Millions across the globe have been affected by this pandemic known as the novel coronavirus or COVID-19. It has placed entire industries to a screeching halt, as men, women, and children are forced to stay indoors and quarantine in fear of catching the life-threatening disease. If this has done a number on you and yours, you can only imagine what Mahalia felt like knowing that not only her big sold-out headlining concert performance at Brixton Academy and her birthday were canceled because of what’s being deemed as “the new normal.”
Undeterred, the Brit-nominated R&B star and fellow Leicester Tiger rugby fan, while at her East London flat, put out Isolation Tapes — a three-track collection of songs that either Mahalia couldn’t quite finish or had half-written since before the quarantine rule came into effect. Digging into an old folder containing the logs from Love and Compromise, Mahalia found her happy place and was “proud” to put out new music while enjoying some free time of her own.
With a new mindset and a chance to breathe from the constraints of traveling the globe, Mahalia sat down with ESSENCE to talk about her future after this quarantine ends, shares what blockbuster songs and features didn’t make the project, highlights how she celebrated her 22nd birthday and offers some advice for those going through it while being frustrated in seclusion.
What does moving forward look like for you once this quarantine and coronavirus business has settled down?
Mahalia: I think touring will be the biggest thing for me, moving forward, by the time I get to come out of here. Touring and being away from home in itself is just a strange premise because you go away for these long, long stretches of time. You don’t cook for yourself and you’re always sleeping in different beds. You’re speaking to everybody over FaceTime, which is a different thing entirely, and so whenever I’m away, I cannot wait to get home.
But while this quarantine thing has been going one, I think I never realized how much not touring would actually really upset me and affect my headspace. My whole life I’ve been touring and so, I don’t know when I’ll be back on the road, but for me, it is about getting back on the stage and being able to tell these stories and connect with the people in that way again. We’ve all kind of talked about having to wait until 2021 to tour, which I haven’t come to terms with yet—that I’m not going to be onstage for quite a long time.
Now, that I’m home, there is something about being able to sit in my room, on my own, with no other judgment and opinions floating around, and just create.Mahalia
How do you envision that reconnection between yourself and your audience? Will that moment involve a deep level of intimacy because of what we’ve all went through together? Or are you thinking that it’ll be some high energy level because—freedom—that you’re excited for?
Mahalia: Definitely, definitely! It’ll be a release of air, of stress, y’know? I was supposed to do my biggest show on Friday (May 1), which is my birthday. I had just gone to London and that [show] got canceled. It got pushed to August, and I’m sure that that date won’t return until next year. I was building up to that show for so long just because of how many tickets we’d sold and how big it was going to be for my career. So I think that when we come out of this quarantine, the idea of standing on the stage and seeing all of those beautiful people will feel completely euphoric, knowing that we’ve spent a year waiting for this moment.
Happy belated birthday, by the way.
Mahalia: Thank you.
In another interview, you said that being at home during this time allowed you to rediscover the purpose in your writing.
Mahalia: Yes, that’s right.
So, how do you feel you were able to reignite your creativity under quarantine, while others who are also under quarantine might find it hard to get motivated?
Mahalia: I think [I’m motivated] because the last couple of years I was writing the album in studios with other people. I was always with other creatives and we would be inspired together. [Before quarantine] I hadn’t had a chance to sit on my own, in my own space, and get really inspired. Now, that I’m home, there is something about being able to sit in my room, on my own, with no other judgment and opinions floating around, and just create. I’ve definitely found this time as a moment to be really grateful for because I’ve not had that in a while.
This time has really given me the chance to focus on myself as an artist and as a songwriter to go, ‘Where are my strengths, and where are my weaknesses? Where can I get better? What am I not so good at?’ For me, it has been all about tackling that challenge and really understanding myself as a creator—not just as a singer in a room with ten other people.
While putting together The Isolation Tape you were going through a large number of songs, yes?
Mahalia: Yeah, I had a folder of like 30 songs.
So, out of the 30 songs, you chose three, which is just 10 percent of what was in the folder. What would be something that was in the folder — a song, song title, a concept, or a guest feature for a song — that you had in pocket that would’ve been a surprise for your fans?
