THERE are not many new musicians who...
have penned songs for major-label-signed artists – which have gone on to sell triple-platinum. There are fewer still who have managed to balance that and created their own music. IMAN is no ordinary songwriter. The highly sought-after artist discusses her latest single, Wishing, and her route into music. Tastemakers like MOBO and The 405 have lauded previous singles Naïve and Golden and provided high kudos. These songs have accrued over 50,000 streams on SoundCloud so I was keen to see how she is adjusting after such attention. I asked IMAN what it was like writing with Ed Sheeran and touring with Rudimental; how she battles self-doubt and overcomes fears. In addition, she discusses the singers that matter most to her and what it was like working with Brett Shaw (who mixed Wishing and has worked with Lady Gaga).
Hi IMAN. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey! I’m good, thank you. My week has been busy with studio sessions - and rehearsals for my tour that’s about to start.
For those new to your music can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a London-based independent recording artist. I write my songs and sometimes even direct and co-edit my own music videos. I would say that my sound has Pop, Soul; Electronic and R&B influences. My music can be heard here: www.imanmusic.co.uk
Wishing is your latest single. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?
It’s about a guy I was crushing on.
He had a girlfriend so I stayed well away - and I’m glad I did!
Some things just aren’t meant for you I think.
It is a dance-floor smash that really leaps out the gates. It was mixed by Brett Shaw who has worked with, among other people, Lady Gaga. How important was his contribution to the overall sound of the song?
The records he’s worked on says it all. He’s developed an ear that allows him to mix a record to a very high standard. I’m so glad he heard my song and was up for it.
You have written and recorded with the likes of Ed Sheeran and toured with Rudimental. What was those guys like and what has been your fondest memory from your time in music (so far)?
Ed was cool - very kind and sweet (and so were Rudimental).
My fondest memory was when I writing a song with Ed and it was such an easy, go-with-the-flow session. We ended up writing two songs and he was good company.
One of my fave memories was performing my first festival with Rudimental. I made a pact that if I ever went to a festival it was going to be one I was performing at. Not sure why I was so strict with myself but, yeah, it ended up coming true and my first festival was with them performing. I walked off BUZZING and I remember still feeling so high from it all for a good few days after. The energy was insane.
You have stated how you received rejection in the early days and were battling with yourself. Is your music now a reaction that and a sense of defiance?
Yeah, I’ve written some songs when I have felt very low about the rejection I think we all can face in the industry; but I’d always put a positive spin on it. I’m naturally an optimistic person and I’m curious about life and what’s around the corner. People have told me my voice is emotive and I think my experiences come through when I sing. I tap into emotion and I think it’s fair to say that, yes, it comes from my experiences.
In those bleak moments, did you ever think you’d be where you are now?
It’s funny how you can look back and I know I often question myself thinking how and what made me just keep pushing on.
I’ve always been driven and I think one of the things that drives me the most is a fear of not having my music shared with the world the way I feel it deserves to be.
As a creative, I create in order to ultimately share it. That’s what brings me joy: connecting with people and performing these little songs that have come out of me. They weren’t made to just sit on my Mac for my ears only. That alone gives me so much drive to just power through any type of rejection - and rejection can be a good thing. I still have so much more to give and I’m proud that I kept persevering (and am where I am). I still want more, though.
You have written songs for other artists – from U.K. Germany and Australia, among other nations – and their songs have gone triple-platinum and reached gold sales standards. What is it like writing for other artists and do you feel constricted writing for someone else? Is it an experience that strengthens and evolves your own writing/songs?
Honestly, they were songs that I had written for myself which I didn’t feel were right for me. Luckily, they found a home. The times when I have written for others can be a bit restrictive, and at the same time, I guess it does help strengthen writing for myself. I say this because every time you write - no matter who for - I am effectively exercising that creative ‘muscle’. Practice makes perfect and all that!
Having been championed by the likes of Annie Mac and MistaJam; how has this kind of love and support made you feel?
I was on a Wilkinson track where I was featured and it's always great to have quality tastemakers get behind something I was part of. When you’re in the studio recording with the song you never quite know where it will end up or how it could go - so when I started hearing it on the radio the feeling was incredible. I don’t think I will ever not be excited to hear my music be broadcast on any platform. It’s so rewarding and very humbling.
Your voice is rich and sensuous but has an energy and power to it. Which singers were most important you growing up and inspired who you are now?
Thank you! I enjoyed listening to Tracy Chapman and Jill Scott a lot. Lauryn Hill also. I like a vocal to have character. A big range is not so important but character in a voice always hits the spot with me.
I have asked many female/black artists whether it is harder to find opportunities in music. Do you think there is an imbalance? Do we need to work harder to make music a more equal and opportunistic space for both women and black artists?
I absolutely think there is a discrepancy in the amount of ethnic U.K. artists in the mainstream charts.
I remember being called into a label one time and the guy sat me down and proceeded to tell me how unlikely it would be that radio would play me because I’m not white. Luckily, I didn’t buy into that bullsh*t but who knows how many artists sat in his office and walked out feeling like it was the truth? There is an abundance of incredibly talented, hardworking and focused artists that have paid their dues and deserve a platform. There is space for everyone and the more artists - with great music out there that is - being supported by various platforms the better it is for the industry on a whole I think.
You have dates in London coming up in the coming months. You play Pop Revue on 7th March; ROAR on 28th March and Collage Arts on 12th April. Which date are you most looking forward to and are you performing any more dates this year?
I’m looking forward to every single one! Some will be with my full-band; others will be acoustic sets. Acoustic sets, though, do tend to be my fave – less stress and they tend to be way more intimate. My band, though: it is a vibe I can’t deny.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jakub Koziel
On that same topic; can we expect an IMAN E.P. or album in 2017?
Throughout 2017, I will be releasing a series of singles and online content. I’m focused on growing as an artist and collaborating with others. So, stay close to me and watch this space!
Which have been the three albums that have inspired you most, would you say?
Eminem – The Slim Shady LP. Still fresh to death!
Jill Scott – Who Is Jill Scott? Word and Sounds Vol. 1. Vocally and lyrically 100% on-point - still speaks to me in every way.
Sam Sparro - Sam Sparro . Vibes, vibes, vibes!
Are there any new acts out there you recommend we check out?
What advice would you give to new musicians coming through?
Stay focused, humble. only keep positive vibes around you and always be honest with yourself.
Also, don’t bother comparing yourself to others – It’s a waste of time. Do ‘you’; stay in your lane and use every day productively.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can pick a song (not one of yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.
Lucian (ft. Jordan Corey) – Infrared
I’m not sure I’m ever going to stop listening to this one!