It is sort of amazing to consider the full circle of life KABBA has lived and continues to experience from such a young age. Speaking to Industry Me she is coming to terms with her truest identity in the lead up to her next project, Note To Self. Following the release of her latest singles, Rather Be Single, she is soaking up all the love, humbly by spending time enjoying life with her loved ones.
Living in London and being born in Sierra Leone, she is someone bringing the life and beauty of back home into her music. There has been no other calling for KABBA, now 26 she is recognising the brave decision that allowed her to leap into her dreams from such a young age and having gone through a ‘rebirth’. We sat down with KABBA to find out more about her prosperous journey…
Let’s start with your latest single, Rather Be single, let me tell you I’ve been waiting for this one! How did that come about with MNEK and tell us a little bit of what it’s about?
That song was written like a day before the first lockdown, and literally, MNEK, or Uzo as I call him, came over and he just made a really simple beat on his laptop. And we were just humming notes over that, I had this idea; a lot of my songs start from literally a title or like a word that I’ve heard in conversation. And rather be single, I thought was a cool concept and kind of exploring that effect on things. I had been in a long-term, 7-year relationship that had ended in 2019.
I was kind of dating after and that didn’t go so well either. And I just thought errr, maybe the universe is telling me something? That I should really chill and just be single and just focus on music. Music is always my priority, but you just pour myself into music because I think of myself and a lot of women, when I like somebody, I feel like they take up a lot of my brain space.
It was the first time I had been single since I was 17, so I had to figure out who I was, what I like and don’t like. the dating scene is ghetto, I had to take my time a bit. So, the single came from that.
I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing…. But I get EVERY word you said!
Ha-ha, and this is the thing! When I played it to my best friends, everyone was like ‘lol I can relate. And I knew that they would be able to because we have these conversations, we talk about these things all the time, there’s constantly parallels. So, I did think about that when I was writing it.
You were in a relationship for a long time, I feel like while you’re growing that person is really at the forefront experiencing it with you. how has it been for you, in terms of your career since that journey ended?
It was pivotal, that person was my entire life really and I did not know who that was outside the two of us. So, it was scary, and it was a huge cliff dive into self-discovery which I wasn’t ready for. But I am thankful, everything happens for a reason. Music has always been that thing that has just helped, and my self-titled EP I released last year was about that specific relationship and that dark time I went through. I needed to get that off my spirit and out of my head, release it into the universe, that’s what I like to do with my songs. Music is my therapy; it moves you differently.
The pandemic has allowed many of us to reflect on our true purpose or what we want to do in this crazy life, how would you describe this time in your journey?
It is interesting because I think a lot of people would argue that I handle things as if that chapter is closed. But I am still trying to figure out who the hell I am, still in therapy and just figuring it out as a woman. I am now able to have a bit of hindsight, for me, my whole thing has been to do things one step at a time. And because of that, I spent a lot of time thinking about everything, in the pandemic I was mostly alone.
It was depressing, cheerful, I went through all the emotions and still going through them. I don’t know what that is, I think it’s trauma that I am unpacking, but that’s where I am now. I’m also really grateful that I am where I am today.
Where would you say your musical journey began?
It began as early as I can remember, I was in the school choir. I was entering competitions, got to sing at the Royal Albert Hall and that’s where I found my voice. I was able to work with the music director at the school, an incredible man named Andy Gilbert, he launched me into music. While I was in school, a school friend of mine introduced me to MNEK when I was 15 and we worked together straight away.
Once I had got my manager, we showed him the demos we had come up with and he shopped that around to labels and got picked up by Gary Barlow’s label, under universal. So, I was signed at 16, and MNEK and I have worked on every other thing together! He’s my absolute best friend and my music soul mate, he’s such a genius.
The second to last song on the EP, Stronger Stuff, is me and him talking and finding melodies for the words that came out my mouth, he just gets me.
Being signed at 16 and you were gaining a huge number of views on each track, what was it like for you?
It was a whirlwind and incredible. I wouldn’t change a thing, there were so many highs and lows and I was able to learn so many lessons. I had some amazing mentors along the way, my A&R, Celia, was like a second mother to me. she taught me about songwriting and held my hand throughout the process, I was looked after. MNEK was already in the business so I had him too, I couldn’t believe I was able to do what I was doing. At 18, we got the number one record for I Need You and got to go to the Grammy’s with my best friend. I am happy to just be here.
You went through a little rebirth changing your name from A*M*E to KABBA after a few years of a hiatus, what was the purpose of that, and how it has been since then?
It felt like the right time, A*M*E, felt like that specific period in my life and I wasn’t able to relate to that girl anymore. I had grown up, that was me from 16-20 years old and I wanted to start fresh and do music that appealed to people that look like me and make songs that feel like home.
R&B is home to me, it is what I have always listened to and the genre I am drawn to most. It felt like the perfect time to do that, it was nothing to do with locking off everything A*M*E had done at all, it was a part of myself that I am so proud of. But I had to grow, KABBA is my last name and I wanted to go back to my authentic self.
You were born in Sierra Leone and then moved to the UK at 8 years old, and making music you say feels like home, does your background influence your musical process?
Absolutely! I am African through and through, I’d be lying if I say that doesn’t seep into everything I do. Once you hear some of my songs you will find they’re very rhythmic, and that has been influenced by a lot of music I’ve heard back in Sierra Leone. Music that makes you move.
Did you like the songs you made as A*M*E?
This is the thing; I wrote all of those songs, so I loved them all at the time. None of the songs were handed over to me, they were my songs, but they were just young, songs that 16-year old me would sing.
Let’s say we were able to speak exactly this day next year, where do you hope that you are?
Right now, it’s about getting as many eyes and ears on my next project, Note To Self, and getting as much traction on that. Be able to build my support and foundation, for it’s about a slow build, I want a solid foundation. Hopefully, I would have done some live shows! I miss that, I want to see people and vibe with them!