Malika is a singer/songwriter who many will know for one of the iconic songs from the Funky House scene, ‘Go.’ Having moved away from that sound and collaborated with everyone from SG Lewis to Ella Eyre, she’s going in a different direction and now making the Soul music that she’s always wanted to do.
With ‘Stuck On You‘ and her brand new single ‘Bless Her Soul,’ starting her journey down that path, we sat down and had a chat about what this musical direction means to her and the history behind her music career, and its trials and tribulations.
Malika actually arrived early for this interview (an irregularity I can assure you when it comes to artists) and explained that she wanted to be more punctual in her approach to everyday life. It was a welcome surprise, as was this interview you’re about to get stuck into, which includes me being asked a question and even some acapella.
Your new single ‘Stuck On You’ has been described as a rebirth for you as an artist. What for you has changed artistically and will fans be surprised by this change?
It is a rebirth. It’s a whole rebrand. During the pandemic, I took some time to reflect on my career because I have had some amazing moments and opportunities in my career. But, I think I have not really forged my solo artist sound and look. ‘Stuck On You’ is a whole new chapter, if not a whole new book in the series of Malika. What do you call it when you have all the books in a series?
A collection I guess
A whole new book in the collection
I could definitely tell that because when I have listened to you before, I’ve known you for your more dancier material, so this was something different.
Were you surprised when you heard ‘Stuck on You,’ like good or bad?
I enjoyed it. Like I said I knew you for ‘Go’ or the stuff you’ve done with Nathan Dawe, for example, and I was like this is different, this is cool.
It’s a whole new chapter and it’s exciting. It’s stuff I have always wanted to do. One thing with me is I have been doing music (for) a long time and I take the craft so seriously, that I am always going to give you good music. The top line of the song is going to be well thought out, the production is going to be strong, the vocals are going to be strong because it’s always a representation of me. But, this for me is, you know when P!nk went from doing R’n’B to Pop-Rock, this is my version of that.
Is this more the music you wanted to make or have you flowed into this genre naturally?
It’s the music I have always wanted to do. It’s UK Soul, it is not R’n’B. (It is) soulful vocals mixed with a poppy kind of top line. It’s definitely what I have always wanted to do.
Do you feel like you can do that now because you’re at a point in your career where you have more artistic control than you would have 5 or 10 years ago?
You know I have always been an independent artist, so I have always had some control. I think that the market and the industry has changed and it allows for artists to try different sounds and genres. I think maybe 5/10 years ago if you were a Grime artist, for example, there is no way you could come out with a Pop song. Whereas now you can be rapping on one song, you might be doing Afrobeats the next day, you might do some Doja Cat the day after that. It’s a lot more fluid. I just think that I have reached a point in my career where I was like ‘ok who is it that I am as an artist, what is it that I want to do?’ And I’m doing it.
You’ve made a wide variety of genres whether that’s Funky House, R’n’B, or the Soul you’re doing now, and you’ve collaborated with people from all different areas like Ella Eyre and Basement Jaxx. Has this versatility helped open doors for yourself or was it just the musical journey as intended?
It’s definitely not the musical journey as intended. But, one thing has allowed me to get into another and I have just been very lucky with the opportunities and I don’t know if that’s down to my voice, my writing ability. It’s maybe a little bit of both.
I can imagine working with a variety of people and being able to be versatile does help you.
No definitely. I have been really lucky and fortunate to have continued working all this time. I feel now is a time for me to really focus on (myself) as an artist and (to be) doing it unapologetically and with confidence as well. Even when other people don’t get what I am trying to do, as long as I get it that’s the most important thing. That’s not like if you play someone a song and they’re like ‘this is terrible, don’t put this out.’ It’s ‘I don’t think that is going to work as you don’t have the right look or it’s not the right time, it’s not the right sound.’ There are always reasons why anything isn’t going to work, but without trying it or without doing it, you don’t know.
Do you think you’re in a place to be able to make the music you want because you have had success or you’re just at a point now where you’re like ‘I don’t care what you say, I just want to do what I wanna do?’
(laughs) Little bit of both. I think I reached a point that if I died tomorrow, (god forbid that I’m not going to) would I have done everything in my career that I wanted to and once I reached the answer of no, that was like the steam and the energy, the battery pack that I need to do this. (music she’s making now) This is what I have always wanted to do, I just need to do it. I wouldn’t say success really played a part in it. I think everyone’s idea of what successful is, is different. It was literally I came to the understanding of ‘ok if I die tomorrow would this be enough,’ and it wasn’t.
