On the eve of the release of her second album, British R&B singer Jorja Smith talks about how her life and music is transitioning into a musical and personal maturity.
“Falling or flying is how I’ve felt the past few years” says Jorja Smith, the English singer whose enchanting vocals have put a spell on the world of contemporary music since the 2016 release of the Project 11 EP.
‘Falling or flying’ describes not only the way Jorja Smith has felt lately. It is also the title of her upcoming second full-length album, following the internationally praised Lost & Found, a laid-back R&B record that hit the shelves in 2018. The title of the new album, Falling or Flying, due for release at the end of September 2023, seems to be derived from a great deal of self-contemplation on the part of the singer. “I can’t tell if I’m doing good or bad sometimes, if I’m okay or not. Also, if you know me, I don’t have an in-between either. Falling or flying sounds like growth to me, it’s just the next chapter.”
As this next chapter of the Jorja Smith story unfolds, it is rewarding to take a step back and ponder the changes that have occurred since her last release. Her sound has gone through a clear transition, audible primarily on the single ‘Little Things’. But what has happened to the person behind the heavenly voice in the five years that have passed?
“Well, the songs on Lost & Found were mostly from when I was 16 to 18 years old. Like, there are two I wrote at 20. This album, the songs are me now, at 25/26. So naturally I have matured and was becoming a woman in the process. My music right now is me stepping into womanhood. It’s the first time I’m really releasing a whole body of work which I am also living in.”
When Smith lists the artists that were the most influential to her way into music, the DNA of her own creations is somewhat explained: “Amy Winehouse, Damian Marley, Mos Def/Yasiin Bey – I had these on rotation at 15/16 when I used to come down to London in the school holidays. I saw Yasiin Bey at a concert a few years ago, which was magical.”
Through the years, Smith has worked with a number of our time’s most notable performers. Nigerian marvel Burna Boy, grime giant Stormzy, and dancehall dandy Drake, just to name a few. But, when asked about her dream collaboration, there is only one name Smith mentions: “Frank Ocean”.
Smith talks about music almost as something that found her rather than the other way around. Her relationship to the art form strikes you as perfectly natural, as nearly meant to be. The world may change drastically around you, but some things remain the very same. The love of music is, for Smith and surely for many others, one of those comforting constants. “Music has been in my life since I was born,” Smith explains. “My parents constantly played music in the house, in the car, I’d be listening to everything, even music that wasn’t played for me. Walking in the street and catching a snippet from someone’s open window or car door. I sang everything, too, everything I saw I’d just sing about it. I learned to play the keyboard at eight and that’s when I started to write songs at the keyboard and also play covers.”
What happens to such an apparent gift with time? “Not much has changed since then, apart from stopping playing the piano when I moved to London,” Smith assures us. “I’ve picked it back up now. Also, I work with producers rather than just myself. When I’m writing, making a song. I just sing and whatever comes out comes out and we go from there.”
Today, she’s back in her Midlands hometown of Walsall, and has her hands back on the keyboard as well. A lot has obviously happened since Lost & Found, both for Smith personally and for her as an artist. The awards and praise have been lavished on her, raising the question of how the subsequent expectations affect her.
“I wish I didn’t, but I began to care too much about what people thought and also be super affected by it. Since moving back home to Walsall, I’ve got a balance now and care less. Before I put music out and at the early stages I only really cared about what I thought. Ha ha.”
The weight of expectations created from years in the limelight at least hasn’t dimmed Jorja Smith’s musical curiosity. Where ‘Little Things’ might have been played at a 1980s Madchester rave as well as at a 2023 Glasto after-hours party, the latest single ‘GO GO GO’ serves up a pop chart immediacy within its go-getting, glittery energy. Smith is certainly no stranger to creative diversity: “I’m always experimenting, if I hear something I love, I’ll just sing to it.”
So, with this desire for experimentation in mind, in what way has the process of making Falling or Flying been different from the creation of Smith’s previous work? “I started from scratch with this one and made it with DameDame, who are my friends. I learned so much about myself in this process.”
To conclude the interview, we ask a question that is inherently difficult to answer: where will your music be 10 years from now? “Oh my God, I don’t like looking into the future too much. I just want it to be loved dearly and still played and discovered.”
The hope of being “still played and discovered” shows both Jorja Smith’s characteristic humility and her love for the music she makes. The act of discovery is essential for any great lover of music, and Smith epitomizes this. Whatever changes the world will have gone through when Falling or Flying turns ten, it is safe to say the importance of music and creative experimentation will most likely (and hopefully) remain.
Talent: Jorja Smith
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