- Words Notion Staff
Sabiyha speaks on her journey so far, from recording songs in her wardrobe, to striking inspiration in unpredictable places and celebrating sisterhood.
Sabiyha always knew that music was her deeper calling. After performing in a school talent show, the aspiring musician, with help from teacher and mentor Kelli Leigh, convinced her Indo-Caribbean parents that if she worked hard enough, the passion could become her reality. Now 29 years old, the south London native is making alt-pop inspired by the culture and communities around her.
Growing a dedicated following of listeners, Sabiyha seamlessly weaves her reality through music. Her forthcoming EP ‘Sheerkhan’ is said to be a raw portrait of the singer-songwriter’s Guyanese heritage, queerness and road to self-discovery. Taking her mother’s maiden name, the project will be released on June 1, setting bigger plans in motion for the rest of 2023.
Lead single “Day Ones” is a celebration of sisterhood, placing value on camaraderie and the connection Sabiyha seeks from her friends. It’s her inner circle who’ve helped the artist through the most difficult times, encouraging her to pursue music in moments when the dream felt unreachable.
To honour the release, we spoke with Sabiyha about her journey so far, from striking inspiration in unpredictable places to celebrating sisterhood. Dive in.
Hi Sabiyha, how’s 2023 been for you so far? And where in the world are we catching you for this interview?
I’ve been great thank you. 2023 has been feeling really positive for me as I’ve been releasing new music and playing live shows. I’m currently sitting in my home in south London, cocooned under my weighted blanket.
You’ve just released your latest single “Day Ones”, which was produced by Sour Sync and Drew Jodi. Did the track take on the direction you initially wanted, or did the vibe change throughout the process?
“Day Ones” was the first song myself, Drew Jodi and Sour Sync wrote together. We had been listening to a lot of Afro bashment and Callum (Sour Sync) was really vibing with Burna Boy at the time. Callum picked up a guitar and from there fleshed out this amazing, high octane instrumental that lead to this tune. It’s influenced by my Caribbean heritage as we wanted to emulate a carnival like feel, especially in that end section. Also, fun fact, all of the vocals were recorded and engineered in my wardrobe during lockdown and we still managed to capture the party energy!
Is there a particular message that you’d like people to take away from it?
The message behind this song is a celebration of your chosen family. At school, I struggled to fit in and was a pretty insecure kid, but I found my people in the girls I have now. We formed a strong sisterhood that has become a familial bond, which is integral to my life. As someone who’s had a strained relationship with their family, this song illustrates that family is much more than blood.
Where do you begin your song writing process? Is there a particular environment that you work best in?
We tend to write in the studio and bounce ideas off of each other. But I’d say I’ve written some of my best stuff in the most unpredictable places: Drew’s teenage bedroom turned studio, the shower or even in my bed at three in the morning when I can’t sleep. It’s whenever the inspiration strikes really.
You’ve taken to Instagram recently to talk about your mum and how you celebrate her in your music. Growing up, were you influenced by the music that she was playing in the house? If so, what were you listening to?
My mum used to put me to sleep to “Killing me Softly” by the Fugees or “I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor. That was the first time I heard amazing female vocalists and I remember always loving that time with my mum as she held me, bouncing me on her hip or dancing around our living room. But generally, my Mum’s influence isn’t down to her music taste, but more down to her as a person. Her kindness, strength, resilience, empathy and essence is what influenced me the most.
Why is it important to you that your music reflects your identity and individuality?
The music industry, and many others, has been dominated by white, cisgendered people. All of whom have fit neatly into society’s warped beauty standards. As a queer, POC womxn with a very visible chronic skin condition, I exist in a marginalised body that I never got to see represented growing up. It is integral to me to use my music as a platform to celebrate my identity, allowing other queer POC people to relate and feel seen.
People in my communities are heavily underestimated, discriminated against and stereotyped and I want to fight against that by highlighting my community, being vocal and proactive. Touching on the subject of my skin condition, we live in an age of FaceTime and social media image but I’d like to dismantle societies misguided views on beauty by showing my skin as it is; scarred, hyper-pigmented, textured and melanated.
Was there a definitive moment when you thought that you could take music more seriously?
When I was at school, I had this showcase that was put on by my singing teacher at the time, who is now making her own moves in the industry – Kelli Leigh. She had a lot of faith in me and became a mentor figure, encouraging me to pursue music. My parents weren’t always happy with the idea of me pursuing something creative but she took the time to speak to my dad at the showcase and convince him otherwise. I performed an original song for the first time and in that moment, my parents saw my potential which then allowed me to see it in myself.
Last month, you played at the Victoria in Dalston: a space that’s very supportive of the local music community. What’s been the best venue that you’ve performed at previously?
Before I started making alt-pop music, I was a folk musician and gigged regularly around London. It was just me and my guitar and I was always welcome at The Bedford in Balham. I have a lot of good memories there and really learnt how to perform and feel confident on stage. It was a great place for me to grow as a musician.
And if you could play any venue or festival in the future, where would it be? Describe the setting, who would be there and the vibes going down…
To be honest, I feel like my dream festival is yet to happen. I would love to play a festival with an all queer POC line up that celebrates artists in marginalised communities. There are amazing BIPOC, queer and trans artists out there who don’t get enough coverage and I would love to perform in a space that celebrates my community. Pxssy Palace were going to host a festival with this premise called Overflo, but it unfortunately got cancelled. I would love to perform in a space like that.
To wrap up, what does the rest of 2023 look like for Sabiyha? Can we expect more music?
Yes! I’m releasing my debut EP ‘Sheerkhan’ in June and will be headlining Paper Dress Vintage in London on June 13th with my band which I’m really excited about. I’m also writing the next EP to be released later on in the year and I’m feeling super inspired and artistically driven. I’m very happy with the creative direction we’re going in.