Svetlana, the rising songstress from Feltham encompasses the spirit, lyrical ability and passion to create a unique legacy as a soul singer and songwriter. Growing up in a large Nigerian family, the newcomer first discovered her love for music and wordsmith in books. Finding an escape through reading, the songstress went on to create her own world musically. Enriched with a warm and rich soulful tone, Svetlana began singing her truths; having studied Human Rights, her intricate and captivating lyrics leave you instantly mesmerized.
Posing as one to watch this coming year, Svetlana kick started 2020 with two singles; Myself and Tally Man, we caught up the rising star and asked her a few questions…
Let’s talk a bit more about your upbringing, I read you grew up in West London in a fairly big family. Was music something your family was always around?
When I was younger my parents used to work a lot, so they didn’t listen to music, besides Nigerian traditional music. When they were working during the day, they took us to the library and that’s when I started to get into words because my siblings would go off and play on the computer and I would sit read all the books in the library. This was the first time I realised, ‘Ok, you can be somewhere but use something like books and go to someplace else’ – that’s the first time I thought I want to do something quite artistic. I didn’t get into music until Year 5 or 6, I had a friend who showed me Evanescence which are a Rock band, so when I started getting into music it was Rock.
When I went to secondary school, I started to use the internet and that’s when I found Bob Marley and Reggae – I started getting into music that was different to my environment. I found a book called ‘On the Road’, it is about a guy who’s travelling on the road and doesn’t belong to anything. Throughout my life I’ve liked the idea of not belonging to anything and just being a part of everything at the same time – that’s why I liked books because I could read them and not be where I am and instead be somewhere else. In the book it kept talking about various Jazz musicians and that’s when I decided I wanted to find out what this music is, I want to make people feel like this when they listen to my stuff. After that, that’s when I started to learn about music, but I’ve never studied it. I think because my parents came here and went straight into work, they did not understand what you could get from music. It was never like ‘Ok, you can do music’ it was always about focusing on books, just focusing on trying to become someone academically – that was the main focus for the first years of my life!
I believe your local youth club played a role in you gaining more confidence. You started out writing short poems and gradually turned them into songs – How were you utilising the local youth club?
One of my friends from college asked to meet me at a youth club, I remember going inside and seeing all these people making music in the studio. There was a guy who worked there called Dwayne, he said in the evenings that I could write, sing or record. In the beginning I was really shy and I didn’t sing at all, one time I wrote a song about a guy I was into and asked someone who worked there to listen and tell me what they thought, he said ‘Wow, this is better than I thought it would be’. I then began to come down regularly and record random stuff that I’d write, just to show me how to sing with a mic. It was the first-time people were believing in me to the point where they were telling me to come back and work on my craft. It was enough for me to think, ‘Ok, I’m better than I think I am’ and should try to do something with it!
You’re inspired by the likes of Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, Queen and Rage Against The Machine – What was it about these artists that inspire you musically?
I am always drawn to artists that are very vulnerable in their work. I like artists who are different, people like Freddie Mercury, you can tell that he is true to himself and you take him how he is. When you are like that, sometimes you can feel lonely and like an outsider, I think I relate to that, and to artists who aren’t afraid to speak about things that aren’t easy to talk about – This is what I want my work to be like!
You studied Human Rights – which is a serious subject! What made you decide that you wanted to transition to music?
I’m still doing my masters which is about Politics of Human Rights, but it’s always been a reflection of where I grew up. Human Rights and Politics relate to the struggle I saw when growing up. I have always been passionate about speaking for other people or understanding why there’s injustice. I think my obsession with books reflects that academic side of me, but music is more the part where I’m free – there’s not a way to write a good essay or dissertation when it’s music. It’s a way in which I can feel free with how I feel and talk about love and other experiences that I have – I love that balance!
What three words would you choose to describe your sound?
Soulful, vulnerable and authentic.
You have released two singles so far this year, one of which is called “Myself”, which I think is a really beautiful, empowering song! The visuals give off a nostalgic feel – Tell us a bit more about the meaning behind this song and what inspired it?
When I have had relationships, I’ve tried to find myself and happiness in others, and the more I wasn’t filling this empty space, I realised it was coming from me and that I had to work on myself. I had to find that love that I was looking for in others, in myself. This journey of trying to be more confident in who you are and understanding what it is to feel like a woman, whether that’s being sexy, being smart or understanding that you are in control of your own pleasure. That is where that song came from, me against the world and that being my priority.
So, you have just released “Tally Man” – In comparison to “Myself” this one is a lot more upbeat! You have stated that this song was written at a point in your life where you felt overwhelmed and maybe lost as a woman and wanted to escape – which in our current landscape is fitting! What do you think it is to be a woman in our world right now? What was it that you were questioning in that moment?
I was definitely questioning my responsibility as a woman. There is always this pressure of having your life sorted and ready, eventually being prepared to get married and have kids – I don’t want to do that, I want to chase my own satisfaction and find a life that isn’t what look’s good on paper, or in my culture and traditions. Sometimes, when you want a certain thing but don’t have people around you who look like that, it can be easy to give up, feel lost or overwhelmed. It’s constantly trying to create your own philosophy and live by it, defining who you are before someone else defines you. I was focusing on this a lot but when there is so much happening; with my course and learning about the world, even with Black Lives Matter, sometimes it can be too much. Where are the positive things to look forward to? That was the song, sometimes I don’t want to think or grow up and simply be who I am.
I’ve found that when listening to your lyrics, you really aren’t afraid to show the vulnerable and honest side of yourself – What drives you lyrically? Do you think studying something as in-depth as Human Rights helps you look at certain things from a different perspective lyrically?
Something that drives me is the idea that you never know, you’ll think that this pain I’m feeling now no one else is going to feel. Even though we all have different circumstances, the depth of sadness, someone else has felt to. That’s why I’m not scared to say this is how I feel and this is who I am, someone else far away may feel the same way. Studying Human Rights, I realised how privileged I am just to exist the way I do and that If I am going to use that to an advantage, it is just to speak the truth and to use your voice as a weapon; not in a way of violence, the more I speak who I am, the more I speak my truth and what’s wrong and right, then I am giving someone else the courage to do the same. Why not use that? Why not be that type of person?
In a previous interview you said that you never want to be an artist who is afraid of who she is – In a time where social media plays a huge role in people’s perception and comparing yourself to others who maybe have more than you is more common than ever – What advice would you give to younger women who struggle with being their authentic self and blocking out this illusion?
I always tell myself that everyone has their own destiny, if you try to follow someone else’s you are never going to become who you are supposed to be. A lot of the time, especially with social media, for me, it’s plastic. It is just to show people what looks good but not showing the truth of what it took to look good – that is not real life. If you focus on what is not real you are never going to be happy and I don’t wasn’t to lose myself in that illusion like you said. It’s important for women to define who they are, understand that it’s a journey and not every day you are going to feel confident but instead own who you are – take the time to learn who you are! You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone because you know this is my journey, this is my lane; that’s her lane and journey – it’s not meant to be the same, I don’t want it to be the same because I want my own story and my own truth.
Can you remember the first album you ever bought?
Yeah! It’s called ‘Kaya’ by Bob Marley!
So as of right now, we haven’t got any collaborations! Who would you love to collaborate with?
I’d love to collaborate with Burna Boy! I would love to do a whole project with Burna Boy and spend every day in the studio! *laughs*
I could image you on a song with someone like H.E.R. as well!
Yeah! I would love H.E.R. and Solange – those are my top three!
What else can we expect to hear from you this 2020?
I’m going to release more music and letting people know more of who I am as an artist!
Keep up to date with Svetlana via her Instagram here.