A Singer songwriter from Birmingham, UK.
'Arts graduates are often told that as long as they've got a foot in the door of the right industry, the dream job's not far behind. Want to be a theatre director? Sell tickets for Mamma Mia! A composer? Answer the phones for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Laura Mvula giggles. "I'd be sitting at the reception desk right in front of the rehearsal room and hearing this amazing music floating out, but suddenly I couldn't get anywhere near it."
When a new singer is billed as "classically trained" it generally means they can play the piano. Mvula – whose music sounds like Amy Winehouse and David Axelrod reworking a score by Gershwin – graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire with a degree in composition. The 26-year-old is a unique collision of her Caribbean background and formal music training: "My parents encouraged us to commit to things," she says, "so if we wanted to learn an instrument, it was all the grades and all the theory."
She never got to sing the solos in the church choir ("I have a lot of very good aunties and cousins") so she started writing and conducting music; growing up, she felt more comfortable with her back to the audience, and even today, in the foyer of a King's Cross hotel, there's something elegantly coy about her – barefoot, with a pair of unmanageable pink heels shoved under the chair. I ask her what label they are and she hasn't a clue.
New artists used to be tweaked and bouffanted to perfection by a producer and shoved out on stage: nowadays you can become a fully formed act in your bedroom. Mvula writes her "sound sketches", as she calls them, on her laptop using GarageBand, a program she learned while working as a supply teacher in a Birmingham secondary school. Her distinctive song-textures are a product of limited resources: "There's just not that many samples to choose from," she explains. "My favourites were harp, celesta and the 'brass pad'. There's nothing I love more in the world than layering voices."
Producer Steve Brown, who worked with Rumer (and played bandleader Glenn Ponder in Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge) gave Mvula access to the orchestra she'd missed since university. Her single, She, stands out for its cautious, meandering structure – just two or three chords – while vocally she drags her feet, like Winehouse, letting a thought steer the direction of a phrase.
"I don't talk about Amy Winehouse as a 'singer'," Mvula muses. "She's a pioneer. I listened to her endlessly when I started writing."
Comparisons to Adele and X-Factor runner-up Rebecca Ferguson have also been gratefully received, though they're completely off course. "It feels like being the geeky kid," she says, "and being welcomed into this cool, polished R&B world.'
- Kate Mossman The Observer, Sunday 18 November 2012