Fatima has a unique voice and talent, blending beautiful soul vocals with cutting edge productions and collaborations with some of the most exciting producers around at the moment. Hailing from Sweden, but moving to London a few years back Fatima quickly immersed herself in the heady music scene of the capital centred around clubs like Plastic People. Before long she linked up with Alex Nut's label Eglo and has thrived in that musical melting point ever since. After a handful of EPs over the past few years she's now just dropped her first LP and it's a real tour de force. I've been a big fan for a while now and this seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Fatima to check where her head's at and where it's going;
So you grew up in Sweden but you now live over here in London. When did you move and what made you make the change?
I moved to London from Stockholm at the end of 2006. I moved because I wanted a change in my life, plus I heard they had some nice tea! When I went to London the first time I bought Wiley’s album ‘Treddin’ On Thin Ice’ and I started listening to it and I was like ‘What is this? New sounds!’ and I saw Skinnyman performing at Scala in Kings Cross and I was like ‘Ah! I like London! I gotta know London a bit better, this is cool!’ So I just listened to Wiley’s beats and stuff and was like ‘I gotta go back there!’
So music and tea then?
Yeah! Music and tea!
When did you start getting into singing? Is it something you’d always done when you were growing up?
Yeah, I started singing in school choirs when I was like 7 until about 18. I was always singing in the school choir. Then I used to have a lot of music around me because my mum loved music and she used to play loads.
What kind of stuff did she used to play?
She used to listen to a whole lot of different stuff; some soul music, some from around Africa especially West Africa where she’d been travelling a lot to and she used to import djembes. She had a shop called Boutique Afrique and she’d sell textiles, drums and jewellery. I always used to travel with her and my brother and sister, to Gambia and Senegal specifically, when we were kids and always used to spend time in textile shops. I’d sit there on a pile of colourful prints and just wait there. I think that was good because it really inspired me, it inspired me and influenced me a lot more than I thought when I was younger. I always used to have so much colour and shapes and design stuff around me, it was always natural.
Sometimes you don’t pick up on stuff like that at the time, you’re just like ‘Oh yeah, it’s my mum’s shop and whatever’ but it turns out…
Yeah, when you get older you realise ‘Oh actually…’ But I always enjoyed it, I always thought it was fun. I loved clothes and things, trinkets, jewellery… We used to go there quite a lot when I was a kid so in the house my mum would play a lot of music from there but then she played like Sade and 70s rock music, all kinds of stuff.
When did you start getting more serious about music? Singing is something all kids do but when did you start think it was something you might want to do with your life?
I always just wanted to do something… I was always involved in music, or acting and I used to dance loads. I went to music college and around that time I started being more involved and I used to do BVs in different bands. Then I started writing a lot more of my own stuff. I don’t recall an exact moment that was like my ‘Aha! I’m going to do this’ It’s not like that, it’s more like… I was always involved, I was always singing so it was something I always imagined doing but then I went to London and I linked up with the Eglo guys. That’s when I started putting out my own things. When I put out my first EP, maybe that’s when I was more like ‘I want to put out more stuff’ and just work with music. But I always used to be involved in music so I guess I always knew it was something I wanted to do.
How did the Eglo link-up happen? Did you know them already or did you send them a demo or something?
No, I didn’t send any demos but I used to see Alex around town and we used to go to the same kind of clubs. He gave me a mixed CD, he invited me to his radio show on Rinse and I accepted and came through and sang a bit on his show. Then we became friends, that’s how our relationship started. Eventually when the guys started Eglo I was asked to put out music with them and I thought it was a good idea since I’d got to know them. It was the same thing with Floating Points, I used to see him in Plastic People and nights like CDR. It’s cool, London had a lot of really dope club nights so that’s how I got to know a lot of different people.
I read somewhere that you actually used to sing in Plastic People, how did that come about? Did you just go up to the DJ or something?
I had friends that used to DJ at different nights there and sometimes, if it was a really dope club night and they played some really good music and the atmosphere was right, I used to go up to the DJ like ‘Can I sing?’ A lot of times I knew the people there but in general, over the years, I used to go up and just ask people as well. Sometimes they’d say yes, sometimes they’d say no.
Obviously you’ve got an amazing talent with singing but you’ve got quite a talent with your pen as well; when did you start writing lyrics? That’s something that can often be overlooked with such an amazing voice, when did that start happening for you?
