Let me give you an idea of how cool Lianne La Havas is - Prince (RIP) covered one of her songs. Not the other way around. He was such a big fan of hers that he invited her back to Paisley Park, featured her on three tracks on his Art Official Age album and shared the stage with her for his segment on Saturday Night Live.
When we meet in her hotel room the day of her show in Hong Kong, she greets everyone with a big warm hug and endearingly dorky smile. Our conversation shifts from her favourite movie, The Big Lebowski - which she watches at least once a month “just for the one-liners alone” - to her favourite spots in London, her hometown.
She highly recommends Brixton Market on Electric Avenue if you’re “into cooking, eating or just life and having fun in general” and a bar called Servant Jazz Quarters in Soho where they “make a fierce dark and stormy.” It’s also where she spent her 23rd birthday, and where she continues to play tiny, intimate acoustic gigs. You know, despite the fact that she’s a Grammy-nominated artist and all.
Lianne La Havas is f*cking cool.
As someone who seems to really know, understand, and embrace who she is, I asked her about a quote I’d read in a previous interview where she had said that “identity is a potent issue for millennials.” She looked at me, paused, and began to laugh.
“Did I say that?! I said Millennials?! That’s actually a really good quote,” she says, still laughing, before taking a minute to become serious. “It is though isn’t it? These days it’s like you’re being told what’s beautiful, which is something I don’t agree with because there are so many types of beautiful. I don’t want to feel like if I’m not carving out my brows, I’m not beautiful.”
Half Jamaican and half British, identity is something that Lianne has not necessarily struggled with, but it’s what’s given her this ingrained sense of curiosity, wonder, and a desire to understand who she is. And it’s all documented and immortalized in her music.
"[Music] is like any art, you’re putting a part of you out there in some kind of physical form."
“It’s not so alien to me to just write about my feelings. I feel like that’s why people make music in the first place,” she says. “It’s like any art, you’re putting a part of you out there in some kind of physical form.”
Lianne’s last album “Blood” was especially personal - a kind of sonic manifesto of the time she spent in Jamaica in 2014 exploring and understanding her Jamaican roots, and recording with Steve McGregor (son of the legendary Freddie McGregor) at their home studio in Kingston.
"Jamaica is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Even when it rains, locals call it crystal sunshine,” she explains, her eyes lighting up at the memory. “The whole time I was there I was just absorbing everything, feeling like it was familiar - I could understand patua, I knew the food and even the way my aunties and grandparents had decorated their homes back in England was so quintessentially Jamaican with doilies, flowers and religious pictures - but part of me still felt like a stranger. It was in the studio that I felt most at home. Where I felt like myself.”
Unlike her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough, that skewed towards a more acoustic, Corinne Bailey Rae-esque vibe, the strong and soulful sound on Blood has led to comparisons to the likes of Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott.
Later that night at her show, she even performed a skin-tingling rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Say A Little Prayer” that left the crowd starry-eyed and falling in love.
She was sitting on stage in a semi-sheer white full-length dress with a long side slit, sporty socks with kelly green stripes and wedged heels. It was a glorious mismatch. At one point, as she took a minute to tune her guitar, someone in the crowd yelled out “I love you, Lianne!”
She promptly and excitedly looked up and responded. “I love you,” she shouted back, “You’re beautiful!”
Photographer: Stanley Cheng