Mahalia: Love and Compromise review – Hard-learned lessons joyously delivered
Love and Compromise
R&B / Soul
With an early September release, British singer Mahalia’s debut album misses the cut-off point for the Twitter meme Hot Girl Summer, borne from Megan Thee Stallion’s song of the same name, but she’s just in time Cool Girl Autumn with her totally joyous and effortlessly slick collection of R&B and neo-soul infused songs.
Opening track Hide Out begins with a snippet of a 1982 interview with singer Eartha Kitt, where she discusses love and compromise. A journalist asks the American singer “Can anyone live with Eartha Kitt?”, to which she responds “That’s not for me to decide. That’s for someone who decides to live with me to decide. Not for me.” He continues to press her: “But are you willing to compromise within a relationship?” She abhors the idea. “Compromise? What is compromising? Compromising for what reason? To compromise? For what!” Not just the name of the album, this is the defiant spirit that this 21-year-old from Leicester shares on the nonchalant I Wish I Missed My Ex. A bouncy and carefree song that celebrates the art of moving on, you can practically hear her smiling as she sings the lyrics “Too many missed calls, too many texts. Damn, I wish I missed my ex”.
Self-preservation and self-confidence are the key ingredients in her writing style. Simmer, her dance-hall summer collaboration with the Nigerian-London singer Burna Boy, celebrates the work it takes to earn both her trust and her heart. Good Company is the headstrong but flirtatious song where Mahalia strengthens the message that smooching on the couch doesn’t immediately guarantee a sleepover. This song changes pace by zorbing into a vortex of thudding beats, spaced out strings and electronic hand claps. A voice message plays where a label honcho praises the singer and the album’s executive producer Felix Joseph. “The s**t makes me feel like I was roller skating,” he laughs, confirming the abundance of love, fun and pride that went into making this album.
Signed since she was 13 years old and releasing singles since 2015, Mahalia has not just found her voice but has enhanced it stylistically and literally, picking up fans in the likes of her labelmate Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar and Ms Lauryn Hill and making it to the longlist of BBC’s Sound of 2019 poll. But it wasn’t always easy sailing for the singer. She nearly quit the music business in 2017 because even though she was on a label, she felt as if she was wasting her time. At a tipping point, the online popularity of Sober – a non-album track that deals with the tricky topic of drunk-dialling – gave her the confidence to soldier on.
By taking on the pains of heartbreak, she delivers hard-learned lessons on confessional songs such as Do Not Disturb and What You Did, which cleverly samples Cam’ron’s 2002 single Oh Boy, a song that reworks the melody of Rose Royce’s 1976 bare-all ballad I’m Going Down. She tackles womanhood and adulthood in a similar style to singers SZA and Nao while looking to the soul of the 1970s and picking up tricks of confidence from Kitt. She makes her mark as an honest and verbally sharp songwriter, even if her voice melts like butter as she cuts no-good boyfriends down to size.
Love and Confidence may feel as if it was a long time coming but the twists and turns it took for Mahalia to get to this point, from romantic failures to professional struggles, were what pushed her from having a talent to becoming a unique voice.