B-ahwe - 'Motions' (Feature Interview)
B-ahwe self-releases another beautiful EP titled 'Motions' which takes the listener on a journey of being in motion whilst passing through life. Building from her brilliant debut EP 'Nuance' which saw her win our Breakthrough Act of 2020 Award, she chats to Ben about the long process of releasing the EP, the progression in themes from 'Nuance' and her upbringing that influences her unique, ethereal sound.
Now residing in South London after shaping her sound in Leeds, neo-soul/trip-hop singer/songwriter B-ahwe has really grown into her sound. With the EP supported by Help Musicians UK's 'Do It Differently' fund, she intricately tells stories woven into rich vocal arrangements and lush instrumentals with ease. Her lyricism is poetic and with her vocal textures her sound is likened to a 'trip-hop Kate Bush'.
Motions has been mostly written for a long time, even before her Nuance EP was finished. "I recorded these tunes just before I left Leeds actually but then the recordings were kind of sat on for a while because I was finishing the Nuance EP. I had just finished graduating and I went to Vietnam to have a little bit of a head reset after being ill. Because I was ill for a year or two, and I was studying, I just needed like a month or two to reset before becoming an adult and graduating. So I finished Nuance and then I just spent six or seven months recording vocals for Motions and just all my head went into that until the EP was finished."
The EP explores B-ahwe's process of dealing with events that have changed her, and the anxieties that are relatable to us all as we live and evolve in our lifetimes. It's all about movement, and exploring the different stages we arrive at in life.
"I think Motions is kind of calming, but is actually the most emotional thing ever. The EP is this feeling of barely being in motion and you're not completely where you're meant to be yet but you feel you've grown and you're in development there. Whereas Nuance was very being stuck in a place and dealing with mental health and a lot of things like that as I wrote it when I was really ill."
“I live in my thoughts most of the time, they often rule me. Music allows me to step outside my head for a moment and release something I didn’t realise I was feeling; make sense of all the noise. Living in my head often leaves me feeling trapped, constantly craving growth, unable to see how far I have actually come because the past and future overshadow the present. Motions captures those moments of presence and reflection, where something raw has been revealed and accepted, creating space for growth.”
Lead single 'Bewtiched' depicts one of these experiences that have changed her. It's one of the tracks that really taps into the trip-hop vibe too. The looped vocals at the start create a layer of tension that her band slowly breaks as they grow into the song. The song is inspired by the jazz standard sung by Ella Fitzgerald and it's the first time B-Ahwe has taken inspiration directly from someone else's song.
"When I heard it, it was when I was going through lots of shit. And I felt like this person is saying everything I'm feeling and it was very emotional using someone else's words to even explain an experience I had gone through as I was still not ready to talk about things yet." Even understanding where ideas for lyrics or melodies came from only became apparent through the spontaneity of her writing sessions.
"Through the process of doing Motions, I had a big realisation that the process of me writing songs, I often don't know what I'm really feeling until I'll improvise some lyrics or melody or whatever. And then something will come out of me. And then afterwards, I'm like, "Fuck, where did that come from?" And then you unpack it, and you develop it, and you learn about yourself through all the emotion of it all. And it was always kind of like a band joke that any song I brought in was always like a verb, like 'Sliding' or 'Drifting'. I think it was my body just constantly trying to move forward, trying to rip forward. But so much was holding me back."
"I've been more black and white with my emotions and put more brute realism into my music, even though it is still very metaphorical. I've really loved doing that and I've really wanted to do that again and embrace my vulnerability more. But I need to go and sit down and really get deep into the lyrics and kind of unpack what I'm feeling into a place that does reflect what I'm trying to say. I've been thinking about that a lot over the last few months. I think because I know it's been difficult, I've been putting it off. So maybe I'm about to unpack into all that."
The second single 'Circles' has a warmth to the song with the keys illuminating the lyricism that moves from soulful singing to soft ooh's and quicker spoken word. The rhythm bounces off her vocals magnificently, and they loop to match the theme of the song.
"'Circles' is about having one of those moments where you feel like you've really grown, you've had like a really good couple of months or whatever, where you've been in a really good place, you've been on top. And then something happens that makes you think about all of the things from the past and you get triggered and you feel that you haven't really grown or developed at all. You feel it's all just useless but actually, it's because life is not as linear as we hope. We have to let the past move forward with us but it doesn't define us."
"But what was really interesting with 'Circles' is I write in a very metaphorical way, and I really love pretty writing and I don't think that will change. With that song, it was kind of the first time that I spoke a bit much more clearly about things and use metaphors, but kind of laced it into kind of everyday things and made it more just straight up saying what I'm thinking. I think I'm so scared of admitting something and then being hurt by it. It's hard to profess things and it's scary being vulnerable, isn't it? Especially when you've been hurt in the past, but you have to kind of admit there's a lot of strength in vulnerability as well."