That’s fair enough. I think it’s all well and good having success, but when you look back at your career in 20/30 years, you want to look back on it and say ‘you know what I made some really good music and people will remember this.’ Some people do have a lot of success, but they look back on their music and (their) like ‘I don’t really like this, I made that to make some money.’ The music that does last is the one that’s made with care and love, that’s the one that lasts through time.
I think there are many examples of that and it’s not that I am not proud of what I have done before or don’t love it. It’s just this is what I have always wanted to do and now is the time. When is another time after being locked in the house for two years?
I can imagine a lot of people, including myself because we had that time to (think) ‘is my life going in the direction I want it to, have I done everything?’ It gave people time to think.
What were you doing before the pandemic?
I was still at Uni and I ended up going home and finishing my degree at home. After that, I was like ‘ok what happens here then?’ I then had a year of getting myself in a good place and I am doing this now, (music journalism) which I really love. I always knew I wanted to do this, but I didn’t quite know (how) to get there, but I’m here now and I’m loving it. It’s all good.
I love that. I think the pandemic gave a lot of people the time to stop and think, and also the confidence to be like ‘f*** it.’ Forget what anyone else says and anyone else’s opinions, I am just going to do this. If it makes sense it does.
If you could go back in time to one concert, who would you go to see and where?
I would probably go and see Etta James or maybe Aretha Franklin. She (Franklin) filmed a live album in a church, which was quite a moving experience. It would have been great to see Amy Winehouse in her early years roaming around Camden, doing those live shows. That would have been pretty cool.
One thing I found interesting was you’ve recently now been credited for your vocals on Nathan Dawe’s tracks ‘Cheatin‘’ and ‘Flowers,’ which you weren’t originally. Why do you think female vocalists in dance music are still not getting the credit they deserve and when do you think this will change?
Let me preface this, Nathan and I there is no issue. There was some stuff that happened from the business perspective that didn’t necessarily involve Nathan, just to clear that. Separately from that which we sorted out, I am not entirely sure why vocalists don’t get credited because it’s very, very clear that David Guetta is not singing the vocals. (laughs) I don’t actually know.
I’ve noticed, for example, initially, Becky Hill wasn’t credited on ‘Afterglow’ and she is now which is good. I think RAYE mentioned how female vocalists have not gotten the credit they deserve for performing on those tracks. Your vocals are one of the reasons why people are going to that song. To not be credited is pretty unfair, to be honest.
There are a couple of things from a boring industry (and) business perspective. Sometimes the vocalist doesn’t ask to be credited or want to be credited. There have been situations where I have contributed to songs and it’s not been in my genre or I have had another song out and it would have been too complicated to be ‘one minute I have been doing Grime and one minute I dunno, Country music.’ Or there was this perception it would confuse the fans.
Sometimes you are a session singer and they just pay you to come in and sing the vocal, everything is totally understood. I don’t think there’s a problem with that. I think where the problem is, (is) when it’s not understood. When the vocalist comes in and sings and she thinks she’s going to be credited, or would like to be credited and it’s just like a no.
I have been in situations like that and (there is) one thing I would tell any vocalist/singer/artist, male or female who may read, see or listen to this and this is not just to with features as well. In your contract, you can ask for absolutely anything. If you are signing a contract and you say ‘every day I want there to be 14 pigeons outside my house, sent courtesy of the record label,’ you can ask for that. The record label can come back and say no, ‘we can give you 12 pigeons,’ but it’s all a negotiation.
For vocalists, sometimes we want the opportunity so much that we forget our power. Your power is 9 times out of 10; not always because they get multiple people to record things, but you have more power than you think. When you have bills, life, and responsibilities and ambition, you might think ‘If I push back on this, I might never get another opportunity again.’ You will always get another opportunity.
It may not be with those people, but you will get an opportunity, and 9 times out of 10, they need you more than you need them. They obviously like your vocal or your writing or your contribution enough that they wanted to use it in the first place and you just need to have confidence in that. Ultimately, as a writer/vocalist/performer, you have more power than you think. That doesn’t mean to be rude or obnoxious, but it does mean if you contributed to something and you want to be included, you have every right to say ‘you can’t have me unless you include me.’
