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more than labels: lianne la havas

Image by Jean-Marc Bellenger, via Wikipedia

Image by Jean-Marc Bellenger, via Wikipedia

I first heard of Lianne La Havas upon listening to a Buzzfeed podcast one fateful day, where La Havas had made a guest appearance.  La Havas is a black London-born ‘folk and soul’ singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has infinitely improved my playlist with her music, which ranges from classy soul-jazz to sultry rock.

However, the woman herself does not necessarily identify with the genre of ‘folk and soul’ given to her. La Havas dislikes the categorisation of her music and even the notion of having genres at all, as she believes that this may ultimately exclude listeners. She prefers instead to define her music in terms of how it makes listeners feel and perhaps categorise it based on that. Indeed, nowadays, music can be an amalgamation of characteristics drawing from many different kinds of music and genres that it is difficult to define it precisely.

As a woman of colour, La Havas also makes a reference to the fact that just because she is brown does not mean that her music should automatically be labelled as ‘soul’. La Havas has been quite outspoken on this particular issue when asked about black female artists who feel marginalised in the music industry. Indeed, earlier this year in The Guardian, she muses: ‘If you’re a black female singer, there’s this feeling you have to do urban music, R&B, soul, and only that… I just think, why can’t you play guitar and be black, you know?’ She describes such generalisations as ‘ludicrous’. Instead, she yearns for an unpackaged future for her music whereby her being of colour is not a definitive measure or indeed, any sort of measure at all, of her style. The way an artist’s music sounds is not necessarily shaped by the colour of their skin.

Getting her inspiration from 90s dance and soul music, such as Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, reggae and Mary J Blige (which her mother used to play in the car), La Havas bangs out some of the sweetest songs I’ve ever heard. Popular upbeat hits such as ‘What You Don’t Do’ (my personal favourite), ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘Age’ have made my daily dance choreography sessions in the shower even more enjoyable than usual. Note though, that her silky smooth and calming voice also makes for amazing background music to unwind to after a long day. Simply closing your eyes and listening to La Havas is an experience which, I feel, can be equated to a therapeutic massage or a nice long nap.

Additionally, La Havas’s songs often stem from some sort of personal experience, as is the case with many artists. I imagine listeners with their ears wagging, gleefully rubbing their hands together upon hearing the personal backdrop accompanying her song ‘Age’. It cheekily paints a story of a beautiful relationship with an older man after having been ditched whilst in an abusive relationship with a man her own age. The real life, loss and love behind La Havas’s music is what really forms a connection with listeners, especially female listeners who often thank La Havas for the stories she shares with them.

It caused a seismic shift in the music industry when La Havas one day just picked up a guitar, wrote a couple of songs, and never looked back. And at only 26 years old, La Havas is only on the way up.


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