Its just a shade after ten o clock on a balmy Tuesday evening in May and Fatima has the capacity crowd at Camden’s Jazz Café in the palm of her hand. A frequent performer at the famed North London venue for some years now, tonight is no ordinary occasion. Rather it is the melodious victory lap which marks the release of the singer songwriter’s debut album, ‘Yellow Memories’, a triumphant collection of modern Soul and RnB that will likely propel her to previously uncharted levels of recognition and acclaim. Wearing a glossy maroon wig that shines underneath the glare of the venue’s lights, Fatima and the Eglo live band duly rip through over an hour’s worth of material from the record and her other releases-with the reception nothing short of rapturous. Whether its the expensive sounding arrangements of album and set opener ‘Do Better’, the glitchy electronica of encore number ‘Black Dough’ or the Jazzy affectations of ‘Technology’, Fatima’s voice is effortlessly up to the task, with her gesticulations and dancing creating the sassy and street smart stage persona these songs demand. Speaking to the young Swede only a week previously in the decidedly quieter environs of a Shoreditch hotel, Hyponik found her to be bursting with excitement about the crowning achievement of her career thus far.
Despite arriving sporting a far more understated hairdo than the showstopping arrangement on her head for her Jazz cafe gig, in person there is actually strikingly little difference between her private and onstage demeanour. Speaking in an accent that’s a charming blend of Scandinavian and transatlantic (she’s called New York home over the last few months) English, Fatima radiates an enthusiasm and sincerity that makes it easy to imagine how she became the popular figure she is today. Indeed it was this force of personality that helped endear herself to her future colleagues when she arrived in London a little over seven years ago. Leaving her native Sweden seeking a change and the chance to have a go at walking “down some new streets”, she decided to make the move to the big smoke, joining a friend who’d already been living there for a few months. Singing at the time was purely a passion-not a profession, although it was one that she sought to indulge in whenever the opportunity allowed, with London’s always fertile music scene providing many such opportunities.
A regular visitor to the likes of central London Hip-Hop party Scratch Club Wednesdays, where she’d sing or “freestyle”, and Benji B’s (then fledgling) Deviation party, it was at Plastic People where she first bumped into Sam ‘Floating Points’ Shepherd. Now a close friend as well as Fatima’s boss of sorts, Shepherd has a hand in five of her debut’s twelve tracks-more than any other producer on the record. Her friendship with Alex Nut, Shepherd’s partner in Eglo Records, began around a similar time, with Fatima eventually stepping up to the plate to drop her debut ‘Mindtravelling’ EP on the label back in 2010. Listening to Fatima talk about her relationship with Nut, its clear she holds him in very high esteem. “..he manages everything concerning me, so we’ve always worked everyday together. He can be tough but he’s always telling the truth-he’s just honest, 100% honest-that’s why I like him.” The admiration is most definitely mutual, something which Nut made clear when we spoke to him a few weeks prior. “When I listen to her music I’m like “this is my favourite music…its a big deal for me”.
Delving a little deeper, the praise Nut has directed at his starlet is down to more than just the imminent arrival of her sterling debut. Although Fatima is quick to jump out and give credit to the role the label had in helping her put out the record, its clear that she’s equally had a large part to play in Eglo’s successes as it celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Whilst Eglo had already released several records from the perenially superlative Shepherd, it was Fatima’s presence on the label that helped mark it out from the throng of similar club leaning imprints-giving it an all smiling, all singing figurehead that was without parallel in an often faceless scene. Its now only right then that Fatima and Eglo taking their first steps into the album format together with ‘Yellow Memories’. The release date for the record was subject to adjustment on a couple of occasions, though this was never the cause of any headaches for Fatima or Nut it seems, with the the singer philosophically musing that the delays reinforced her belief that, “everything happens for a reason”. Listening to the superbly assured twelve tracks that make up ‘Yellow Memories’ you can’t help but agree.
For those already familiar with Fatima’s voice-an impressive instrument in its own right, the first initially striking thing about her debut is the variety in the production featured. Naturally inclined towards eclecticism, there’s nothing about the variety found on the record that felt forced to Fatima. “I’m into loads of things that’s why the album has got loads of different sounds. I didn’t think okay now I’m going to try something new.” Where less dexterous singers would balk at the prospect of applying vocals to beats as unpredictable or unique as the likes of ‘La Neta’ or ‘Riding Round (Sky High)’, Fatima saw it as an invitation to up her songwriting game. “Since the production is contrasting a lot and varying, then its gonna make me approach a track differently because I can’t just do the same thing. Plus I like messing around with different flows and all that-its fun. Depending on how the track sounds that affects how I write.” Of the aforementioned pair of tunes its arguably on ‘La Neta’ where she best displays her versatility. “…what am I going to do with this?’, she initially asked herself when presented with Flako’s shifting and often jumpy off kilter instrumental, although she eventually crafted a vocal that forms part of one of the album’s highlights-an impressive showing for both producer and vocalist.