100% I agree with that because as I said before you are part of the reason people are listening to that song. If you want to be, you have every right to be credited on that song. It appears things are getting better now, people are starting to be credited and within dance music, it’s come a long way from the 90s where they would have some random model lip-synching, they wouldn’t even have the vocalist in the video. Becky Hill is doing quite well now, (as is) Ella Henderson and other artists that do Pop and Dance music. That is very good advice and I am sure when people are reading this they’ll be like ‘yeah I am going to put my foot down and make sure I am credited.’
Don’t be rude and try not to ruin relationships. But, don’t worry that (you) will never get another opportunity. As long as you keep on working and doing what you do, there will always be another opportunity.
How do you go about creating a track and what is unique about your creative process?
What is unique about my process is I don’t have a process. Sometimes I will be cleaning my house. The other day I was hanging out my washing and I was thinking about somebody who said something to me which hurt my feelings, and how years later it’s still in my brain. I just started singing ‘words they hurt, but sticks and stones, they’ll break those bones, but those words…’ Then I was like okay, and then I (started) developing it into something.
I don’t have a process. I just write or record. I might be in campaign mode, album mode, (or) EP mode. There’s not really a process. I’m just very spontaneous and adaptable. Because I write with and for other artists, for their projects, I have to be adaptable. There are some very successful writers; Ne-Yo said the other day he didn’t really use to write with people, he used to sit in the corner, come up with his idea and that was it. Whereas, I feel more fluid. If that’s how you write that’s fine. If you want to sing ideas into the room, we can sing ideas into the room. If you came with an idea beforehand, we (can) build it together. If you work and write for other artists, you have to be fluid, you can’t really go in there with an ego.
Your track ‘Go’ was a massive anthem in the UK Funky House scene. What would you say is the legacy of that song and that genre?
The legacy of that genre is the music. It’s an important genre for British people. Generally, when you talk about culture it’s usually to do with race, or culture is defined by a smaller group of people that really ride for something or that is important to them. Funky House is really important to UK culture (for) a certain demographic, anywhere between (people aged) 40 and 20. The people who are now 40 were in their late 20s/early 30s and they were playing it to their kids when they were in (their) early teens. You’ll play Funky House to a 19-year-old and they will be just as gassed as a 40-year-old.
It’s almost like you had to live in the last 10 or 15 years for you to really be a part of that culture. It doesn’t matter where in the country you’re from; Leeds: Liverpool; London; Brighton.
I agree there and dance music, in general, has always been music for everyone, and it is very inclusive. ‘Go’, ‘Party Hard,’ ‘In The Morning,’ those will always be iconic songs.
(laughs) Sorry, I am just laughing because this is the legacy, the culture. Where did you grow up?
I live near Birmingham
Okay, so nowhere near London and it’s important to you, it is part of your childhood, your teenage years. But, you have to be English. Obviously, there are people from other countries, I would say like 70-80% of Funky House listeners are English.
It’s a very English, British genre like Grime is, Drum N Bass is. I think it will have a legacy. Obviously, Funky House isn’t as big as it was back then, but the people who were there still remember it and will still pass it down the generations.
Absolutely. Funky House has such a strong following and the fans are loyal, you can’t say anything about Funky House. It’s weird it doesn’t (really) exist anymore. I mean Donae’o for me might just be the legacy of Funky House, he really wears that on his back. I will always say that he pushed all of the genre. He is the Godfather or the King of Funky House, 100%.
My final question is who is an artist or artists that you are listening to now and what advice would you give them?
To be honest with you, tonight I am going to be listening to the Beyoncé album. I’m listening to loads of different people because there’s so much music. I live out of London, so I often drive everywhere, like an hour’s drive. I have been taking (the) time recently to listen to people’s bodies of work, so Shaé Universe, Burna Boy, Mega, I even went back and listened to the J Hus album. Just to take in their cultural messages and sounds. Just different kinds of people, some Lana Del Rey the other day, Florence + The Machine. My musical taste is all over the place I would say.
Aside from those artists I have just named, the advice I would give to any artist is to be you. Don’t think that copying what someone else is doing will get you there faster. Everything takes time. If you are authentically you, you will probably get there sooner than you will (be), pretending to be somebody else. Rather than saying ‘this person is doing sexy poses on Instagram, let me copy because they have a million followers, that’s going to get me a million followers.’ That’s not authentic to you. You might get 100 followers, but they’re not going to stay because you can’t keep up that façade.