Music

South London’s Mysie: “Vulnerability Is the Most Powerful Thing”

Premiering her new single last week, the British-Ugandan singer-songwriter loves on her home neighbourhood and invites us into her world.

At just 25 years old, South London’s genre-bending indie soul wizard Mysie has almost a lifetime of musical experience under her belt. She lay a firm foundation with classical piano training from age 7, and by 18 she was already performing on the renowned Burberry Acoustic stage under her original moniker – her birth name – Lizbet Sempa. In September last year, she was presented with the coveted Ivor Novello Rising Star Award, scoring her a mentorship with Grammy-winning producer Fraser T Smith, who dubbed her one of the most cutting-edge artists of 2021. You might’ve heard of some of the artists on his CV: Adele, Stormzy, Dave, Drake and Sam Smith, to name(drop) a few.

A layer cake of influences from all over the world, Mysie’s sound defies convention. The upcoming EP Undertones, dropping 21 May, echoes with her signature heady, open-hearted vocals, but ushers in a new warmth, tinged with sunny guitar riffs, and sprinkled with a little psychedelia and electronica for good measure. It’s true, this is music for and from the soul, but at times, it has been reduced to only that, leaving Mysie feeling pigeonholed as a black soul singer. Frustrating, of course, for such a multidimensional artist, but as she will go on to explain, “Things are changing, and things will continue to change and progress.” Thanks undoubtedly to artists like her who continue to author their own narrative.

We caught up with Mysie over Zoom to chat about her captivating new single “Keep up with Your Heart”, the music getting her through lockdown and getting reposted by her hero Snoop Dogg.

Can you introduce yourself to anyone who might not know you yet?

I’m Mysie, a singer-songwriter based in south east London. And I’d say my sound is intimate indie soul.

 

What was it like growing up in South London?

I just love South London so much. I was brought up in Croydon, so I’m proper dirty south, people probably won’t appreciate me saying that. Growing up in Croydon is such a special thing because I feel like it’s such a music scene. It just reminds me of Garage, Grime, all of that music.

 

What South London spots are you excited to go back to when lockdown ends?

Brixton. I mean, I love a night out at Dogstar. It’s them four levels of music! Bussey Building in Peckham Rye. I miss the jerk chicken that’ll be cooking outside at like 4am. I would just be club-hopping to check out the vibe. I’m really looking forward to that.

 

You’ve been playing music since you were 7 years old. Has a career in music always been the goal?

Before I started taking music seriously, I wanted to be a dancer, I wanted to be a mover. And before that I wanted to be an actor. I trained at drama school for four years, performed at The Globe, I’ve done a few things. It’s been a journey, but it’s all contributed to me as a musician. I always include movement, or I always include acting and intertwine them.

Your grandfather was a famous Ugandan jazz musician. Did he have a big influence on you?

Maybe subconsciously, spiritually, maybe. I didn’t really go into the depths of his history until quite late. I actually only met him twice. He was a very busy man with many, many children. He had 50 kids. Yeah, five zero. I wouldn’t say I take from him, but I do think subconsciously there are parallels there.

 

Congratulations on the new EP. Can you talk a little about the experiences that inspired it?

This EP came from hours, and hours, and hours of conversation with Fraser [T Smith]. I wanted to invite you guys into my world, and my world of relationships and what I’ve been through. Where Undertones comes from is the underlying feelings of excitement, love, fear, fast love. I just wanted something that makes people feel good, but also heals them.

 

Your music is incredibly honest and intimate. Has writing been a form of therapy for you, and are you ever afraid of being so vulnerable?

Writing music is my way of healing. Even songs like “Keep Up With Your Heart”, I wrote that song 4 years ago and at the time I was in the thick of it in a very vulnerable state. Looking back at it, I’ve grown so much. There’s a lot that I tolerated before that I don’t tolerate now. And I’m not afraid to be vulnerable. I used to be, but vulnerability is the most powerful thing. It’s so important to let it all go.

 

You’ve mentioned that in the past you’ve been put into a box as a Black soul singer. Do you think that’s changing?

When I first said that I remember having an interview as Lizbet Sempa and someone saying; “How do you feel being compared to Nina Simone?” And I was like; “Oh, honestly it’s amazing to be put in the same line as these incredible artists,” but I felt, at the time, I wasn’t making music that was even similar. Now, I feel like there are all of these amazing Black artists that are now making their paths and making their lanes. I do think things are changing and things will continue to change and progress.

What has it been like having Fraser T Smith as a mentor?

It’s been such a great year with him. It’s been so great to get to know him as a person before actually doing the music. He’s honest, which is so important to me. He listens, he gets me, he understands my humour. And he’s overall a very kind, giving and amazing person. And he amplifies as well. For someone of his calibre to invest his time in me—what more could I ask for.

 

What music has gotten you through lockdown?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Sampha, a lot of Moses Sumney. A different range of music. From sad to happy. From vibey to hype. At the moment I’ve been really getting into Chloe and Halle Bailey. There’s a track called “Ungodly Hour” that Disclosure produced and that was the gateway. Rosalia’s second album. Just great, great, great, great music.

 

I saw your duetted cover of Gnarlz Barkly blow up on TikTok and Snoop Dogg posted about it. What was that like?

That was honestly the best thing to wake up to! I got the message on my phone and I was like; “What the hell, this guy is my hero!” I was listening to Snoop Dogg growing up because my brother was playing him in the house like no tomorrow. I even have a song that is inspired by “Gin and Juice”. It’s unreleased. He’s the OG.

 

What do you hope the future holds for Mysie?

More great music I think. I would just love to do a great tour, some great shows. I wanna play live again. I know an album will come. An album will come! I only wish to expand my growth and listeners and reach out to the world and connect with people.

 

Mysie’s new single “Keep Up With Your Heart” is out now, stream it here

Follow Aaron Mills here

 

1 April 2021

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