- Words Matilda Carnall
Following the release of her debut EP, 'Litany', we spoke to Konyikeh about her thorny teenage years, sharing the stage with Dave, and finally taking off the mask.
There are few voices that you hear once and don’t forget. Konyikeh’s undoubtedly falls into this rare description: her rich, commanding tone a direct reflection of the deep emotions she carries, and brings to each of her songs. Velvety, mesmerising, addictive. As she pours her vocals over stories of sorrow and past experience, one can’t help but fall mercy to this same ache.
That’s why, in 2022, South London’s finest Dave called upon the London-based artist’s raw, soulful vocals for his heartfelt performance of “In The Fire” at the BRITs. Sharing the stage not only with Dave, but Fredo, Giggs, Ghettz, and Meekz, this monumental opportunity was Konyikeh’s first taste of what was to come.
Today, just a year on, the musician returns with her debut EP, ‘Litany’, an immersive project that captures the trials of her childhood and insecurities. It’s made up of five tracks, including her debut “Sorrow”, which she wrote at the tender age of 13. It was at this age Konyikeh was attending a prestigious school in west London as a music scholar, as well as devoting her Saturdays to studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she would play the violin and piano and perform in the orchestra and chamber choir. In these spaces, she was taught to play with emotion, a skill she has continued to harbour over the years, as proven by the deeply-moving nature of ‘Litany’.
Growing up, Konyikeh’s mum encouraged a wide breadth of music, enriching her with a love for classical music and musical theatre, in addition to Destiny’s Child and Kenyan Boys Choir. “It was beautiful,” she recalls, continuing that it was at home that she was first “exposed to traditional African music, harmonies and stuff like that.” At school, though, it was a different story. “Going to a very white girls’ school, it was only later I really connected with my heritage.”
This deep-rooted feeling of displacement is palpable in her songwriting today, from her unease at school to facing the racial and financial barriers of the classical music world. Although she moved for sixth form at age 16 and found herself among more Black peers, her notions of self, beauty, and worth had already been shaped. With ‘Litany’, she dissects these emotions, pulling back each layer of her identity and revisiting the experiences that shaped her. “These are songs from the darkest time in my life. They’re like little prayers to myself.”
Following the EP’s release, we spoke with Konyikeh about her thorny teenage years, sharing the stage with Dave, and finally taking off the mask.
Hey, thank you so much. Most of the tracks were written during my teenage years where I was going through a lot mentally and emotionally. I kind of used these songs as not only a form of self-expression but also therapy so I never thought they would be heard!
Thank you, it’s the first song I ever recorded. It felt somewhat cathartic to put it into words. As a dark-skin, plus size, black girl it was hard growing up because you were told by the media that you were deemed undesirable. And so growing up, any attention I got, I felt I had to be grateful for, even when it was unwanted.
I’m just excited for people to hear my music and take from it what they will, whether they relate to it or not. I can say wholeheartedly that I have no reservations about putting the project out. I think because, even though it was a very real time in my life, it’s a chapter that I’ve moved on from and healed from. However, if you would have asked me this time last year it would probably be a completely different answer.
I think when I first held a violin in my hand. It was the first instrument I learnt to play and it came so naturally to me. From there I became obsessed with music whether it be classical or not. The breadth of music that I was exposed to at such a young age has shaped my ear which has greatly contributed to the way I write and digest music.
I’m still figuring it out! What I will say though is that I strongly believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a journey and a long one at that but a beautiful one.
To this day, I’m a bit unsure. I don’t know how but someone from his team came across my music and then I guess they played it to him and then it went from there.
It’s an immense opportunity that most musicians could only dream of. What did that moment feel like for you? How did it feel to be up on stage with a handful of the UK’s most-loved artists, especially at such a young age?
Looking forward, obviously performing with Dave is a massive feat – but is there anyone you’d love to share the stage with in the future?
That’s a difficult question! So many people spring to mind but I think I’m just going to leave this question open and see where the road takes me.
I think doing my first show would be a big one, and then in a couple of years do a successful UK, Europe and US tour. That’s the dream. Before I forget, also, putting out a debut album that I’m proud of.