Fatima is Hanging Onto Hope
On her second album, the electronic soul artist is optimistic about the future. We caught up with her in south London for a chat.
Photo by Jonna Dreiman
An illustration by the artists Monica Kim Garza makes up the cover of Fatima’s And Yet It’s All Love album. When looking at it, you see a young woman in her underwear lying in bed: on her phone, hair in a bun, box of cookies by her side, smoking a joint. Just being. The room is pink, and through the window we can see apartment blocks. The similarity between the woman in the painting – a self-portrait Monica painted while feeling alone in a big city – and Fatima herself, hair in her trademark bun, isn’t an accident.
“I could see myself in the work; it's a relatable situation”, she says of the decision to use the image, when we meet for tea in Peckham’s Copeland Park in southeast London. “The bed itself is quite symbolic as a safe space and a place where you do a lot of thinking, and many of the thoughts that led to the lyrics have been in my head while just being in bed. The album is a very personal space, so I felt that was quite perfect symbolically: this personal space”.
Fatima moved to London from Stockholm on Halloween 2006, motivated by a desire to leave her hometown and see something new. By day, she worked in a sneaker store. And at night, she began exploring the capital’s vibrant music scene at venues such as the iconic and now-defunct Plastic People, and Benji B’s Deviation. Through these events she made a new best friend in Alexander Nut, an avid record collector and diverse DJ who went on to co-found Eglo Records – the label on which Fatima has released all her music. It’s been synonymous with London’s funk, soul and jazz scene years before there were any clout-grabbing mentions of the South London jazz resurgence – a perfect fit for her smooth, electronic soul and funk records made alongside other like-minded artists like Dâm-Funk, Floating Points, and Theo Parrish.
It sounds trite, but Fatima has the kind of voice that, as soon as you hear it, makes clear that she was born to sing. Growing up, she was surrounded by a variety of music: Swedish pop on the radio, hymns in the school choir where she sang from the ages of seven to 18, records that her mum had brought back from her travels to West Africa, the hip-hop and RnB she herself was obsessed with. “I used to love The Fugees when I was a little girl – Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott, all of that stuff… MTV's The Lick with Trevor Nelson influenced me a lot. The thing that's taken up the most space in my music collection has always been hip-hop, I’ve always been addicted to hip-hop”. She’s appreciative of what each element brought to her own musical table – the choir introduced her to harmonisation and learning music by ear, her mum’s record collection taught her to be open-minded and introduced her to the soul queens of the time such as Sade and Neneh Cherry. It is perhaps this smorgasbord of influence that has led to Fatima’s own sound: old soul with a fresh energy.
The intimacy of being part of the small Eglo family rather than signed to a major record label works perfectly for Fatima’s music-making process. “If I have something to discuss I don't have to go through different people to get to whoever I’m tryna reach. I can go directly to Alex, and we have a close working relationship. He is very understanding of my integrity and my vision and taste, and he wants to see individuality and that's what he's trying to harness. I think it's an independent thing in the true sense, there’s no massive backing behind it and no extra people. It's very direct. It gives me a lot of artistic freedom.” This album was supposed to come out earlier but Alex was “very patient”, she tells me with a wry smile, before we are suddenly surrounded by a bunch of four-year-olds climbing on the table and demanding to know why Fatima is drinking leaves (it’s peppermint tea, and they are horrified when we tell them that all tea comes from leaves).
Aside from making her own music and performing live with her band, Fatima also has a monthly radio show on NTS called Fatima’s Maple Syrup Waffle Show where she gets to showcase whatever music she has discovered each month, something of a childhood dream come true: “When I was young I always wanted to work on radio; I used to record my own little radio shows and make mixtapes on cassette. Now that I actually have this platform on NTS I can live out my dream! I really love music, and it's fun to be able to put all these tunes that I find in this new context and create my own little maple-dripping, cinnamon-smelling, vegan-marshmallow smelling world!”, she laughs.
A quick peek at her Twitter feed is evidence of her love of new music: where most musicians use their social media accounts to self-promote or moan about delayed flights, Fatima’s feed is a stream of music retweeted from emerging artists, both from London’s music scene and further afield. She’s a genuine music lover. “The more open you are the more you can experience. There are times when people say it's not good to listen to too much music because it will influence you – even if you don't think that it does, it can get into your subconscious and all of a sudden you're sitting there tryna do some gangsta rap”, she laughs. “But I’m not too worried about that. All my life I’ve always been checking for new music because I just love music so much!”
Fatima’s last album Yellow Memories came out in 2014, and And Yet It’s All Love almost sounds like the autumn to its summer – it’s a more mature offering, a harvest rather than a lazy afternoon. She is not sadder, but wiser, and more sure of herself. There is a darker tone to the songs featured here, the subject heavier and moulded by the lessons life teaches you in the latter part of your twenties. “Caught In A Lie”, the first single from the album, is a reflective but buoyant rumination on a failed relationship. “Waltz” sees her using her trademark silky vocals to ask someone “won’t you come home/I miss you” over a whimsical fairground-esque track. Rather than sit in a studio with a deadline, the album was made organically over the course of three years and all over the world: some tracks were written while living with her ex in Stockholm, others in London at Purist and JD Reid’s studios, and others in LA with producers Swarvy and RINNGO.
“It was quite a testing time”, she admits. “I was doing shows with my band off the back of Yellow Memories and living in between London and Stockholm. I was in this three-year relationship that had me questioning myself a lot and how I wanna live my life. I was going through so much emotional turmoil, so I was able to visit a new place in my mind when it comes to the lyrics. I got introduced to different experiences, to the darker side of life, growing as a woman. I grew a lot during this time, and I realised more things about myself and where I wanna be and what I want for myself and what I don't want for myself. Eventually we broke up and I moved back to London. Now I’m just riding that wave and I don't want no-one to mess up my life no more!”
Fatima is in a positive place now, and the overall message of the album is optimistic – something that is reflected in its title and closing track of the same name. “That song itself is about me being torn between focusing on my career and following my vision and trying to balance that with a relationship that is holding me back and bringing stress into my life. But in the end – the final sentence, 'and yet it's all love'...this whole situation stemmed from love and even if negative things may appear in your life, there is still love there. It's kind of like a hopeful sentence to me, a hopeful ending. Love can just be shaped in many ways, but it's all love!”
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