B-AHWE: "IF YOU’RE TOO FOCUSED ON WHAT WAS MEANT TO HAPPEN YOU CAN MISS OUT ON WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN"
B-ahwe is an artist quickly rising in stature, with listeners in love with her genre-crossing approach, and mesmerising vocal performances. On the back of the release of her new project, ‘26% MIXTAPE’, she embarked on a UK tour. We sat down with her at the Leeds show, to speak about the 26% MIXTAPE, vulnerability, comfort TV & much more.
So, you’re on tour for your new project, the 26% MIXTAPE. For those who may not know, what’s the significance of the name, what’s the 26% about?
“Basically, it’s about seeing age as a percentage and not a deadline and allowing ourselves a bit more patience and kindness on this trying journey that we’re all on. There’s so much pressure to achieve things by a certain age. Especially in your 20’s you start feeling like you need to have everything together by the time you turn 30. So much pressure on like, our bodies looking a certain way, our careers looking a certain way, our love lives looking a certain way; and it’s exhausting.”
“I was 25 in lockdown and it reached a real point of like, you know you have a quarter life crisis and you start being very aware of those things. And the process of this tape was me talking about those things quite a lot, and those societal pressures and working against them. Because I’ve chosen a career that does not fit into the usual lines of life progress, you know? You’re honing a craft and it takes a long time. You just have so much time to become hyper aware of like, as a woman, the pressure that’s on my body and my love life, and needing to appear a certain way all the time when actually we’re all just going through stuff. Basically, I just went through a lot through this tape, and a lot of the tape is talking about those growing pains and allowing ourselves some more patience and kindness and also, me finally growing up a bit and dealing with a lot of things I was running away from through the process of the tape. It’s a lot of things that were very present in lockdown, but also it's shit that we all deal with all the time.”
I agree, I think lockdown was that time where everyone had so much time for self-reflection that a lot of these things came flooding to you. Channelling them into something as amazing as this project is, is a great way of processing. One of my favourite songs from the project was ‘PercentAge’. I don’t know how you pronounce that?
“PercentAaaage. Nah it’s just Percentage haha.”
I was interested, because that deals quite literally with some of the themes you spoke about, was that the first song from the project that you made? Was that the catalyst for it?
“It was the last actually!”
Ahh interesting! So, did you arrive at those themes through creating the songs?
“For me it was more, like I was experimenting and producing for the first time and playing around with genres, and enjoying the music and the process and learning a lot. And through that a narrative started to form, and there started to be a theme and I started to realise all the things I just talked about, the things I’d be working through at that time and the things that were relevant to other people, not just myself.”
“For two years I’d been threading together all of these things I’d felt and was thinking and that song gave me the chance to cement it all in a really succinct way. That people can understand and put across the concepts of the mixtape in a way that’s more black and white, and it helps you feel the way of the other songs as well.”
You touched briefly on the genres you’ve explored on this, and obviously there is a lot of variation there. You’ve got the pop and R&B stuff, you’re rapping on some of it, you’ve got some DnB in there. What compels you to blend genres in that way? Is it your musical influences?
“I think influence is part of it, they’re all genres that have been part of my life in different ways. This project made me really realise that different genres are different catalysts for different emotions and different ways of processing things. I realised that I tend to lean more towards rap when there’s something I need to process, that I need more words to make myself sit down and really like, almost like I’m mind dumping my way through it.”
“Sometimes it’s that a certain genre lends a certain mood and makes you tell a certain story. Or, sometimes you create a song and you need a certain genre to tell the story. It’s always about serving the purpose of the narrative, serving the purpose of the story. If it doesn’t serve the song then it’s not the right choice.”
Genres are fun, they shouldn’t be restrictive to anyone. ‘Still Growing’ for example, the drum and bass tune, that song is about that snapping point when you’ve been stuck in bed and you can’t get out of bed and then you finally have this moment of like, ‘okay shit I’m just going to get over myself!’.”
Which lends itself so well to that genre.
“Yeah! It’s all like really sludging and grudging and it was like this dark soul tune, and then I had this session with my guitarist and we both looked at each other at the same time and we were like, ‘It needs to go drum and bass!’. Cause what else perfectly shows that hectic feeling of like, you’ve been so slow and pulling so hard and you just snap and you’re like, forcing yourself out of bed. And it’s still very chaotic and you’re still trying to accept and process what’s going on, but at least you’re trying!”
