Curated by Quinn Barbour & Shawn Christopher
Photography by Luke Nugent
"It’s important to figure out what makes you “you”. Invest in that, work on that, and stay consistent. "
Stepping into a new era and reclaiming her independence, the Sierra Leone native, Grammy nominated singer/songwriter KABBA releases her latest EP "Note to Self". The EP gives us a snapshot of a heartbreak story, with songs like "Rather Be Single" and "Stronger Stuff" KABBA showcases her confidence as a women, and as an artist. Reflecting on life experiences "Note to Self" is a body of work that many can relate to. We caught up with KABBA to discuss her new EP, career influences and more!
MUA by Ben Bee | Hair by Jordan Jay Brumant | Styling by Marko Vrbos
If you could title your artistic style of dress...what would you call it?
I would say home girl from round the way, but she’s got a bit of budget. Nothing crazy though!
Tell us about the first song you wrote. How old were you and what was it about?
I honestly don’t remember, but I remember the first song I wrote when I was in this girl band in primary school. It was called “Independent Girls”. Was it cute? Very! Will you ever hear it? Absolutely not!
Can you tell us about some personal factors that might have assisted you in creating your newest artistic piece? "Rather Be Single"
When Adele said “Divorce babe, divorce” I felt that!
Does it bring you fear or excitement when you step into the unknown of your musical passions?
Definitely both. Excitement because I believe in and love these songs and get excited to share them with people. At the same time there’s a level of critique with releasing tunes, songs are personal and not everyone is gonna love every song. Loads of artists have a fear of critique, people hating their songs. I’m working towards freeing myself of this notion in this new iteration of my career. I still get fearful, but once it’s released, I let it go. At that stage it’s not mine to keep, it’s everybody’s now.
What were your thoughts behind changing your stage name from A*M*E to KABBA? Did this also bring about a sort of “new” identity for you on stage?
It felt like the right time for a rebirth and step into a new version of myself. A*M*E felt like a specific period in my life, and I couldn’t relate to that girl anymore. I had grown up, that was me from 16 to 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’m drawn to the most. I haven’t actually been on stage as KABBA yet so when I get to step into that, I’m sure it will feel like performing for the first time again.
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Stream and Purchase 'Note to Self'
We’ve read that you have a musical family. Can you describe how that was growing up and how it impacted you?
My Dad was in a band with his brothers, although by the time I was born the band wasn’t a thing anymore. I never got to witness them in action, but I certainly got to hear the music, the tapes, and hear my Dad sing and play the guitar at home. He influenced me in same way as when I listen to Janet in that it embeds in your brain without realising. I was aware of my Dad being a self-taught multi-instrumentalist and wanted to emulate certain parts of his musicality, although this all happened much later when I was on my own musical journey. I wanted to be as good as what I was listening to.
Which brings you more joy and happiness: songwriting, singing, or both? Which of these do you thrive in the most?
The scale is tipped in the balance of singing slightly more, because it feels like an innate thing to me. Singing is something I can’t help anymore. I literally sing everything. I’d like to say I thrive in both but being on stage and singing your own songs and having an audience that connects to those songs is incomparable to anything else, so that’s where I thrive the absolute most. Writing an amazing song and listening to it at the end of a session is also an incredible feeling though and I love that I get to do both.
Could you tell us about the creative process of your new EP “Note to Self”?
The creative process what quite scattered. The songs came about as the events that each song is about transpired. I just know I wanted to do an EP that was a little bit tougher production wise, and I knew that lyrically I wanted to stand my ground a little bit more. I knew those two things going in, I had some references for production, but ultimately the actual concepts themselves came from real life experiences.
"Hickie" is a standout track, what's the back story? How did the song come about?
Of all the songs on the EP, Hickie is the most imagined concept, it’s not a literal snapshot of something I went through compared to the other songs. It’s more of a ‘What If’ situation. Hickie is loosely based on the idea of someone placing a lot of importance on something that was casual. That someone has been me before, so I wanted to turn it on its head and write from another point of view.
In "Stronger Stuff" you say..."just because it's the end of us, don't mean it's the end of me" I think that's a line that will resonate with a lot of people. Can you tell us what this song means to you?
Lyrically Stronger Stuff is the most important song on the EP to me as it narrates what I’ve been through and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. To me it’s a song that highlights the fact that, like I said at the end of the track, I’m “more than enough” and more than the things I went through.
Let's talk a little about "R&B Dreams" you're channeling some early 2000's sounds, what were some of your influences for this track?
We referenced “Scandalous” by Mis-Teeq, “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica, and early noughties and 90s R&B tunes. We tried to put those references in the lyrics of the song, so for example “4 Page Letter” by Aaliyah is mentioned in the line “So I bounced and left a 4 page letter”.
Is there anyone you're interested in collaborating with?
The list is long. Everyone from Rema to Normani, Chloe & Halle, and Victoria Monét.
At what moment did you realize you wanted to be an artist and performer?
It was loads of little moments for me, starting as early as 10 when I performed at a holiday resort. Me and my sister both sang (she won). I performed “Shackles” by Mary Mary.
If you weren't a music artist, what would you pursue instead? How do you think this past idea of a profession currently connects to who you are now?
A part of me would have always been in entertainment in some kind of way. Maybe presenting, acting, definitely songwriting. I love the subject of history as well so at one point I wanted to be a history teacher, or work in archaeology. Just anything to do with looking into the past and finding out the meaning behind things. This past idea of my future profession makes me very grateful for the fact that I’m able to do what I do. It doesn’t feel like a job to me.
Do you have any advice to the up-and-coming youth who desires a career in music and songwriting?
It’s important to figure out what makes you “you”. Invest in that, work on that, and stay consistent.
How do you think your childhood and background affect the type of music you create?
There’s certain rhythms I grew up hearing in Sierra Leone. I grew up with a lot of West African influences but also South East London Grime and Funky House, and of course Pop and R&B. My songs are very rhythmic, they all have different melodic ebbs and flows which was definitely informed by music I love listening to. All these influences informed the person and artist that I am today. I always want to make music that makes people feel the way I felt when I heard some of my favourite songs for the first time, whether that’s in my lyrics, melodically, or production wise.
Who/what are your artistic influences? How have they influenced you?
Musically I was influenced by Janet Jackson, Destiny’s Child, Brandy, Whitney, and then I also draw artistic influence from everything ranging from the Drag scene to old black Hollywood glamour, runways, and the disco scene.