to walk down Oxford Street in London. I get inspired by both. Normal everyday experience: what that means for us human beings and how I can draw from it to write a song.
This year, you have been selected by MOBO as one of their artists to watch. It is clear you are very popular with critics and some hugely important institutions. Does that give you the confidence to keep creating and pushing yourself?
It definitely does. Everyone likes to be encouraged. Things like that are like a pat on the back and the reassurance that I must be doing something right. On a day where I may be a little more tired, or a bit fed up, that can be part of the reason I keep going.
It can be hard, in modern music, for young black female artists to get due acclaim and opportunities. Do you feel more needs to be done to promote equality? Have you faced any challenges in your career so far?
I felt this question in my soul!
Unfortunately, this is a reality, but at the same time, it’s not my reality. I decided, at the very start of my career, that I wasn’t going to ask for anyone’s permission to be great.
No one holds the keys or the singular access to the music industry; so while the reality for me is that some people may take one look at me and decide that I’m too difficult to market or sell or whatever, my craft isn’t for them – I’m here to find a team that believes in me and an audience that feels me every step of the way.
To my knowledge, I haven’t been directly discriminated against but I also know that some platforms are just not for me. So, to be honest, I don’t even bother with them.
I guess it more affects me in that way – the fact that I’ve had to pre-empt discrimination by making alternative moves before it happens. More definitely does need to be done to promote equality but I feel like the way to do that isn’t to petition, or beg for recognition: it’s to forge and graft our own way like we always have and help those coming behind us until the rest of the world catches up… which it will.
What does the rest of this year hold? Can we expect some tour dates at all?
The Album! I have such tunnel-vision, especially now that Better is out. I’ll be tying up loose-ends for the next month or so then we’ll really start getting the ball rolling to release in late-2017. I’ll be having an epic launch night – which you are so invited to – and then, after that, we can look at touring – but, definitely, after the album releases, I’ll be planning a tour.
Which new artists do you think we should be keeping our eyes on?
Ooh…let me think. Someone I’ve known for a long time who’s set to do some big things is an artist called Midé. Definitely, check him out.
PHOTO CREDIT: #tinaremiz
What advice would you offer any new acts emerging at the moment?
Figure out what success means to you: there are so many ways to be successful in the music industry.
Would touring the world for months on end really make you happy?!
If not, you don’t want to realise that when you’re at the airport. You want to think about that now. Work smart as well as working hard, network and find a good team.
I personally think it’s more valuable to find people who believe in you over finding people with good connections. Never disqualify yourself and, most importantly, enjoy the journey.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Ok, can you please play Shakka – Heart Don’t Lie.
PHOTO CREDIT: CK Goldiing