So, this project seems like a lot of your most personal work that you’ve done. What is it like putting so much of yourself into your work? Is that how you’ve always approached creating music? Does that ever become difficult, or make you feel vulnerable?
“Yeah, 100%! I’ve always been very vulnerable, like I’m a very emotional person. My last projects have been very emotive as well, but I think I used a lot more metaphorical language and I wasn’t as black and white about actual personal experiences and saying in more succinct terms what I was trying to say. Whereas, this project was a real turning point for me and using more black and white language, and part of what I was talking about earlier like pushing myself to process things and figure out what I’m really thinking and what I’m really trying to say. Which does feel a lot more vulnerable. Like it always feels vulnerable, but I didn’t feel it as much until coming on this tour, and playing these songs live for the first time. It feels, not harder, but it feels deeper definitely. It’s a different kind of experience of baring myself a bit more I would say.”
I suppose you can get caught up with the comfort of creating in the studio, so it doesn’t feel quite as vulnerable. But, when you’re on tour and in front of people it’s a different experience.
“Yeah, there’s nothing to hide behind.”
So, going off that, have you currently got a favourite song off the project, or perhaps a favourite song to perform off the project?
“’Still Growing’ is really fun to perform. It’s the Drum and Bass tune, I get to let my hair down. It’s just like a big moment where I get to get out a lot of frustration. You really channel yourself into the story of each song, so that song that’s about rushing through everything and remembering you’re still growing, and giving yourself a bit more time, but in this really energetic, frustrated way. Also, I’m stuck in a car all day, so it’s nice to scream!”
When you’re crafting a project like this, obviously it’s a long way from first ideas and concepts to the finished product. Did you ever have moments along that process where you doubted yourself or doubted what you were doing? And if you did, what was it that helped you get through those moments of time?
“Oh 100%! You don’t go into a project assuming straight away what it’s going to be. This was originally going to be an album. It was going to be something very different, and through working through it I realised it was still a very experimental phase for me and I was learning a lot. It’s some of the first things I’ve produced, and I was working with a lot of new producers and I wanted to play around with sound. Coming out of lockdown, I’d just released two other projects in lockdown, and my manager was just like you’re putting all this pressure on yourself that this needs to be your first album, but maybe you just need to let yourself enjoy the process. That was just so true, and allowing this to be a fun process and a learning process just changed it completely. And then I could channel that it’s about growth and finding patience and going through difficult periods. You’ve got to allow those, it’s like if you’re too focused on what was meant to happen you can miss out on what should happen. The plan can prevent what should be sometimes.”
At what point did you come to the realisation; music is the medium I want to express myself through. When did that point come?
“I think I’d always known, but I grew up in a little town where nobody did music so I didn’t think it was an option. But I tried a lot of other things and nothing else really worked for me. I didn’t go to Uni because it didn’t feel right, and then 2 years later I was like I know I want to go do music. Even when I went to Uni, I was still fighting it, cause I felt embarrassed to say out loud that that’s what I wanted to do. I don’t know what exact point it was, probably across a few various points of being very drunk somewhere in Leeds, I finally got to the point of being like, I’m doing this, this is happening, I don’t want to do anything else.”
We’ve touched briefly on Leeds; I do have to ask since we’re in Leeds right now. You studied here, is that right, at Leeds College of Music, now Leeds Conservatoire? What’s the significance of Leeds to you, in your growth as an artist, what was it like for you spending that time in Leeds?
“Leeds is where it all began, you know? It’s a very special place, it’s a very special place to be a student. I don’t know anyone else who had the kind of experience I did at university. I moved to London with 30 people I went to university with, because we’re that close and we shared this journey together. I don’t know anyone else that has that. Leeds just brings people together in a special way. LCOM is a really special place, enabling that time to be creative. I think the biggest thing is letting other people in, and not being scared to fail and make music with other people and be creative around other people and learn from being around others. That was the biggest thing with Leeds I think.”
Having those people around you will really get the best out of you.
“Yeah, it’s the family, it’s the support system.”
Is your whole band made up of people who you studied with?
“Yeah, and a lot of the people I work with, like Nix and everyone.”
Another of my favourites off the project is the last song, ‘Patience’. I was wondering, is there any aspect of your life where you really struggle to have patience, whether that be a really big life-shaping thing or something smaller?
