You can take the kid out of London but you can’t take London out of the kid; and the first lady of Awful Records, ABRA, is living proof. Even as the London-born, Atlanta-repping singer/songwriter/producer poses for the camera, draped in a Billionaire Boys Club jacket, projecting an effortless cool girl swag, you sense that this artist knows she’s back home after a long absence.
Her ultra-confident yet playful and serene persona is immediately apparent on the shoot, as she remarks after seeing one of the pictures – “I’ve got such a bitch face.” She displays a hint of humour that ingratiates her to the sensibilities of London. “I do still feel like a London kid,” she says in contemplation. “I kind of feel like a fraud for saying that because I’m not really. But I kind of feel like I am, with the sensibilities of people here, the music and everything else. When asked how much London has affected her life thus far, she replies, “I feel a lot of London is still in me and my first memories are from London. Atlanta hasn’t stolen my heart at all, but I’d say I’m a very good blend of both.”
ABRA was born and raised in Tooting, South London until the age of eight when her family moved to Atlanta for a new life and, while she identifies with the UK capital, she doesn’t necessarily feel all the way at home. “I was still young when I was here and I didn’t get to embrace what was going on.” She continues, “But I do feel like when I was making music, a lot of people from the UK were fucking with it way more than people from the States. That was really cool and affirming, and now I feel I’m coming to an audience where I won’t have to sell myself as much as I did in the States.”
It’s a tricky balance to maintain, but the songstress maintains the London connection almost effortlessly, and it shines through her music in a way which highlights the best of both London and rap’s new epicentre, Atlanta. She attributes much of her sound to the city of her birth: “My music is a great mix of the electronic music you hear in the UK and the drum and bass of Atlanta. Sonically, the bass is very Atlanta but the melodies and vocals are very much UK. It wasn’t my intention to mix the two but a lot of people started bringing to my attention that I sounded that way, it was a totally organic evolution.”
Organic it certainly has been, since ABRA has managed to create her own lane from the comfort of her own bedroom, producing ethereal love songs with a side of seduction. This includes her latest project, ‘Rose’, released last year – a delicate tale of love, temptation and vulnerability. All over the most atmospheric and alluring production coming out of Atlanta right now. While sparse and airy, her instrumentals contain a bounciness that is addictive and engaging, and complement her voice perfectly.
But why did she start producing for herself, rather than working with other people? “I love to sing, but my love for singing isn’t what made me want to make music – it was more how music makes me feel when I listen to it and I really like being the architect of a mood. I like to be able to create a mood, and when I was just singing on other people’s tracks I didn’t really get the feeling that I wanted to. So I decided to take it into my own hands and be more involved in the music I’m trying to create, something I was able to do by myself more than I was with someone producing for me. It’s hard to artistically describe what you’re going for to somebody else – like I would want something dark and moody, but also kind of happy and dance-y. That’s very ambiguous so it’s better to do it yourself, and I hate waiting on other people – I’m really impatient!”
Though relatively easy on the ear, the amount of work ABRA puts in when creating soundscapes shouldn’t be underestimated – she stays working. She even cites a particular classic eighties movie as a prime factor behind her sound. “When I create projects I like to think in colour palettes, and I was just thinking of a lot of pastels and a lot of the fashion from the eighties. I would watch a lot of movies from the eighties on mute and try to create the soundtrack behind them. “I watched Coming To America eight times back to back, especially that scene when they were presenting the queen and all the girls were dancing and that just seemed like what needed to be in the background; a primitive bassline, some sparse drums, hella high-hats and accented drums.” Knowing how much Eddie Murphy influenced ABRA adds a surreal dimension to her music.
With a robust D.I.Y. attitude in place when it comes to her artistry, it’s clear ABRA is not one to rest on her laurels. Her influences also give a great clue as to how she cultivates her sound. “Vocally I would say Mariah Carey influences me the most. I don’t sing like her at all, but I used to listen to her a lot when I was young. She inspired me a lot, and then I started listening to artists from Atlanta, and a lot of rap. Everyone at Awful [Records] makes rap and they continue to inspire me; Keith Charles, Father and the rest really influence my production style. Also Art of Noise and other bands from the eighties.” A statement which makes perfect sense once you’ve heard ABRA’s music. “I’m definitely growing into my own sound, but it’s still a process. Even if it sounds like this now, I’m not going in any particular direction or having the intention to sound a certain way.
Photos by Dhamirah Coombes
Words by Yemi Abiade