It’s a Sunday, we are in the heart of Peckham and the skies are grey. In the GUAP office at just after 12, the office has become cramped with the number of people and sheer amount of clothes that have been brought in. Today is cover shoot day, and the star for this issue is relatively quietly chilling in the corner with her headphones half on. It is of course the lovely Hamzaa. As with any shoot things aren’t running exactly as planned – the problem for this one being the weather. Despite this the first look gets shot without too much trouble, and the second look which is the cover look goes smoothly aside from Hamzaa’s toe getting stuck in her shoe for a moment and rain just starting to come down as some last shots are captured. As the rain get’s heavier and we rush to get back inside we get a glimpse into our 20 year old songstress’s character. Despite the rain, or maybe because of it, someone decides to play Missy Elliot ‘The Rain’ on the speaker which causes Hamzaa to slow her retreat in doors to break out into an impromptu routine perfectly in time with the iconic track. Once back inside things are set up for the interview and Hamzaa changes into her final outfit ready to get back outside as soon as there’s a break in the rain. Luckily the rain gives out as soon as she’s changed so the interview gets pushed back to after all the looks are shot. Final looks shot, interview equipment set up, we finally sit down for a chat.
We’re joined by our cover star Hamzaa, how are you doing?
I’m good, doing all right, not too shabby!
So the topic for this issue is obviously humble beginnings, so what does that mean to you?
Humble beginnings means to me honesty. It means hard work, sacrifice. I guess it also means starting small and growth… room for growth.
So would you say you came from humble beginnings?
I mean I would hope so! I think I would say I come from humble beginnings because this journey didn’t start as something that I always said I wanted to do. I’ve been performing since I was like 3 years old and you know just nurturing my talent. Growing up in performing arts in summertime I’d be doing shows, acting schools, and you know little summer clubs. I went to school like everyone else too but then naturally, organically it happened.
So where did you grow up?
That’s a good question because I grew up essentially in two places really. I was born in London and live in Hackney. East London all day everyday ya dunkno. But I also went to boarding school, private school in Surrey and in Sussex. So I’ve kind of been a product of two sorts of environment.
So would you say your background of being from Hackney and going into that kind of environment affected you?
I think being from Hackney and then going to school in the places that I did kind of made me realise a lot faster and a lot more intensely who I am. In a sense that I kind of learnt that I was…not street smart because that has a lot of negative connotations, but I’d say I was cultured. And I took that into where I went to school and I still remained the same way, I could still hang out with my friends from Hackney. I could still you know, stay in touch with what was going on I was never out of touch. And bear in mind to go to schools like this I had to get scholarships and bursaries. It’s not like I went there and my mum was paying 30 grand, like she had to struggle and grind hard for me to actually go to school like that. So it kind of showed me what it means to work for something and that it’s not something just handed to you.
So you spoke about your culture and things that shape you, how much does your heritage shape you?
Well my heritage, I’m actually Kenyan and Zambian with a little bit of Scottish in there as well. And I think coming from a home where my mum has very much shown me you know where I’m from, and I’ve been back to Kenya before I’ve been to Zambia, the music, the food, the people, the mannerisms and everything is very much a part of who I am. And if you’re with me on a daily basis you’ll know that’s a big part of me, and my family around me, my mums friends, like everyone is a very big part of who I am. A very very big part.
So what would you say are the biggest struggles you have faced or are yet to face in terms of your career?
In terms of my career I would say my biggest struggle has been to overcome, well the biggest one for me and I’ll try to make it concise is: learning how to balance being an artists with a career and this is my life and it is what I do everyday but also that I’m still really young, I’m 20 years old. Like any 20-year-old, figuring out myself, relationships with people, how I deal with people, who I want to be around, and how I am in certain situations. And sometimes it gets confused and as someone so young, I would only be in my second year of university, and I’m literally being thrown into…well not thrown into because this is what I wanted but I’m in something that’s a lot bigger than myself. But then in my own personal life I’m dealing with stuff that any normal 20-year-old does but I cant deal with it in the same way because my life is more on the screen and people can see what I’m doing. And its hard for people to understand, especially the ones around me, that yes, I’m now somewhat financially stable and I might be somewhat making my way into some big limelight, but I still have normal people problems.