“I think I struggle with patience like everyone else does. I’m way better than I was a year or two ago, I was incredibly frustrated even a year ago. The career that I’ve chosen takes a long time, it doesn’t happen overnight. I work like three other jobs, and sometimes you’re really focused on the art and you’re enjoying the process and you stop thinking about the other jobs that are making you exhausted. And then sometimes it’s really hard, and I’m like what the fuck is going on! I’m fucking tired! I’m doing a job that’s getting me nowhere, the job I actually spend hours doing isn’t paying my rent right now. It’s okay to have the frustration, it’s okay not to be happy as fuck all the time. That’s not realistic. Hyper-positivity is also really negative and exhausting. It’s okay to be frustrated, winters just come, I’m not well and I’m fucking tired. But I’m still very grateful! It’s about allowing yourself to feel shit sometimes, but remembering the deeper feelings that are like, I’m so grateful to have a passion, I’m grateful for this and that and I know I’m not going to give up on those things. So yeah, it’s like feel shit but have perspective basically.”
When it comes to outside of music, what is it that acts as your escapism from all this?
“Friends definitely. But I love reading, I’m a big film buff. I also just like binge-watching shit to be honest. I have a massive sweet tooth. Even going for a walk, getting in nature, exercising, all the basic, lame shit, you know? It’s the good shit for a reason!”
Have you got a particular favourite shit series that you’re going through at the moment?
“I’m back on Brooklyn 99 at the moment”
Ahh me too!
“Yeah! Sometimes you just need something to numb you haha.”
Couldn’t agree more. So, to bring it back to where we started, you’re about 26% through your journey right now, what are you planning after this? After this tour what are you hoping to do?
“It’s mad actually. I was thinking about it the other day. Every year since I’ve graduated, I’ve been halfway through a project and already working on the next project. I have songs I know are going to be for my next project, like I said I thought this was going to be an album, but the vibes went two different ways and I could feel that they were two different versions of myself. One needed growth and time. But this is the first time I’m completely finishing this project without another one halfway through. The tour is ending before the end of the year. To be honest, I’ve had a lot of personal stuff, family stuff and health stuff, so I think it’s kind of good timing. I need some time to be human again. I’m really excited to be creative and not put pressure on the process. Cause I know the next step I’m taking is going to take a lot longer to get there, because it’s a very different kind of music, and it’s also just me taking the next step. Like I really want to spend time on me as a musician and improve my musicianship and my craft. I know what I can hear in my head is a new adult version of me that I don’t yet have the tools to create, so I need to work on getting those tools. So, I need some serious fucking patience! Cause it’s going to be long! I need to re-centre, re-purpose and then just get back to enjoying being creative. It’s a long time since I’ve been making music and being creative because this project’s been my world."
After this conversation, it was time for the show, which began with a set from Liverpool artist Mica Sefia. Her set blended original songs, and brilliantly-executed covers. Her spoken-word-infused piece discussing race and identity was particularly special, showcasing a clear talent in song-writing. The power and range of her delivery had the audience transfixed. I have no doubt she gained several new fans on the night, as I myself was one of them.
Following on from this, B-ahwe’s band took their places, and it was time for the main performance. The set included many of her new songs from the 26% MIXTAPE, as well as a few older favourites. B-ahwe quickly captivated the room with the emotion in her vocals, and her interactions with the audience.
The set list took the crowd through energetic highs in ‘Still Growing’, and time for reflection in songs like ‘In The Morning’. B-ahwe’s performance was especially impressive considering she was coming to the end of two back-to-back tours. She proved herself a true performer, with the relatability of her lyrics matching the quality of her delivery. As we learned in the interview, her band was made up of long-term friends and collaborators. This made complete sense during the show, with everyone involved combining to great effect.
It was delightful to see B-ahwe shining on stage at a venue that was just a stone's-throw from where her musical journey found its inception. Having honed her craft, and developed into someone with a fantastic artistic output, she returned to Leeds and delivered a stellar performance for some of her core fanbase. B-ahwe is one to watch over the coming years, as despite her huge success, I feel she has still barely scratched the surface.
Thank you to B-ahwe, her team & band, and Emerald East.
Words by: Matt Sharp
Photos by: Lizzie Lethnall