What’s your musical CV?
We all played piano from a young age in my family and my father played guitar and the Darbuka. He’d play a rhythm and I’d play it back, which gave me my love of drums. I still always start any song I write with the beat. Then at school I sang in every musical, sang and played percussion in bands and acted in every play – playing Peter Pan at 11 was when I knew that I wanted to be on stage forever!
You’ve got an interestingly rich heritage. Has this inspired your music?
Of course it has. It has meant that there have been no borders to the music I’ve grown up listening to. As well as rock, pop, blues, motown, jazz etc…I was also getting into Gnawa and Malian music – artists like Ali Farka Toure and Salif Keita, and the haunting sounds of Classical Arabic music and Bulgarian choirs.
My father comes from Algeria, which I’ve not been to since I was very young and I often visit in my mind through my music. ‘Banana Tree’ for example is set in my Grandmother’s garden and the song is about something very sad that happened there. I have family from Italy and Norway too.
What sort of thing were you listening to whilst you were growing up?
I would sit and listen to records with my father when I was very young. He’d play me everything from Jethro Tull to David Bowie and Nina Simone and Billie Holiday to Prince. At the age of 8 he had me singing along to Patti Smith – “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” – it made me want to write music and the story that goes with it.
You’ve been collaborating with some London-based Algerian musicians. Will the album be very diverse in sound?
Yes, that was always an influence I wanted to bring into my album and its one of many. Expect to hear more off beat rhythms, unusual instruments from around the world and soaring vocals. I’ve just written a song with Baaba Maal and my friend Seye, which will be out early this year.
Who inspires your style?
My impeccable Norwegian grandmother: always tailored with a twist – Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday – and the drama and flamboyance of matadors.
What fashion designers and other musicians are you championing at the moment?
Katie Eary, Finchittida Finch, Soropol, Corrie Nielsen and I love Dolce and Gabbana and Moschino’s latest collections. I’d wear them everyday if I could. I love a singer from Brooklyn called Doe Poaro – we’ve been chatting online, I’m looking forward to meeting her. I’m also a big fan of TNGHT.
If you could collaborate with any other musician, who would be your first choice?
Hans Zimmer. Hands down.
You’re also a keen artist too and make all of your artwork? Was art another career option?
I’ve got a lot of creative energy, sometimes I like to put that down on canvas but at the moment I’m pouring all my energy into making music.
Words: Shane Hawkins