Thank you! I was always writing songs when I was a kid, like a lot of people do, but then I started writing more when I was a teenager. When I moved to London I started writing a lot more but really I’ve been writing since I was kinda young. I just got more and more into it and the more I started making my own music, that’s when I started making my own stuff as well. I think I’ve got better over the years but…
Do you still have any of that old stuff you wrote when you were a kid?
Maybe on a cassette? Maybe on some notebooks in my mum’s house…
That’s for the ‘Best Of’ album a little down the line yeah? You’ve been with Eglo since 2010?
Something like that… When I released the Mind Travelin’ EP.
You were friends already but how has your relationship with them changed since then? How has it developed?
I don’t know if it has changed that much. In the beginning, like with any friends, you don’t know people but as time goes by you get to know people more and know how everybody works. Obviously now in terms of work with the music it has changed because we’re doing more stuff but we’ve been doing a lot of touring and gigging in different places and that’s always really dope. But I don’t know if our relationship has changed that much, it’s always been the same. I guess I used to maybe make more music with Flo before, we haven’t done anything in a while, but it’s not like our relationship changed that much. We all cool!
It’d be good to chat about the album a bit if that’s alright?
First thing, it was going to come out last summer but it’s only just coming out now. What was it that put it back? Was it getting things written or stuff that wasn’t part of the music process?
It was mainly the fact that the paperwork aspect of things, we had to get everything right and making sure that everything’s right with the album in terms of all the sounds and getting the right tunes together. Sometimes it’s hard when you put a date out there because you can’t force certain things like creativity and also when you are trying to figure out how to sort out all these things. Basically it was a combination of music and business stuff. I think that now eventually it’s all done, it came out at the right time so I’m happy about it.
Well my next question was are you pleased with it?
Yes! If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have put it out.
So you should be!
I’m real happy about it. I feel blessed because all the producers that are on it, I feel there was a golden cast of producers. I’m a big fan of all their individual work so to have them all producing on my album I feel really lucky. I think it’s dope because it gets the whole world to check them out to, as well as my music obviously! Eglo have been really supporting me in making this whole thing happen.
Talking about the producers, there are 4 you’ve worked with?
It’s Floating Points, Oh No, Computer Jay, Scoop DeVille, Flako, Knxwledge and Theo Parrish… So 7!
Wow! How did you pick who you wanted to work with? How did that collaboration come together?
A few of them I knew, we just tried to see what we could do. We just started to come up with different ideas, started brainstorming and stuff. When Theo Parrish was in town, we know him as well because he always comes here and plays at Plastic, and he had a sample from a band called 100% Pure Poison and basically he sparked the idea to the whole ‘Do Better’ tune and then Sam came up with the idea of doing a re-played version but a little bit different that he re-arranged live – we took in his musician friends and made that happen. Ono I met out in LA, no, Oxnard.
It’s a train away from LA, it takes an hour or two, just a few miles outside. I met him through a guy called Quelle, he’s a really dope rapper so check him out, he was the one who linked us up. Computer Jay… Who did I meet Computer Jay through? Anyway… Knowledge is out in LA as well and I met him through a friend of mine. It’s all been through friends really and a lot of times I get maybe recommended but most of the time I just keep my ears open because I listen to a lot of music and then I just think ‘I’m really feeling this guy/girl’ so I just hit them up.
So did you want to try and work with loads of people or did it just naturally get to that state where you’ve got quite a few people involved?
It wasn’t something I decided from the beginning, I had a little list of people I wanted to hit up, it just turned out this way. It worked really organically. It just took its own shape, we had to mould it a bit ourselves but as time went by I was in London, then I went out to LA and as I was there there were people I knew that I wanted to hit up but as I was there I got recommended by a friend of mine ‘Oh you’re coming to the Stones Throw night to check out Scoop DeVille! He’s down there playing’ I thought the name sounded familiar. I went down there and listened to him DJ and I thought it was really dope. 2 of my friends actually introduced me to him, B Plus and Coleman who are 2 amazing photographers by the way… But yeah, it’s all through different circumstances – it wasn’t all planned into detail.
Also, with the lyrics and themes a lot of it seems quite reflective and personal, is that fair to say?
But some of it, like with Circles – you wrote that collaboratively with someone else?
Shafiq Husayn wrote the chorus and he sang on it too but everything else on the album, lyric-wise I’ve written it. A lot of it is my own experiences and my way of seeing the world around me. Some of it is personal, directly from my life, and some of it is observational. It’s a mix like that.