Mahalia: [Laughter] Let me think, man, there are so many. There were a bunch of songs I wrote on the guitar that was in that folder. There’s one song that I like called, “Misery,” which is funny because I’m not really a sad person. It’s a very literal song where I’m clearly talking about my sadness which I think would shock some people. I made this other song with Hit-Boy called “Click It” that we never put that out. In my head, I would hear this song and think, ‘This is sick.’ There is another song that I love called “Love Me Like,” which I made with Sounwave in Los Angeles. It’s one of those songs that ever since we made it, we all said, ‘This song needs somebody,’ and I thought that The Weeknd would have been perfect for this.
Mahalia: [Laughter] I got a few songs in the folder that I like, but I’m unsure about whether to leave them behind or keep them in the running. There are just so many ways that I could go. There was a song for Isolation Tapes called “Girlfriend,” that I never put on there because the sonics and the production was a little too poppy for how I wanted the project to sound. Isolation Tapes, with that song, was floating away from the R&B/Soul side that I am in, and it felt disconnected from who I am as well. I think the fans would’ve been a bit disappointed in it not making the cut because I love that song. We’re trying to work out a way to resurrect it and make it sound more authentic to who I am, but, yeah, there’s a few songs like that that I have in that folder.
Any chance of us getting a sequel to “I Wish I Missed My Ex”…?
Mahalia: You’re the third person to have mentioned that to me. I love that song still, so who knows.
You pull a lot of your songs directly from your personal life and experiences. “BRB” is about the person you’re in a relationship now, “Plastic Plants” took you back to when you were writing metaphors in school, and “Too Nice,” you wrote while at a writing residential, correct?
Mahalia: Yes, yes. I just took a few of my friends and we went to stay in this place and had a real writing session.
What does returning back to normal after this quarantine ends look like as a creative to you? How does going back to those spaces where social distancing is almost impossible to collaborate in feel to you once we’re back into the mix with one another?
Mahalia: I think the main thing is just being able to go to a studio and put my focus into one place will be a welcomed change. The only thing that I don’t love about writing from home is the amount of distraction that exists in the household and outside of it. I live in East London, so there are police sirens coming past my window, and there are noises from the people on the outside and inside. There are TVs blasting from my neighbors because I live in an apartment block. So, something as simple as trying to record in a quiet space is quite difficult.
Other than that, for me, it’s all about getting outside. It’s about experiencing more because when I want to write, I’m inspired by what’s happening outside. I think we’ll be excited to feel life again in that way and find new things to talk about and people-watch again. Most of my inspiration comes from that [laughs] and I haven’t been able to do that. We’ve been celebrating our essential medical workers who live in our neighborhood. Everybody comes out of their windows where I live, so I’ll come downstairs, bring the dog out, and see everyone on their balconies clapping, showing love, and banging on their pots and pans.
I have two questions to end our chat, Mahalia, and thank you for spending the time with us. How did you celebrate your birthday since you weren’t able to perform at Brixton Academy? What would be your message for any fans or listeners who feel confined or overwhelmed during this time of massive isolation?
Mahalia: My birthday, wow! On my birthday, I was supposed to do the show, as you mentioned, so I celebrated at my apartment with friends. We decided to dress up and turn the space into a little dance party. My friends set up the place nicely, got some cakes, some drinks, we put a DJ booth in, and aired it all on Instagram Live for the fans. ‘Let’s just have a birthday party together’ was the vibe, which was really nice.
Everybody brought a drink and was chatting the whole time. It was fun and we did that for my actual birthday. To be honest, I just wanted to do something. On the weekend, though, I did everything that I never get to do before we were under quarantine. I sat in bed, myself and my boyfriend, and we binge-watched [Amazon’s] Hunters and that was just great. I also watched Pretty Woman, which I had been begging to watch for a minute now. I did that, ate loads of cake, had some really nice Thai food, and just did all the things that I love.
If I could say anything to those who listen to my music, I think the first thing is just to try and work out the root of anything going on in your life. For me, dealing with the mental health struggles I have, it has made me look at myself and ask, ‘What is actually wrong? What is it about? What is it that is bothering me?’ and then begin to work it out. When you focus on the things that you can control, they become much easier. Once I’ve given up on trying to figure it all out, I dove into the things that I could control. What I eat, what I watch, when I exercise, when I make music — I think, for me, that is the way to really just breathe through this experience, even though it is not easy.
Everybody has to remember that it is not going to be easy and we’re really going through a challenging time right now.Share :