When I listen to Emmavie, I’m taken back to weekends when my mom would dance to old-school R&B while sipping her glass of wine. You know what I’m talking about: the kind of neo-soul sound that caused millions of Black moms and aunties to ignore their kids so they could swirl with their red wine then look at our little faces just to say, “Y’all don’t know nothing about this!” I think about the old music that all the Black women in my life love, and I wonder if I missed out. Emmavie’s album Honeymoon tells me, “No, it’s only getting better.”
Hailing from Harrow in northwest London, Emmavie is a singer, producer and DJ whose groove demands you to bop your head. She takes you back home to an era that you were too young to experience but which embodies a fascinating familiarity. Honeymoon sparkles with lyrics of love like the ones I was probably made to. When I get lost in that funky soul, she brings me back to the beauty not only of being Black but of being a Black woman.
FRONTRUNNER spoke with Emmavie about her new album, and she was kind enough to put me on to a bunch of classic R&B artists I embarrassingly didn’t know of previously. She also filled us in on why she made Honeymoon instead of quitting music altogether, why Black women need to encourage each other, and how there are “many different colors to Blackness.”
The smooth R&B sound is obvious on almost every track. Who are some of your musical influences?
Straight away, what comes to mind is Pharrell, The Neptunes. In terms of production, that’s what really piqued my interest when I was in my early teens. At the time The Neptunes had all the biggest hits, so it was almost impossible to escape that sound. In terms of my vocal style, I really like Jon B., Musiq Soulchild, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Bilal. No one too obscure. At the time when I was young, they were all in the charts so I didn’t need to find it. That’s where my interest in terms of the smooth R&B/neo-soul sound came from.
I read on Instagram that this Honeymoon album was the most fun you ever had making songs. Can you share one of your favorite memories from making this album?
With the “Deluxe” interlude, I actually made it the day after I decided I wasn’t going to do music ever again. I had a bit of a meltdown. Then several hours after that, I ended up [going to] a concert with one of my friends. I’m in the middle of this concert and I’m not present. I’m being introduced to so many people–because I have a good relationship with these guys, so there are loads of people that I should care about meeting–but I’m a shell of a person that’s at this event.
I remember going home: it was an hour and a half on the train of just crying. People looking at me like, “Is she okay?” When I got about two stops from where I live, the pattern for the hi-hat just came to me. This was after I decided, “I’m never doing music again, I’m not going to even think about creating anything, I need to figure out what I’m going to do in my life.” I ended up walking home just beatboxing this pattern in my head, and I knew I had to put it down. Within an hour of being home I had this flip, which was the “Deluxe” interlude, which made me decide to make music again.
One of the reasons why the album transitions so effortlessly is that you sprinkled beautiful interludes throughout. What do interludes mean to you, and how do you see them playing a role in your music?
I tend to overthink with music, and I get carried away with songs; I can always see where they can keep going, and I remix the song within the song. Sometimes I come up with a groove that I want to keep in one place. When I give myself space to do that, it’s in the interlude. The interlude is simple: it is what it is, and it can just stay there. [It’s] just one long verse, and it’s okay to stay the same, because it’s the vibe that I wanted to capture.
How has your hometown of Harrow impacted you?
Harrow [is] on the outskirts of London, which is where everything happens. This is good, because London is so overpopulated; they’re so afraid of each other. Being on the outskirts means growing up without those tensions.
[But] I missed the sense of belonging. In the south and east parts of London, there’s a community. In Harrow, no one comes out of their house. Nothing happens. It was a quiet upbringing. I was never in trouble, and I never saw anything traumatizing. That’s a good thing – it meant I grew up with a peace that other people weren’t afforded. It was a privilege. Even though we were broke and didn’t have anything, at least I wouldn’t get involved with any gang stuff. I can’t claim that I grew up in the ‘hood, because I didn’t. We were poor, but everyone that surrounded us was Asian and White. It was still a diverse place, because it’s London, but South London is the Blackest part of London.
[Harrow] is on the opposite side, so I missed all the raves where everyone knew the singers, rappers and DJs. But it also gave me the space to figure out my own stuff. Now that I’m older, I’m discovering what else is out there.
Honeymoon is one of those records that you know is going to be amazing live. Which song has been your favorite to perform live?
It changes, because I did “Vitamin C” for the first time, and hearing it live was the best thing ever, but we haven’t done it enough for me to choose it. At one point my favorite was “High Off This,” because I point the microphone to the audience and get [them] to sing with me. Plus it was an upbeat R&B track, where people can do a one-two step to it. “Can’t Get Over You” is another favorite because the band has arranged an extended outro. The live version of the songs are the upgraded versions: they’re more musical, they’re groovier, there’s more harmonies since there’s more producers producing each part.
In your song “Confidence,” you sing, “Black girl, you got to have confidence.” Why is it important to empower Black women?
In the world we live in, the Black woman is probably the most disenfranchised person on the planet. It’s been said in so many songs, books, poems, in film, in art, in dance and everything you can imagine. I thought it would be crazy for me to be a Black woman and not put that into a song. People used to have blonde wigs and blue-eye contacts to look as far away from being Black, to progress in music or film. Now, there’s pride that you hold in being a Black woman, but not everyone has that. You feel the effects of being a Black woman on this planet. That in itself [can] be draining, so I understand why people run away from it.
The song says you have to be the person that’s going to empower yourself, because clearly it’s not in anyone else’s interest to do so. There are some people who want to be allies, but there is always some personal gain there that won’t exist in me, a Black woman, saying, “Hey, Black women, you need to be more confident; you and other Black women need to instill it in yourself and others.”
How do you see your identity as a Black woman playing a role in your music, or in music in general?
In terms of my own identity, I am a Black woman. That’s as simple as it is. I know what it’s like to walk this planet as a Black woman. I know what challenges I have faced and will face, and I’m hoping it changes over time with discussion and art reflecting the culture. Because art reflects culture, and it’s important to not miss out on that message.
Your message of uplifting Black women in “Confidence” begins in Portuguese. How do you see language and the culture of the countries you’ve performed in affecting your music writing?
I’ve traveled quite a bit. I’m lucky I live in London. There are so many different backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures. My friends are so diverse. I have Black friends who speak French because they come from Congo, or they speak Portuguese because they come from Brazil. In terms of language and the depth of culture, there’s not one type of Black person. There’s so much more than just the hue of your skin that makes people Black. I think people reduce the Black experience. People think about Black people and the immediate image that comes up is the American Black person, which is the most globalized in media.
As far as music, it’s important for me to highlight different kinds of Black people. There’s so many faces to Blackness. There’s so many different colors to Blackness. The message is straightforward: you need to know your worth.