So you said you’ve been performing since 3, what got you into performing like that?
I feel like as a kid what got me into performing was the fact that one, I’m an only child, so I just got bored a lot and my mum used to play really really good music in the house. From when I was [in]…you know those bouncer things that hang from the ceiling. My mum would play Lingala music, Congolese music and so that was like my first introduction to music I had. So very rhythmic, very you know rich and intense sounds, guitar sounds, vocals, harmonies, very strong music she played a lot of 80s and soul. So around me I was always around music. Dancing, at family parties I was that kid on the dancefloor that was holding the chicken drumstick on the dancefloor always the life of the party from very young. And so, I think a way for my mum to tame that for her own peace of mind was to shove me on an hour every Saturday somewhere I could get it all out without being a nuisance.
So when did that transform from being an outlet for you and your mum to becoming a career?
I’d say the transition from it being an outlet to it being my career sort of happened when I left sixth form. I promise you; I kid you not, I wanted to go into international business. I wanted to go to like Canada or Amsterdam and study international business, but I found myself feeling very lost when I was at school. So, I was like you know what I need to leave school and do something that’s going to benefit me and make me feel happy, but I wasn’t sure what it was. And I could produce, I’ve been able to produce music since I was in year 7 so I used to just make tracks on my laptop, record at home, very humble. [Giggles and clicks fingers] humble beginnings. Produced tracks and wrote tracks on my own on my laptop and that it just started there when one day I was confident enough to release music on like SoundCloud.
So in a previous interview you said you write your goals down on a board in your room, what’s the latest goal you’ve added?
The latest goal that’s been added is…well this year on my vision board I had: sell out Omeara, travel for music, lose 60 pounds – but that’s not going to happen and I mean weight not money, a charting single, 100k views on a video, sell out another venue, and go on a tour. So far, I’ve been able to tick off sell out Omeara, travel for music, 100k views for a video, and the others are yet to be fulfilled. I try not to add or remove goals from my vision board just because if you set yourself something at the beginning of the year the aim is to reach it and just because other people are doing things it shouldn’t alter your own goals because you’re only running your own race. It’s not even a race but you’re only on your own journey not anyone else’s and their success won’t take away from you being successful in the future.
So you started the year in a big way, you released your debut project, how was the process behind you releasing your debut project?
We put it out, yeah, I guess you could say at the beginning of this year, it did come out officially the end of last year but the campaign for it kind of picked up a bit this year. The process behind dropping the project was just make the music. The main thing was just making the music. I’d already written a lot of it before I then put it in to produced music. Some of the songs like ‘Red’ I produced and wrote myself before the project, like I’ve had ‘Red’…’Red’ is old like its maybe two years old that was on my SoundCloud disgustingly mixed, it was just not cute but you’ve got to start somewhere. So ‘Red’ was really old, I had ‘Saving Grace’ written a long time before the project came out, and then ‘Breathing’, ‘Stranded Love’, ‘You’ and ‘Nothing Can Be Done’ was all new stuff. So it was literally just a matter of getting in the studio and then sitting down with my team, who at the time was very small, sitting down with my managers and we would just sit down and talk about what kind of stamp we wanted to make for my first project and what we wanted people to know of Hamzaa as a first thing.
How did you go into the process of deciding how you would get that motivation to showcase Hamzaa across?
I think what made me want to put myself out in this kind of way on this kind of project was because a big part of an artist’s success, and people wanting to buy the music and tickets is people feeling like they know you. Because I don’t really connect well with artists that I don’t feel I get an insight into them, when I feel like it’s a very front facing thing, rather than an inside thing. So, what I tried to do was let people into my world a little bit without them feeling like I was doing too much. Tried to make some bops and some heart wrenchers.
So you mentioned ‘Breathing’ what made you split it into a part 1 and 2?
