A shining star of Eglo Records, the east London label at the heart of the city’s thriving soul and jazz scene, Fatima spoke to us ahead of tonight’s intimate ‘In the Round’ performance at The Roundhouse on the importance of London, growing with Eglo and her honest approach to songwriting.
Though her list of collaborators reads like the lineup of only the most credible underground electronic festivals–Dâm Funk, MNDSGN, Theo Parish, Flako, Floating Points and Knxwledge to name a few–neo-soul singer Fatima has rightfully become something of a cult icon.
As her bold, singular stage name suggests, Fatima’s individuality radiates powerfully across her music that swoops several decades of R&B, soul, electronica and jazz and pushes into the future.
A shining star of Eglo Records, the east London label at the heart of the city’s thriving soul and jazz scene, the Swedish singer met its co-founder Alexander Nut in one of London’s basement clubs shortly after moving here from Stockholm in the mid-noughties, and in the decade that followed formed a strengthened bond, releasing her debut Yellow Memories in 2014 and last year’s acclaimed And Yet It’s All Love.
A little jet lagged from a recent family trip to Gambia but endearingly still up for a laugh, Fatima spoke to us ahead of her intimate In the Round performance at The Roundhouse on the importance of London, growing with Eglo and her honest approach to songwriting.
You often talk about the significance of London for you as an artist. What do you think it’s taught you?
In general London is one of those go-to cities, it’s like a mecca for dream-chasers around the world. Well, not just dream-chasers; it’s got a big mix of people from all over the world, so it’s like all of these different cultures mixed into one and the new music that’s being made in the city is inspiring to me. When I moved to London in I think 2006 there was a lot of grime; grime was one of the reasons I wanted to come here. At the time I had heard some of the music on the Swedish equivalent of MTV and I remember watching some Wiley video that had just come out, and I just wanted to come and see it. I’ve always been into hip hop and rap, so that side was always cool to me. When I was actually here, I got in contact with loads of other music styles. The main thing is that it’s got so much to offer, so much diversity–not just music-wise, but with art in general and the people you see on this street. It’s all mixed up and bigger. Stockholm is quite a small city and I felt that I had outgrown it. I was more interested in discovering something new.
There’s a whole new generation of up-and-coming DJs, rappers and singers that are killing it, and then on top of that there’s the OGs. There’s just so much music. To me, that’s the reason why I’m still in London, I feel inspired here. Even those days I’m looking up to the skies and complaining about the grey shades and I still feel like it’s one of the best cities in the world. Period. I think it’s the best in Europe, for the music I’m into anyway. I’m not really worried with the future of London when it comes to music, it’s pretty solid.
“There’s a whole new generation of up-and-coming DJs, rappers and singers that are killing it, and then on top of that there’s the OGs. There’s just so much music. To me, that’s the reason why I’m still in London, I feel inspired here.”
I heard your talk at last year’s Dimensions Festival was eventful…
I never really get invited to panels and talks, ha! But I did get dragged in to talk at Dimensions festival – Alex dragged me in last minute. It was his talk, and he really wanted to highlight being independent and what that means, what his journey has been individually and running this label, Eglo Records. Then I said a few words on my side of things, but it was good because people don’t always know what it takes to be an independent artist and an independent label in the massive sea of the music industry. If you’re used to working a 9-5 lifestyle you might not know how much passion and hard work and focus it takes to survive, also in a big expensive city, it’s not easy. So I think it’s a good thing that they did that talk, and you’re able to sit and have an intimate conversation. Although that time was a bit of a challenge, because basically the festival had to turn off all of the electricity because there was this big storm, so it was really hard to hear, but we made it happen. Someone put some headphones and we did it old school style. There were already people there but just because of the fact that everyone wanted to leave the rain the whole place filled up and it’s turned out to be a real good talk, sitting there and sharing experiences.
You’re playing ‘in the round’ at the Roundhouse tonight; do you enjoy the process of translating recorded music to the stage? You’ve experienced that before with the addition of the band.
I’ve had the band for quite a few years now, and it’s cool. It brings a different vibe, because we’re not doing it exactly the same as the record. The songs are going to get a new life with new flavours. The players use live instruments and sprinkle their own style into the set, so mashed up gives an experience. And then when we all come together as one there’s also a different power and then if the people are coming with their energy and responding to what we’re doing in a positive way then it becomes like a conversation. That’s the ideal. It doesn’t always happen, but that’s what I like, when you feel like everybody’s on the same tip and coming with good energy. I’m not putting it all on the audience for it to become a great night, because obviously the show needs to be a killer either way. But it becomes even more special when you can tell that everyone’s really in it together. I do enjoy it though, seeing how it comes together.
“I was in a relationship, and it was about my life during the time of making the album, which is why most of the songs ended up being sad love songs.”
And Yet It’s All Love was released at the end of last year. You must feel relieved to have it finally out there, from what I gather it had been a long process. Some people have read it as a depiction of the life-cycle of a relationship, was that something you ever considered?
It feels good, it was so overdue, even in the process of making it. I made it on and off for about two years and then for us to finalise it we needed almost another year, as there’s so many people involved, you know, getting everything settled with the artwork, and finalised. So for it finally to be out there and for people to tell me that they appreciate it, it means a lot. You never know, when you put your art out there in the world, you never know what the response will be, so I’m just happy they enjoy it as much as we did.
