‘Someone once suggested I take up smoking as a way to calm down’
Life Lessons: Sallay Matu Garnett, aka Loah 'My biggest flaw is overworking, which can lead to burnout, so I’m trying to work on it'
Loah performs at the Body&Soul festival in Co Westmeath. Photograph: Allen Kiely Photography/Olga Kuzmenko
Irish/Sierra Leonean soul singer Sallay Matu Garnett, aka Loah, gave up a career in pharmacy to become a full-time musician. She has worked with artists including Hozier and Kila. She will perform with Bantum at the Pepper Canister Church on Saturday, September 7th, as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival. Fringefest.com
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your life?
Most of the things I look back on that were supremely challenging at the time have really changed in how I view them with hindsight. Certainly in my adult life, changing career from one of the most stable professions going to one of the most potentially unstable was a real rollercoaster that required all my focus and persistence.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
I take advice from very few, select people and they get revisited on a frequent basis. My mum’s nugget is “meet life halfway”, my dad’s is to meditate every day, and my singing coach Judith Mok is my guru on all things work-related.
And the worst?
I generally avoid this unfortunate side-effect of life because I’m very selective about who I take advice from! Although someone once suggested I should take up smoking as a way to calm down, which I found particularly amusing.
Is there a moment that changed your life?
Arriving in Banjul, Gambia, from Maynooth, Co Kildare, at the age of 12 dramatically changed the course of my life.
Who do you admire most?
There are many, so I’ll focus on one person that interests me at the moment. I’m reading a historical fiction trilogy by author/historian Kathleen McGowan, based around the events of the time of Christ and the European legacy of Jesus and Mary Magdalene (as I’m playing Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar at the Barbican in London at the moment). The trilogy postulates they were married and weaves in the Gnostic gospels. I’m really impressed by McGowan’s use of medieval history, folklore, art and architecture and good old-fashioned storytelling to weave a delightfully subversive and exciting version of one of the most influential events in history. I’m a huge history fan, particularly medieval, and the level of detail is fascinating. Anyone who gives that much attention to detail in their work is worthy of admiration in my book.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
Joni Mitchell and Erykah Badu. They are both profoundly inspired songwriters, crafted performers of both their work and others’, ferociously independent and intelligent women working in an unforgiving industry who both retain their femininity, elegance and a damn good sense of humour – which one needs in heaped doses!
What practical thing do you do to help your personal development?
Lots of self-care such as counselling, treatments when I can, and journalling so I can track where I’ve been, where I am and where I’d like to go. I’m also doing an online degree over the next few years because I feel there’s always so much more to learn.
What is your biggest flaw?
Time management and overworking. I struggle with this and it can make me flaky to dear friends, as I’ll often overbook myself in work without considering personal or familial obligations and precious downtime. It can lead to burnout and feeling isolated, so it’s something I’m really trying to work on.
What is your worst habit?
Making promises to friends that I can’t keep due to work obligations. I think it’s something that affects a lot of self-employed people because there isn’t the same sense of ease when you ‘leave the desk’ as you’re accountable for the success or failure of the endeavour.
What are you most proud of in your life?
Making the change from being a full-time pharmacist to a full-time artist. It was a real challenge with lots of uncertainty but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made for myself.
What is your motto for life?
Try not to summarise it! There is such complexity and pain and beauty in it all that I couldn’t hope to have one approach to all situations, but I do try and knock as much craic out of it as I can and I hope to give the best of myself in all situations I find myself in.