That vulnerability of her music is dictated by wherever B-ahwe's soothing sound wants to go. It can drift off into a relaxed state or into a burst of energy to emphasise the intensity of the lyrics that have been written. These different states can easily be traced in the harp-led 'Sakura' that feels floaty and hums delicately. This contrasts to the ending of 'Drifting' which moves from a melancholia guitar riff to start with before a huge outpouring of emotion finishes the song off. It's the versatility of the instrumentation that can always match the power B-ahwe wants to project at that moment which is amazing.
A lot of that relates to her upbringing and being used to cutting through a big group in her church. "From growing up, I did a bit of classical singing when I was growing up and I had like a church upbringing and so I sang in a lot of choirs. Maybe I was kind of tuned into that big sound as it's just so magical and there's so much power to it. Listening to so many voices, it's the window to the soul the human voice. It's the gateway to understanding someone. So I love the majestic sound."
"And I've always been drawn to magical singers like Minnie Riperton, Ego Ella May and Nai Palm and stuff like that. When you hear them you're drowning in voices, and I always love really rich warm sounds. I guess it's just kind of naturally developed that way. I get lost in it, but everyone's always telling me to chill the fuck out! I'd put hundreds of vocals in a track and they're like, "you don't need half of these!""
"I was going to do a live session of 'Suspended' which is made up of a lot of different vocal parts. So I wanted to do that with all live vocals and have 12 singers doing each part of the samples, lyrics, and harmonies. You get to see all the detail in the vocal parts which are good to focus on. It definitely will happen because I just can't help myself!"
The final track on the EP 'Ready' feels very complete in drawing in a bit of everything that B-ahwe is brilliant at. With the "aah's" that caress the keys as she moves between the softer beginning into a heady rush at the end, she explains that she didn't want to leave the EP on a cliffhanger.
"I was thinking about the order of the EP, and the narrative and everything. All of the songs are moving through different emotions and kind of processing them and deciding how you feel about something and trying to move forward and not let the past hold you back. 'Ready' is about that moment where you're like, "fuck it, it's difficult. I'm gonna fucking take charge of the situation. I'm gonna do this myself."
"And it related to a time when my keys player Nix Northwest was leaving Leeds and I had a lot of security with my group at that point so when that was changing, I was terrified. But then you take charge and it all worked out for the best because I ended up working with Jasper Green who devoted himself to the project and he's an amazing keys player. So you've got to trust that all things work out for the best, basically."
Having collaborated with Leeds jazz quintet Yaatri and underground UK hip-hop acts Lausse The Cat and Nix Northwest in Leeds, she has since provided vocals on London jazz group Pyjæn's new album. Her depth of styles and willingness to perform with other musicians is something that B-ahwe thrives off.
"I love getting the chance to kind of put on a different hat or engage in a different part of myself when I work with other people. It's really nice seeing what comes out of you at that moment when you're improvising in that situation. I think being in Leeds to start with, it's such a beautiful place to do music and to build a community be part of a community and dig your teeth into gigging."
"But it does get to a point where you're just burning yourself out gigging constantly, and not giving enough time for other things. Especially because everyone's just so willing to just say yes to everything and be part of like 15 different projects. And then you're not actually really devoting yourself to one and give one the chance to grow properly."
"I think that's probably been quite inspired by being around like Nix Northwest and Lausse The Cat as they got to a point where they just want to write and be an artist and have space for themselves to be a human being and work on things. And then gig it when it's time to gig it. Back then, I guess we were all just growing and it was an amazing thing to be like gigging non stop and to be experiencing that. And it meant we all grew and developed a lot because of it."
"But in London now, I love it I can't lie! I moved into suburban places in London, and even living with strangers for the past year it's been so worth it just because I missed my independence so much with having my own space and creative space. There's just so many incredible people and everyone is really, really lovely. I've just met so many people who are really about community and they love music and just want to meet other musicians too."
Having had airtime on BBC 6 Music, Worldwide FM, Soho Radio and Totally Wired Radio, she is ready to put the tunes from both EPs back on the road. "Now I've had like two years of finishing and releasing an EP, I'm excited for the gigs to start again because it is a huge part of me. I love performing. I love singing and actually enjoying music with people."
"It's funny, I think from having a religious upbringing, gigs are kind of what church is like for atheists. Being in a crowd with everybody singing and they have this nice way together and it's that community, sense of shared belief and everybody sharing music together and singing together. It's a really rare, beautiful human thing."
B-ahwe carries that special feeling into her music too, and with Motions there seems to be no end to her progression through the neo-soul/jazz circuit as one of the most talented songwriters in the scene. Her distinctive vocals entice you in and you become consumed into the magical world she creates.
You can see B-ahwe play next in Leeds at Hyde Park Book Club on Thurs 7th Oct - find more details here.
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