Interesting question, d’you know what the reason why we did that is first of all because ‘Breathing pt.1’, which I just call ‘Breathing’ because it’s weird to call it part 1, on its own was very powerful. And I remember at first Wretch  was like “yoo! I need to be on this”, he wanted to be on the original and as great as that would have been it wouldn’t have given ‘Breathing’ the chance to do its own thing and let people hear the whole story from me. So, when I was doing some stuff with the label we were talking like okay well how do you want to go about this we’ve got some video content coming up and live sessions blah blah blah, and then what do you want to do next. And I was like you know what a ‘Breathing’ remix would work, we’re still promoting the EP and still trying to get the EP further out because for me all I care about is reach, in terms of like commercial success. Whether I’m selling 10 records in Indonesia, or 5000 records in London, or a million records in China, or one record in Spain, I don’t care it’s just the reach. So, we were just thinking of ways to expand the audience hearing ‘Breathing pt.2’ and then attach themselves to the original EP without there being a disconnect. And so, Wretch and Ghetts just made perfect sense because they’re both legends they’re both lyricists, and they both had a story to tell and they both reached out to me. So, they wanted to be a part of that and what better way to create a song than organically.
So now that you’ve got to this stage where people you consider legends are reaching out to you, I want to know what would your dream collaboration be?
I hate this question! My dream collaboration…I hate this question because I don’t know, everyone. There’s so many great artists out there. This isn’t a dream collaboration but I would love to work with Khalid, I mean he’s a great guy I met him when I was in LA, and London as well and he’s just super cool and knows what he want for himself and he just turned 21 in February I think. He’s great and that’s someone that you know is very open to things and just makes great music and makes the music he wants; I want to work with people like that. You know what actually my dream live session would be to sing with John Legend at a piano, and you know what song it would be ‘So High’. Oh my days that would be so hard.
I’ve heard a new track your working on, ‘London’, what made you feel like you needed to make a track like that?
I felt like I needed to write a song like ‘London’ because we’re all so tense and angry and divided but we all know how much we love London. As a Londoner you know in your heart there’s nowhere like home regardless of where you go or where you want to live in life, there’s nowhere like home. Even though the songs very light hearted and the lyrics are toned down and it’s just very calm, the sentiment behind it you’ll be able to attach your own thing to it. When you listen to the song you’ll think of your own memory to it whether it’s from your childhood, after school, Sunday morning, and that’s what I wanted to create.
So what was the memory it brought for you?
The memory for me…well when I was younger, I used to go to a place called Hampstead Church when I was like 7-ish years old, and we just used to be in church until like 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Then there’d be food, and then there was like bible games, and it was just so fun. Or of just like galivanting at night when you weren’t supposed to be galivanting, going around on ends going around different blocks moving reckless with your friends or family doing a madness. Or family link ups or you and your cousin going for a walk. No monumental things but just like things that make up our time in a place. You could even be from Sao Paolo, or New York and the same principle applies, it’s the little things that matter to you that you can’t get anywhere else.
Last question, what else can we expect from Hamzaa for the rest of the year?
From Hamzaa in the future you can expect big and better. More music, more visuals. Experiences, I’m trying to create experiences for people. I want people to need to see me live, to need to buy my merch, to need to listen my songs, to need to be a part of my journey. Not because of my selfish gain but because they will feel like they need to go and hear this new Hamzaa album because they’re feeling like this. Or they need to go to the show because they know the live band is sick and her backing vocals always come through. I want to create like a whole world. You know Beyoncé, her shows are always sick her dancing, her band, her this, her that. I want to create that; I want to create a whole experience of Hamzaa that people feel like they can be a part of at all times. And I don’t ever want to feel too out of reach of people, never. Like I want to be able to in 5 years go to my local corner shop and just buy some crisps you know what I’m saying. But to do that you need to build a space where you are accessible at all times. People always tell me “no, no, no, sooner or later it’s going to be hard for you to do xy and z” but if you create an experience for people, they don’t feel out of touch. Whereas if you’re just making records and selling records, and selling out shows, and you’re never to be seen just on covers of magazines, or – I mean that’s a great thing. But you know what I mean like certain artists you only ever see their face when they do a photoshoot, or when they’re on stage, or when they’re taking pictures of themselves shopping in a shop by themselves. And that’s not the kind of person I want to be, I want to be a part of everything.