Laura Mvula is a British soul singer-songwriter who began her musical journey as a student at Birmingham Conservatoire where she studied musical composition. Her original intent had been to work as a classical composer, but while still a student she developed a passion for vocal music when she began writing and arranging for local ensembles. Wanting to pursue this passion, Mvula joined the female a capella group Black Voices, one of Europe’s leading a capella groups, which draws its inspiration from the rich oral traditions of Africa and the African Diaspora in 2005. Then after finishing school in 2008, “Laura widened her creative skill base forming a jazz/neo-soul band ‘Judyshouse’ where she sang lead vocals and wrote the band’s original material,” although the band was ultimately short-lived.
Feeling a bit directionless, she drifted between different jobs afterwards, working for a brief period as a supply music teacher and then as a freelance composer. Eventually, at the suggestion of her husband, Mvula began writing her own music and then sending out demos to different potential producers before getting an offer from Steven Brown to represent her as her manager. Together they began recording songs, just on the weekends at first, and Mvula claims it felt like little more than a hobby. But then after releasing her first single “She” her career took off almost overnight, people mesmerized by her unique sound.
Her “music fuses rich and complex melodies with poetic and emotional vocals giving nods to Nina Simone, George Gershwin and Bjork amongst others.” Mvula is now a two-time MOBO award winner and was shortlisted for the 2013 Mercury Prize. She has also nominated for three BRIT Awards, although in 2016 she decided not to attend the awards show in protest over the lack of diversity. Speaking to the BBC, she noted how important her identity as a black woman is to her and what a problem it is for her “knowing that there are young black kids growing up feeling that they’re not acknowledged in society, in media and in mainstream music.”
This year she has also released her second album, The Dreaming Room, which has a noticeably different sound and theme, according to Mvula, reflecting the anxiety she’s felt during the previous year in dealing with a difficult divorce. While the process was difficult and emotionally draining, Mvula says she learned to accept herself in a way she previously hadn’t, in part inspired by the poetry of Maya Angelou and the women friends she surrounds herself with. Mvula says one friend in particular has helped her “make a habit of celebrating almost everything about [herself].” Check out one of her most recent music videos for her song “Phenomenal Woman,” inspired by the Maya Angelou poem of the same name.