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After taking the time and space to focus on herself, AWA is manifesting her dreams with 00s R&B-inspired sounds and self-bolstering lyrics daring us to be the best version of ourselves.

AWA arrives on time. It’s early — iced matcha and a private meditation are first on her agenda — but her energy is already elevating the room. It’s Awa that sets the tone on set, not in an imposing ‘I’m the talent’ kind of way, but in how she carries herself: the artist embodies a self-assurance that’s warm rather than standoffish, the kind of confidence that says I’m showing up as no one but myself, I like her, and I’m inviting you to do the same.

 

In makeup she takes over the aux and the morning’s slow soul playlist jumps to high-powered hits on rotation, followed by a selection of songs that hype her up the most — her own unreleased demos. It’s the first sign of what Awa comes back to consistently in our interview; she fucks with herself, her music, and she’s finally in a place where she’s letting that lead everything she does.

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Born in Stockholm, Awa Santesson-Sey studied classical music in her early teens before winning Sweden’s The X Factor in 2012 at the age of 15. Almost a whole decade of industry experience explains her easy composure today, but looking back on that time, she frames years of absorbing everyone else’s opinions as the reason she’s had to build unshakeable trust in her own.

 

“It is very conflicting when you are that young and you have a lot to say. You’re trying to find yourself, and then someone has multiple opinions about who you are before you even know who you are,” Awa says, selecting her words carefully but without hesitation. “Ultimately, if you look at my career, I can see where I’ve made decisions from my intuition and my gut and where I was, I wouldn’t say manipulated, but pushed in a direction […] It’s so important to have a team and to listen and to grow together, but it’s always important, especially for me, to have the last internal conversation with myself.”

 

 

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Along with tuning into and trusting her instincts, Awa credits moving to London four years ago as a pivotal time to reconnect with herself — “not only just on a music level, but on a personal level. My dad’s from Senegal and my mum’s from Sweden and I grew up in a predominantly white, very posh neighbourhood. Coming to London allowed me the space to connect more freely to my African roots as well, because it’s way more cultural here. For me, I needed that space to find out who I am authentically,” she explains. “As you said, that is such a young age to be thrown into the industry. The first thing that happened was that I was media-trained and told not to speak up  about anything, really. From such a young age I’ve been silenced for so many years. That kind of takes a toll on your self-belief a bit.”

 

Awa’s own vision has come into sharp focus and it shows — in her being, her music and the boundaries she sets around it — and her upcoming mixtape gives her artistry space to shine. Lyrically the project tells her story of learning and unlearning, delivered with vulnerability, wit and the wisdom that only perspective can provide. Sonically it draws from the early 00s R&B rhythms she grew up with, building on her 2020 cry.baby EP (which included a Mase sample on “Too Late For That” with BJ The Chicago Kid) and her latest release, “24/7” — a sultry, charged-up track with production reminiscent of 00s icons Christina Milian and Holly Valance.

 

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For now though, part of Awa’s commitment to honouring her needs means holding back her debut album — which is almost finished too — until she’s entirely ready. “I think that’s another important thing: that I’m not rushing anymore,” she agrees. “I just want to enjoy the moment and not be in a critical space where everything needs to be perfect, because what even is that? That’s so different to everyone. My main focus now is the love for music, telling my story, saying whatever I have to say in the moment, having full creative control over the songs I release, and to continue to do so.”

 

Often it’s making the music itself that keeps Awa aligned and fully in the moment. She believes the songs we listen to on repeat embed themselves into our thoughts like affirmations, and that through writing, recording and performing the song, she’s grown into the mindset she set out on 2019’s “Like I Do” (“Nobody can love me like I love me, love me, love me like I do”). She sees confidence as a daily practice, something she’s always working on by filtering her thoughts with positive self-talk, and thinks the world around us eventually aligns with what we envision with clarity — whether that’s having visualised this cover shoot a few years ago, or manifesting dropping two albums and holding her own world tour in the next five.

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But Awa won’t linger on the future for too long. Part of being ready to grab hold of her dreams is being able to stay focused in the present and trust in plans already laid, and she’s been through enough to know that while she’s busy building an empire, the best part is being able to enjoy the process. “I’m not going to buy into that old narrative that you need to be freaking depressed all the time, because I’ve done it. I’m over it. Not a good place to be in,” she says firmly. “One of my main focuses is just to remain in the peace that I’ve finally found after 10 years of running around like a headless chicken in this industry; really taking it back to the love of music, not stressing so much, not worrying. Having fun! Every time if I go on a shoot or into the studio my main intent is how fun can we make it, because I need to remind myself that I am really blessed.” This is the Awa who lights up the room whilst still half awake, and sings along to her own songs full belt in the makeup chair at 10am.

 

“At the end of the day music is my first love, and I’ve just realised that I can’t dim my own light anymore,” she decides, matter-of-fact, when I ask what moment everything clicked for her to become this version of herself and what that felt like. “I don’t feel comfortable being told what to do or, in any sort of capacity, to mould myself after what other people like to hear. I’m on an independent vibe, taking my creative control and power back. Which feels good.”

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