So with the personal stuff, did you feel like you were trying to get some things out? Did you feel better afterwards? As someone who doesn’t write lyrics I don’t really know where you start with the process and where you end up in your head afterwards…
I guess it’s like when people write diaries; you just get it down there. It’s the way of venting. Sometimes you don’t necessarily feel better just because you’ve put it on paper but it still feels good to actually get it off your chest. Also, it feels good to take from perhaps a negative situation, not always a negative situation, but as an example if you take from a negative situation and write about it and make it into a song – maybe that song will turn out well and maybe someone else will hear it and connect with it. Then you’ve created something positive out of something negative and I like that part of it. In general, it’s the getting the thoughts out there and getting stuff off your chest.
It’s your first album, what have you learnt from the process? Would you do anything differently for the next one? I don’t know if you’re thinking that far ahead as you’ve only just finished this one…
I know… I have to start work on the next one soon!
Pull your finger out!
(Laughs) I feel like I’ve learned that you can’t force creativity and I think that when you’re working on a project with a lot of people involved and deadlines like this it’s good to start on time, better to start early! There’s a lot of different aspects of the process of putting together an album that I’d never experience before. Things take time, I knew that before but you just can’t stress about certain things. If you have a lot of other people involved as well it depends on everybody’s lives. There’s then the business part and all that stuff. You have to be patient and maybe more organised with stuff like this. Now I’ve experienced a lot of different sides to it, next time it will feel better because I’ll know what’s to come. That will be cool.
It seems like your music stretches across a broad range of people really, what do you think does that? Is it being with Eglo where you’re placed in such a varied environment, they’ll have a house record then a hip-hop record, does it help to get you out to people who wouldn’t necessarily be looking for soul or R’n’B or things like that?
Maybe, I think all the music on Eglo has got a bit of soul to it, whether it’s house or straight soul stuff. Whatever it is, I think all of it has got soul. I think certain people would probably listen to just one genre or the other but I think nowadays a lot of people are open-minded and being surrounded by DJs playing a lot of good music influences me and opened my eyes to different sounds and made me want to try something different. They’ll suggest something to me and I might do something that I wouldn’t have done if they didn’t introduce me to it, so that’s cool. It’s really good to get influences from different places. Hearing music from all over the world is really dope. People just like music that connects with them in the heart.
Finally, I just wanted to talk about the live band for a bit. How do you go about the process of putting the band together?
It was actually Alexander Nut’s idea because I’d been doing multiple DJ sets with him and other DJs and it just felt like the time was right to put together a band. He wanted to have an Eglo band which could be playing for the Eglo artists when we do live shows. Not just me but Olivier DaySoul and Shaunise as well. He contacted a few different musicians and organised an audition day. We were there and a few different players came through to just play different songs with us and we just felt what everybody’s vibe was. Some of them we were recommended through Olivier as they used to play with him. 3 of the guys from his soul band started playing with me. The drummer, Andre January, and the bass player, Hercules, both used to play with Olivier DaySoul. It’s really great that he recommended them to us. Jonathan, the keyboard player, was recommended through another friend as well as Junior, the percussionist, also a recommendation. That’s how we came together but now we’ve played together for a while so we’ve all become friends which is great. I love playing with those guys.
Did it take a bit of time to get to know each other musically or did you hit it off straight away?
I feel like we all enjoyed playing together from the beginning but at the same time it takes time to understand people’s visions and realising what I’m going to do with the live aspect of my music. A lot of things you need to work on but definitely I feel like the dynamic of the band and how people are personality-wise we all really enjoy playing together so that’s nothing that we had to work on. It’s more like ‘what do you want to do with this music?’ When I do my songs live we don’t use all the elements that we do on the tracks so that can be a bit like a puzzle sometimes but now that we’ve figured most of it out it’s cool because we can just focus on playing and having fun.
And one last question, what’s next? When do you get a holiday? I can imagine you’ve been working pretty hard with all this!
Next is just doing shows with the Eglo live band and I’m really looking forward to it because the past few shows have been really inspirational. It’s been so nice to see all the people coming out and just dancing with me. We’re doing a gig at the Roundhouse on the 31st May and we’re doing a show in Cambridge on the 18th June. There’s a few shows coming up and then I have Outlook and Dimensions as well at the end of the summer, I’m really looking forward to them also! I have my updates on my Facebook page (Fatima’s Universe) and Eglo Records website. We’ll keep everybody updated. Next up is just shows and then I’ve got to start making some new music!
(Photos by Sebastian Hallqvist.)
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