At first glance, Lianne La Havas’ Instagram and website show photos of her audience. Even more impressive, after her shows, she takes pride in taking time to interact with the very same people.
To the 23-year-old Greco-Jamaican, South London-born singer/songwriter, the fans come first. Onstage, she gives her all: bristly poofy curls and a Danelectro Silvertone guitar by her side. Her vocals are rich with flavor: pouring a buttery smooth, vibrato-heavy jazz style over raw, syrupy chord deliveries.
On her cascading first single, “Lost & Found,” La Havas delivers a heartbreaking performance singing about low self-esteem resulting from a failed relationship. Her debut LP, Is Your Love Big Enough?, combines freshly-squeezed folk, rock, pop, gospel and R&B/soul elements into a delectable musical spread, and it’s paying off. She received the 2012 Barclaycard Mercury Prize, BBC Sound of 2012 nominations and ranked as iTunes Album of the Year for 2012.
Speaking via phone with La Havas who had just performed in Manchester, UK, the multitalented performer, with infectious spirit and a delightful British accent, spoke excitedly about her 18-city U.S. tour. La Havas has her heart set on making new friends, one day meeting President Obama and winning a Grammy Award. “It’s me singing about my life using my voice the best way I know how. I sing with the rhythms. There’s art in me. It’s all a part of being creative,” says La Havas.
La Havas originally played piano as a child but graduated to the guitar at age 18. She originally wanted to be an art teacher: enrolling in Croydon’s Norbury Manor Business & Enterprise College for Girls. Ultimately deciding to pursue music full-time, La Havas sang background for singer/actress Paloma Faith and recorded two EPs, Lost & Found and Forget, in 2011. Her transition from art teacher to performer is continuing to pay off.
La Havas’ talents landed her an invitation to jam with Prince in Minneapolis at Paisley Park. Stevie Wonder sat in on one of her gigs and expressed his admiration. Another one of La Havas’s idols, Jill Scott, gave the singer praise after hearing her cover of “He Loves Me (Lyzel in ‘E’ Flat).”
Along the way, La Havas has opened for Bon Iver, Robert Plant, Alicia Keys and Erykah Badu. “It’s all about connecting with the people that support the records. I sing the songs to the best of my ability. I make it so that the music and the lyrics are the most important things.” says La Havas.
La Havas would like to eventually produce and develop new artists. Even with unquestionable drive, ambition and enthusiasm, her success all comes as a shock to her. “It’s such an amazing concept that so many people have discovered music in some way and want to come and hear it. I always can’t believe that people all came to the show in the first place. Sometimes when I think I haven’t played that well, I still feel happy. I would like to be making music as long as possible,” says La Havas.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.