Basically when I wrote this album I was in a relationship. Being me, writing a lot from my personal experiences, that just became a natural thing to put into songs. I was in a relationship, and it was about my life during the time of making the album, which is why most of the songs ended up being sad love songs. It wasn’t all sad but it was definitely, definitely….a testing time. Let me look through the record again, hang on. Hmm. To be honest, most of the love songs are actually sad, ha! Yeah, I was pretty sad at the time, going through it, but then you see certain tunes like ‘Westside,’ when I went on a trip to L.A, and that’s also me reflecting my relationship but by that time I was done with it. There’s hopefulness for the future, because I always knew my own self-worth and what I really wanted to do. I was just struggling with accepting the truth.
I really love the record’s artwork from Monica Kim Garza. It seems futile to over-analyse it but I was wondering what your conversations with her entailed.
People need to find Monica, she’s amazing. I found her a few years ago online, digging for new stuff and her art came to my attention. I bought a print of hers as a present for my sister, and then I ended up talking to her because she was running her own website. We chatted and I said I’d send her my music, so I sent her my other record Yellow Memories and said it would be great to do some collaboration at some point. Fast forward and we had this new record, so I spoke to Alex and he really loved her art as well, so I contacted her and explained to her what the album was about, and she was down to be a part of it. So we got the ball rolling and it all came together perfectly in the end, I feel so honoured that she wanted to do it, because I don’t think she had done any album artwork before. I really love her art and the way she represents women; to me it feels very genuine. Based on conversations I’ve had with her she doesn’t overanalyse her own art but the way she does it naturally, and the way she draws women is refreshing in a world where there’s pressures of looking a certain way. It’s got modern elements to it but it looks timeless to me, so I can see this on my own wall in years from now and still feel like it’s fresh.
One track that particularly stood out to me was ‘Somebody Else’ – I love that Stefano Torossi string sample, the piercing brass and of course the paced flow and rhythm of your vocals. Lyrically it seems to be about supporting your individuality and taking hold of your own agency in a similar way to ‘Le Neta’ from Yellow Memories, but musically it seems a lot sleepier and melancholic than the latter…
First of all, shout out to JD Reid, who produced ‘Somebody Else’ he’s from out here in London and is killing it. Theme-wise, yes there are some links between the two songs because it is about taking control of your own life. On the verses they’re both a bit sad, reflecting what I’m going through but I feel like ‘La Neta’ is a bit stronger, like “yeah this is me, I’m gonna take my shit” but the other one is more like dreaming “I could be someone else”. It’s got hope in it but is way more melancholic.
I suppose in a way though your music is characterised by this ability to catch ambivalent moods and feelings.
I’m just trying to tell genuine stories that speak from my heart and then after that maybe different moods are created from the sounds of the producer. But it’s not always something that we analyse. The producer adds what mood they have and then I add mine, and I guess the magic happens when it becomes a special combination of the two.
Despite working with an array of producers there’s a coherent sound on the record, how did you nail that?
That was a bit of a challenge, yeah as I was working with different producers here and there, a bit scatty and then I was a bit like “oh god, how do I put this together?” But we made it happen in the end, I hope! With the help of Matt Colton at Alchemy who did the mastering, which is of course the last bit. Before that, each individual producer mixed their own tunes, so of course some tracks would be really clean, and then MNDSGN’s track is liquid-y and a bit fuzzy. Everyone’s got their own style and vibe, but I kind of like that it’s all contrasted as well, but to make sure it didn’t stand out too crazily Matt helped smooth it out.
“I wasn’t super confident when it came to writing in the beginning. I don’t know, still today sometimes it can be a real challenge and then sometimes it just comes out of nowhere, lyrics just jump from the sky”
I was listening to the Mindtravelin’ EP recently. It really sounded ahead of its time; I’m always dubious using that phrase, but listening back to it, the rhythm and shuffles to it are so popular now. Where were you at then, musically? How do you feel you’ve changed since then and And Yet It’s All Love.
It’s crazy that it’s been ten years. At the time I was living on Chatsworth Road, before it became so “bouji” and was a bit more low-key. I was living with Alex at the time, actually. I was listening to soulful sounds and R&B, so I guess nothing’s changed there, ha! I was working with VeeBeeO and was fresh from Sweden. I think I’ve changed as an artist, think I’ve honed my skills more, especially writing. I wasn’t super confident when it came to writing in the beginning. I don’t know, still today sometimes it can be a real challenge and then sometimes it just comes out of nowhere, lyrics just jump from the sky. It’s weird, haha! But so much has gone on in the last ten years, from singing in the club and no-one knew about this little girl from Sweden, to now getting together with Alex and the beginnings of Eglo and doing all these parties that we’ve done and then the band leading into touring big parts of the world, that’s amazing.
“I’m still an ongoing process, though. I’m still growing, I learn something every day.”
I’m still an ongoing process, though. I’m still growing, I learn something every day. Leading the band and that aspect wasn’t always natural to me; there’s so many aspects of being an artist and all artists, and some don’t need to deal with every aspect, but I’ve never had a big team, it’s always been me and Alex. So I guess that comes back to being an independent artist; how do you say it in English? You have to wear a lot of hats or something, haha! When you do that you learn a lot.
It feels like you and Eglo Records have grown together, especially given that your debut was their first full-length release. That must be rewarding.
It is rewarding, yeah. Now Alex isn’t my manager anymore, but we’re still working together pushing this record but it’s a new chapter in a way, so I’m trying to figure it out and see what happens this year. Who knows? All I pray is that this record will create some good waves, and I really want to travel the world again. I’ve got some things simmering in the pot.