Flako and Floating Points were already friends and Eglo label mates of Fatima’s prior to ‘Yellow Memories’, but several of the album’s producers came from further afield. A Hip-Hop head since her days growing up in Stockholm, Fatima made a pilgramage of sorts out to Los Angeles to meet Madlib’s brother Oh No, sample wizard KNXWLEDGE and Kendrick Lamar collaborating hitmaker Scoop DeVille. Despite meeting the former two in person, she layed down vocals to their beats-the jazzily arpeggiated groove of ‘Technology’ and the breezy whistle powered Soul of ‘Underwater’, at home in London. Scoop DeVille’s ‘Ridin’ Round (Sky High)’ however was recorded on location at the producer’s studio on a “…typical California day”. Cresting one of the most polished beats she’s ever ridden-a massive mesh of purring sub and multitracked vocals, Fatima somehow manages the difficult task of sounding at once both assured and vulnerable in the same song. Working on the track was one of the most positive experiences in the making the record, something she relays to me whilst sipping her herbal tea. “I saw a hummingbird and the sun was shining. That day felt like a dream.”
Known primarily for her vocal chops and her astute approach in picking beats prior to this record, one thing that particularly comes to the fore on this record is the renewed scope of Fatima’s songwriting. ‘Do Better’ harks back to her desire to escape the grind of the 9 to 5 whilst she was working in retail, juxtaposing her frustration with grandiose multi instrumental swells (which were lent some extra oomph by none other than Theo Parrish), whilst closer ‘Gave Me My Name’ is a touching stripped back lament on the void left by her absentee father. On a musical level Fatima is looking forward to people hearing the approach she took with the latter tune. “I’m not ‘hiding’. I’m not part of loads of layers or elements, its really straight on and raw and just really powerful. I haven’t done loads of tunes like that so for me its fun to be able to showcase my voice in a different way.”
Probing her further on where she derives the inspiration for her lyrics on introspective numbers such as ‘Gave Me My Name’ elicits an intriguing response. “(The songs) don’t necessarily have to be about me, but I think the majority of these songs are taken from a personal place and just personal experiences. I do write about other things that haven’t just happened to me straight like that. It could be about something, I’ve seen or read in the paper-something that affected me. Whether or not its about me, its something that affected me to the extent that I feel like writing about it.”
The title is one component of the record that is most definitely drawn from personal experience. “All these experiences that are on this album are taken from my past and they’re all stored in the back of my mind, like my memory. The word ‘Yellow’ comes from looking at old family photos and seeing a photo of my grandma’s house and it happened to be yellow. That house to me is a symbol of my childhood and I used to go out there and visit a lot as a kid….its a symbol for my family and love and the past .” Whilst her relationship with her father is obviously a source of some sadness, it seems Fatima and her mother are much closer. A voice of encouragement throughout her occasionally trying early days as an emerging singer, Fatima speaks lovingly of the role she’s played in her success. “Because being an artist is not always the easiest route in life-or career choice, you have to go through a lot of ups and downs, so sometimes she’s been like ‘are you sure you really wanna do this?’, but I’m like yes I have to do this because that’s me. So she’s always been supporting me throughout all that stuff and that’s why I love her because she’s got my back.”
With the record-a product of many months labour, finally out in the world, Fatima is now able to set her sights on an exciting summer of touring with her live band. Comprised of Jonathan Geyveu (keys), Andre January (drums), Junior (percussion) and Hercules (bass), the quintet are a tight group, who are only “getting better and tighter” the more and more they play together. Pride of place on their summer schedule is the opening concert for Outlook Festival in Pula’s ancient Roman amphitheater, where they will be supporting a certain Miss Lauryn Hill. A “superfan” of the one time Fugee since she was a kid, Fatima lights up when she talks about the gig. “I used to go to all their shows and she really influenced me too. Cos I come from like a big Hip Hop background so I used to like going to a lot of battles and Hip Hop shows around Stockholm and Lauryn Hill is the perfect marriage of Rap and singing so I used to look up to her.” With this accomplished debut record under her belt and an army of well wishers willing her to succeed, there’s no reason why Fatima shouldn’t occupy the same stage as her hero with her head held high and proud.
‘Yellow Memories’ is out now on Eglo Records. Buy it here.
Words: Christian Murphy
Photography: Conor McTernan