Born in East London Szjerdene, an artist with a phenomenal, unique voice, now lives in Amsterdam. Having previously penned collaborations with leading producers and recently one of the scenes most pioneering figures – Bonobo she is cited for a long and successful career! Her collaboration with Bonobo on ‘The North Borders’ Album and Tour saw her going on to play over 175 different shows, including the incredible closing show at Alexandra Palace! 2015 brings new and exciting things, one of which is the release of her beautiful new single ‘Are You Here’ and more recently, ‘Find me’ (and of course – Nubian Skin tights!)
Szjerdene – thank you for taking some time to have a chat with us! When did you first realise that you were blessed with a beautiful voice?
[laughs] Sorry, I saw this question and was just laughing to myself. It’s really kind, it’s really very kind of you! But I think just from singing along to lots of my favourite singers and enjoying it and getting positive feedback – and not just from my mum being a supportive parent, but from friends and other people also involved in music, it was encouraged that it was something that I should go and give it a go and try for, so I think all the feedback and just enjoyment and fulfilment [helped me to realise]. And just hearing similarities in some of the things I was trying to do in the music that I was listening to, it kind of all fit together as a bit of a puzzle – so that’s how I got the confidence to pursue it I guess!
So, did you always want to pursue singing, or did you ever have any other dreams?
Well I have lots of interests; I’m into photography, interior design, music therapy and gardening! My interests are on a varied and wide spectrum, but music is the one thing I’m passionate about out of all of those. I’d like to pay attention to [those other things] later in life, but it’s definitely music which I’m focussed on and feel the most fulfilment from – so yeah, I’ll honour those [other] things in due time. Singing wasn’t always what I wanted to do but since I decided ‘yeah, let’s do it’, maybe in 2007, ever since then I’ve been like: go, go, go!
You’ve collaborated with artists such as Bonobo – what drew you towards him in particular?
Well he actually approached me, which was quite cool! I didn’t really know his work too deeply before I got the e-mail about him, so it was a really nice, organic relationship and realisation of his impact in music. At first we were just e-mailing, then we had some skype calls just to discuss his project and maybe his expectations from me, and once I had heard his music it was just a bit of a no-brainer really! I was just taken away and blown away by the intricate detail he puts into his production, and I think he’s really a genius! So it was a bit of realising his impact and also just being moved by the music that he makes which drew me towards him.
Definitely! Who are your inspirations – both musically and in life?
In general, I just think people who work hard! I love to see people that are grafting, it could be any profession really. I find inspiration in the weirdest and wildest places, but also just in everyday life. So, people that have a commitment to improve themselves, and make the most out of what they have – that’s truly inspiring! And then members of my family like my mum and sister – they’re also good examples of people that just persistently work hard to try and better their position and provide more for all three of us… And then within music I guess those artists that are able to combine substance and style and conviction and grace – wrapped up into one! So Corinne Bailey-Rae, you never hear any mad press about her, she’s known for her music and being true to her art. Artists that really live for their art as well are really inspiring!
Who would you say were your biggest influences then?
Growing up, Sarah Vaughn. I listened to a lot of jazz music so Sarah Vaughn, I really loved her tone and style. And Corinne Bailey-Rae, Amy Winehouse – just for the fact that they sang in British accents and for ages you’re kind of looking to the American market as you’re growing up because singer songwriters in a UK sense…didn’t blow up as much as it did say around 2005/6. So as I was discovering music for myself those were the people that I looked to and thought ‘wow you don’t have to sing in an American accent’, you can really talk about your life and what you’re experiencing and sound like you! So that was really refreshing to hear. And then Amel Larrieux, she has an amazing vocal tone! And then just instrumental musicians and pianists and people who just play for the sake of expression. I’m drawn to more individuals and people with specific tones and qualities to their voice or talent.
That’s really cool. Can you tell us about your single Are You Here – it’s just so beautiful?
Thank you! Well I worked with a producer called Glen Nicholls, he also goes by the name of ATATIKA. We worked together seven years ago, well ages ago, on a song called ‘Blue Lullaby’ – I don’t know if you’re supposed to have favourites, but I think it’s one of my favourite tracks! Just for the sense that our combination of styles really fit well, and I think it definitely shows where I’m at musically today even if you listen to it and it’s seven years later. So we worked on that song all that time ago, and then he sent the production for this song last year, and I had written the vocal and everything and recorded and sent back to him in an evening, but it was just – some songs are really easy to write because they just feel right, and feel perfect. I’m still so impressed by his understanding of how my vocal works, and our chemistry together musically is something that is really special. So it was amazing that he called me back to say ‘I’ve got this idea’ and ‘how would you feel to write to it’? I’m really happy that it actually worked because not everything turns out as you intend. So, it was just done on the internet and we sent ideas back and forward, and he mixed and mastered himself. That’s kind of that wrapped up in a story!
So – we’re delighted to see that you’re wearing Nubian Skin tights (pictured above)!! What’s your tone?
I’m Berry, so that’s the last one in the range, the darkest brown. It’s just funny because when I was younger people used to call me ‘Szjer-Berry’ which is maybe a bit embarrassing [laughs], but I was just like yeah – berry is my tone! So for now, I have the tights and I’m yet to open the hold-ups but I have them and am saving them for a really special occasion. I really couldn’t tell you how amazing it was to wear them, I didn’t think I could get this excited about hosiery! But it was a cold day and I needed to wear a dress – the event that I was going to was a shoe launch and I didn’t want to just go out – the dress was really short – and I didn’t want to just go out in this and have the wind make an accident happen, and I also didn’t want to wear trousers because for shoes if I’m taking pictures – you really want to see the product. I’d ordered them to my house and they were just sitting there waiting for the right occasion. I put them on and I was just so blown away – I felt like Beyoncé [laughs]! My legs were just so smooth and I really couldn’t believe it! So I was just shouting and raving about it to everyone. But yeah, such a fantastic product, really, really amazing.
Thank you – that’s great! Why do you think it’s important that women should be able to find their own ‘nude’?
We come in different shapes and sizes and I think that’s an amazing thing, [it’s] really beautiful that we don’t all look the same, but nude is nude is nude. So if a person of a lighter skin tone can identify with their own, then I think it’s important to cater to everyone so they can have their piece of ‘nude’ and express themselves in that way if they wish to. It’s nice to be able to blend and match if you want to be able to do that, so it’s only right that there’s product for everyone to call this so-called ‘nude’. It kind of just seems like ‘duh’ [laughs], it just should be, y’know?
Definitely! So finally, what is one valuable piece of life advice you’d give to the Nubian ladies out there?
I’m only 26 [laughs] I’ve only had a quarter of my life! But I would say, just follow your instincts, just trust your inhibition and trust your personal insight – you were given that for a reason and everyone has a bit of them that is not found in anyone else, so use that as an advantage, and use that as a strength – and follow it. Just listen your heart, listen to whatever calls the loudest – it’s saying it for a reason! They’re good guides!
Yes – just listen to your heart!
Thank you so much for your time and for speaking with us today – we’re really excited to hear what you’ll be bringing us next!
Listen to Szjerdene’s brand new single Find Me (out 24th July)