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Meet Kamal, the Gen Z prodigy blending romance with introspection

The rising North West London star talks about melding genres with his sound, being inspired by his locality, and his latest mixtape.

By Nicolas Tyrell-Scott

Kamal (Picture: Press)

When Kamal shared an early release called ‘homebody’ in March 2020, he had no idea it was about to foreshadow the months stuck at home that were about to follow. While lockdown was undoubtedly a challenging time, the track sees the singer embracing the comfort of staying indoors, as his soothing voice blends with guitar riffs to put forward the case for solace and stillness behind closed doors

Born and raised in Harlesden, Kamal.’s obsession with locality can also be found in follow-up singles like ‘autopilot’ and ‘lose’ — with elements such as Transport For London buses and local greenery across the country dominating his artistic direction. “We are exploring more abstract concepts for my new mixtape [‘so here you are, drowning’].” he admits.

There’s a matter-of-fact and refreshing voice to Kamal’s music too. He doesn’t usually hide behind an abundance of metaphors; instead, he latches onto his realities, particularly fusing these components into his subdued meld of pop, indie, and R&B. “I love being inspired by everything I grew up on, it’s not about sound, more than it is about feeling,” he asserts with a smile. Read our full Q&A with Kamal below.

Coming from places of rich musical backgrounds like England, Trinidad, and Belize, what genres would you say your music has an affinity to?

I listen to quite a variety of genres honestly. I can listen to anything from jazz and classical to the UK rap scene that I’m quite tapped into. I’d say recently, I’m quite intrigued by a lot of the next generation of that scene — so people like Len, and Jim Legacy. It’s the genre-bending specifically, we’re talking about being from London and the music here, the UK underground is the most London-sounding music, it couldn’t exist without the timings of everything and being from here. That’s what’s inspiring at the moment, but because I have such an eclectic ear, I’m not swayed by just one part of music, it all has an impact.

Listening to your music over the last few years, it feels like your music is becoming more playful and rap inspired in your flow. Is that an accurate perception?

I think on my new mixtape, so here you are, drowning, there are definitely a couple of tracks that fit my older, more indie-leaning side, but I definitely agree that the last two singles have a lot more of a rap-infused flow to them. I think that’s always been there naturally in the way that I’ve approached verses, because I listen to that a lot it’s natural for me to get the bars out and speak in a bit more of a provocative way. But I do go back to the sad boy, slower vibes on this EP too.

That’s interesting because I have noted that your older works, songs such as ‘homebody’ contain a slowness to them that allows you to translate ideas. How do you see slowness in relation to the output of your musical ideas?

Slowness and softness have been overarching feelings because firstly starting in lockdown brought those approaches to the table and how stagnancy was making me feel and I think it’s music that’s easy to tap into when I’m in a certain mood. I think it makes my music appeal to those people who have a general feeling of being downs and it’s easier for them to tap into. My feelings just aligned with that. But I really do want to experiment with the pace and depths of layers and have more overall scope in what I decide to do.

What’s the most unique song you’ve recorded for so here you are, drowning? Unpack what the process was like and why it’s unique to you now.

It’s a song called ‘sex on you’. My manager didn’t like it at first because she said that I was getting too raunchy.

How did you guys manage that specific conversation?

She’s the best, I’m glad she’s someone who challenges my opinions and isn’t necessarily a yes person. It challenges my thinking and sometimes she’s right. We talked it out on this song, but it’s testing the boundaries of what I’m talking about in my music, being that little bit more vulnerable. The sounds are also different too, it’s more electronic driven and a little different on the chorus with pitching my voice up.

Speaking of electronica and experimenting specifically with your voice, do you like toying with your voice or cloaking it in the way that that specific genre does so often for impact?

With each song, it’s a conversation in relation to how vocals are treated. For me, reverb, compression, and delay are all tools. It’s a question of, on that particular song, is it going to accentuate what I’m saying? I can think of one song on this project “leave me alone” where we made the vocals more stripped back and raw, because sometimes you want the balance of raw with instrumentals. People like James Blake, who bend the rules in music and like to play with sound.

When you say test do you mean with your audience, your family, and friends, what was talking about your sexuality here testing for you?

I think sexuality is a subject that needs to be navigated tenderly. The reason I wanted to do it is that I want to be in a place where everything I do or talk about is coming from an honest place where I’m at. Like if something is on my mind I can explore it — I know I’m making a big deal out of it, but it’s genuinely like if I don’t feel like i can say what I want to say I don’t feel like I can be an honest artist in my career. It’s about what makes me feel free as an artist. I never want to feel like I’m limiting myself or making myself smaller to make people feel more comfortable listening to my stuff

Your visual identity initially centred on locality — elements like neighbourhoods, the home, and buses. Was that intentional and how does it inform your music.

Again, part of it was the lockdown, and my songs centering the home and routine. In a lot of the music on my first EP we’re outside I used the idea of the house as a representation of a withdrawal in society. In the new visuals, I’m branching out in the themes I’m introducing, there’s a real rhythm with experimenting like water for example, I want people to be challenged more with my music.

I know that Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water informed the overarching water theme of your latest project. Has any other works of literature helped to inform your approach to songwriting and music?

I read a book of Murakami’s Short Stories recently and I thought that the way that he put them together and the feeling of so many hidden meanings behind them was impressive to me and it’s definitely something that I’m trying to interpret to my music — the obvious messaging but the underlying moral story to the pieces too.

You decided to step into music and navigate the industry at a sensitive and tentative period across the pandemic. What have you learned with the world opening back up and how have both environments impacted your career?

Because music is a career path tied so intrinsically to your sense of self-worth, I’m learning that it’s important to keep both elements at a nice equilibrium because as soon as there’s an imbalance one will be impacted. If I’m feeling insecure for example, it could make me doubt myself or second guess myself in the studio. That will all impact how I’m viewing myself again. It’s managing my energy, and expectations and trying to look after myself. When you’re the commodity in a situation it’s about staying stable mentally and not letting it get too crazy.