INTERVIEW – Speech Debelle: « Being a black woman means we are even more ignored »

Is it true that you started to rap at the age of 13 because you disliked your voice as a singer?

I wrote my first poem at the age of 9 and continued writing poetry for many years. I’ve only recently realised that when I became a rapper, the poet or writer within me always remained. I fell in love with words first. At about 13, some friends and I started a singing group. Didn’t take long at all to realise singing wasn’t my strong point although I’m singing a little more in this album.

You grew up in South London but have Jamaican origins. How did your origins influence your music? 

Jamaican culture is so colourful and engaging that the world is enamoured by it. I’m blessed to have deep rooted connections it. It’s very powerful and beautiful.

You name Tracy Chapman and Me’Shell Ndegeocello as major influences. What do you like best about them?

Their simple eloquence as writers. When they write, they only say what needs to be said. Restraint can be very sexy.

You won the 2009 Mercury Music Prize for your debut album “Speech Therapy”. How did this award help you in your career?

Confirmation I wasn’t crazy or misguided in my belief I came into this life to share words. As artists, we imagine our future and the future of the world we live in. Some of us work toward creating that reality so when people acknowledge your art, it becomes such a relief. Like all things it can be a burden too but balance is life really. It depends what you decide to believe.

As a female artist, have you ever been discriminated against in hip hop? 

The music business like the rest of the world is a boy’s club. Two months ago in London we had The Red Bull Culture Clash. I watched about 100 men touch the stage and mic and only one woman. Being a black woman on top means we are even more ignored although we enabled others to find their own voices. Unfair but not uncommon.

Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why? 

Equality between the sexes and races, that’s the aim. We have been overrun with too much male energy and it’s starving us of our ability to love and have compassion. The balance between male and female energy needs to be addressed. We need more divine feminine.

What are you listening to these days? 

Oh man, Spotify Weekly playlist really helps me discover new music. If not, I’d be just listening to Beres Hammond and old school hip hop and R&B. I’m still listening to Denai Moore album a lot. Today, I started listening to Giggs new album, which I’m loving.

What are your upcoming projects? 

I just dropped an EP called « Breathe » that is streaming now. Then the album later this year called « Tantil before I breathe » which I co-produced. You can check the two tracks from the EP online now: « The Work » and « Terms and Conditions« .

What do you think of Madame Rap? What should be changed or improved?  

I think you’re doing the work wonderfully. Don’t change unless you feel it’s time!

Find Speech Debelle on her websiteFacebookSoundcloud and Bandcamp.

Éloïse Bouton

Lire l’interview en français ici.

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