“I’m still a girl from around the way, trying to pursue her dreams and create pathways for the next generation and women who look like me. I truly believe if you can see it, you can be it.”

Carla Marie Williams, the GRAMMY-nominated and award-winning talent, is a powerhouse in the music industry, known for her exceptional songwriting, production skills, and impactful campaigning. With an impressive repertoire that includes working with icons such as Beyoncé, Sean Paul, Britney Spears, Girls Aloud, Craig Davidson and Naughty Boy, Carla has carved out a unique space for herself, marked by creativity, innovation, and influence. Originating from Harlesden, north west London, Carla’s journey in music began with her natural knack for transforming poetry into compelling lyrics, leading her to major successes in the global music scene. Her work on hits like Beyoncé’s ‘Runnin” and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Freedom’ showcases not just her songwriting prowess but also her ability to produce and co-produce, highlighting her versatility and mastery in the music arena.


Over the years, Carla has ventured into many areas of the industry from being a guest judge on X Factor to being a presenter on BBC Radio 6 ‘Music Life’ and A&R for The Voice UK. Beyond her personal success, she is a trailblazer for women in music, founding the movement Girls I Rate, in 2016. A collective which champions women in creative industries – and now boasts over 10,000 members as well as an ongoing partnership with Music & PRs Foundation spanning over seven years – Girls I Rate is a vital part of the industry for minoritised voices. Her work has not only earned her numerous accolades – including the 2021 Women In Music Awards Campaigner of the Year, 2023 Ivor Novello Gold Badge Award, Spotify Equal Billboard Ambassador – but also recognition from the highest levels, with her recent appointment as an MBE on the King’s honours list in January 2024.


For International Women’s Day, we joined forces with Carla Marie Williams’ Girls I Rate and Kindred for a must-attend event. On top of celebrating women in music and the creative industries with Step In, it’s a perfect night for Amapiano lovers with our recent digital cover stars Captain Lulaz hosting, Skyla Tylaa on the DJ decks, and NQOBILÉ taking the stage to perform her debut single.


With plans to launch her record label GIR RECORDS – at tonight’s event with first signing NQOBILÉ’s performance – and a series of events to showcase women artists, Carla Marie Williams continues to break barriers and inspire. Her belief, that anything is possible, resonates through her actions and achievements, making her a role model for aspiring artists and a leading voice for change in the music industry.

Tell us a bit about the genesis of Girls I Rate and how it came to be?

I never finished college and all that I was interested in was music. At one point, I did have a manager, but they were male, really chauvinistic and condescending. They used to say, “No one wants to hear your opinion, just go and write songs.” I got really pissed off with that. I thought, you know what, I want to do something proper. I came up with the idea to have a platform that spotlighted women, who probably felt like me, alone in the industry even though they’ve been in it for such a long time.


I came up with the idea of Girls I Rate and invited all my industry friends for a dinner. I then asked them to nominate two women that they rate and it got to [about] 100 people. It was like a whole new network of women and these people were powerful women in the industry. I didn’t come from a background where my mum could send me to stage school or music classes and all that. I decided that I wanted to start my own academy, GIR Academy. And the reason why it’s called Girls I Rate is because I’m originally from Halston, north west London, and all my Jamaican friends used to say, “She’s a bad singer but she can write songs, I rate her,” that’s what they always used to say. So I was like, Yeah, Girls I Rate. So that’s how the name formed.

What was the inspiration behind your chosen path in music?

It was lots of different things; I used to write poetry. I loved it. And then I got into being quite politically driven. I wanted to be like the Black Alanis Morissette, I loved her when I was younger. I wanted to be like Alanis Morissette meets Mary J. Blige. But yeah, poetry inspired me. Mary J. Blige inspired me – and definitely Alanis –  inspired me as a songwriter 100%.

How did you start on your path and what hurdles did you overcome?

My mum was strict, she was old-school Jamaican. When I was 15, I entered a competition that I saw in the newspaper, and I didn’t tell my mum until the final. Then I invited her, and was like, ‘I’ve got to the finals of this competition’. The competition was in Croydon two hours away from my house. My mum lost her rag. When I was 16, I was doing my A-level law and sociology. I wanted to be a probation officer. But then I got this music summer school in America with this guy in my area. I auditioned for these agencies and got into a girl group. I asked my mom if I could join the girl group, she came and met the manager and she said yes.


I left college that day.  It was a big thing for my mum to get her head around at that time. It still took me another 10 years to get signed properly and have my first hit. It wasn’t just a walk in the park, once I left college. It was a culture shock because I had no qualifications. I had no real skill set. I couldn’t get a job when it didn’t work out with the band [I was in]. I ended up in a call centre, getting sacked from there, selling alarms on houses and crying every day. Then, I went back to college for one year, did youth work and a youth work qualification and within months after that, I got my first publishing deal.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges facing aspiring female artists and producers in today’s music industry?

I think the main challenge that I’ve been hearing is that they feel they have to compromise themselves. And, you know, spending a lot of time between here and Jamaica, I think that it’s a common thread between young female artists and I think they feel like they have to compromise themselves: whether or not to get their music done, or to build relationships.

How do you keep Girls I Rate an inclusive and representative space for voices within the music industry?

For me, it’s helping to nurture someone who is of the diaspora, but living in the UK, like myself and pushing goals, that I hear from the diaspora; to be able to still do the music of the culture. When I was growing up, we didn’t do our music but now there’s a platform for it. I’m looking for Black music. I’m invested in that. It’s about connecting the diasporas and making great music, you know? I’m not scared to work with new people. We help the artists develop their careers, we help build funding for them for studio time, help them look at their records, putting them with the right producers and songwriters, right up until they release music.

As a GRAMMY-winning songwriter yourself, how do you balance your personal creative pursuits with your role in mentoring and supporting other artists through Girls I Rate?


To be fair, I haven’t really been balancing it very well for a little while! Because it becomes so overwhelming. But this year, I promised myself that I’m gonna start getting myself back into rooms, for my personal growth and sanity.

And tell us about the upcoming event, what we can expect from it?

Our first artist coming up is Nqobilé and she’s a South African artist. She was born in Johannesburg. She’s Zulu. She originally started as a dancer, she’s actually just done a feature show with Davido at the O2. She’s amazing; she had this burning passion to be an artist. And I love Amapiano music, so she’s our first signee because I wanted to get to know the music and the culture more. I want it to feel authentic because she’s UK-based. It just made sense.

How do you see yourself and Girls I Rate evolving in the next five years?

I’d love to be able to help women create professional pathways into careers and develop their music with them. That’s why I started the label. I want a legacy of making women global stars. I want to feel like this is a place they know they can come, where they’re safe and can do exceptional work.


I miss writing songs, I’ve taken a break from it for a little while. In terms of the intensity that I used to write at, it used to be like, sometimes a five to seven-day working week, but you you’ve gotta live a little to be able to write. I’m glad I’ve lived and now I’m ready to balance it back out. Last week, I was in the studio with Clean Bandit and – I was in Jamaica actually – at this place called G-Jam overlooking the sea. And we spent two days there in a lockout session with Clean Bandit and Izzy Beatzz was there with a Jamaican artist called Busy Signal. It just wicked. It was such a chilled, easy music vibe. It was fun.

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