Lafawndah’s journey to her current incarnation as a devotional pop polymath has wound as unpredictably as her compositional style. From a childhood spent under the tutelage of legendary percussion instructor Aderfi Aksil through to her controversial tenure at the short-lived but influential Dassin Sakina Institute, Lafawndah’s traversing of musical and artistic milieus has been defined by a freedom of tone, surrealist sense of space and assured manipulation of formal and psychological tension.
After two acclaimed, self-directed music videos (‘Tan’ and ‘Ally’), Lafawndah has continued to tour internationally, where her live shows have become an ever-evolving testing ground for ruptures in the seamless concert experience, pitting committed humour against relentless physicality.
Her ongoing relationship with filmmakers Partel Oliva has generated a cinematic body of work where a shared fascination with the counterpoints between music, body, space has paved a new lane for moving image and song. Most recently, this collaboration has resulted in Le Renard Bleu, an album and companion film made with legendary composed Midori Takada. Further, Lafawndah’s HONEY COLONYmixtape series has put the full extent of her dense, baroque, maximalist production and arrangement style on display, drawing thrilling new potentials from fellow travellers Klein, Bonnie Banane, Kelsey Lu, and Kelela.
On the day of her appearance at Somerset House as part of the multidisciplinary five-day event ASSEMBLY, we were lucky enough to catch a few minutes with the pioneering performer to discuss her upcoming set, latest single “Joseph” (the “most naked song” she’s ever written), and her latest musical project “Honey Colony Mixtape Vol 2”.
What was the last track you listened to?
“Sunset 3” by Tariq Disu.
Focussing on ASSEMBLY, talk us through your forthcoming performance?
I haven’t been performing in London for a while so I will be collaborating with Mike Park who is a drummer and Saul Nash who is a dancer. Don’t wanna say too much you should come see it!
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
Devotional pop music.
In your early years, you spent periods in France, Mexico and Iran and have since been based in Los Angeles. Have these experiences shaped your sound?
Yeah. The same way eating honey pops have shaped my sound. Or wearing mini skirts and strolling down the street has shaped my sound.
We hear that you initially never received vocal training — would you say this helped you establish your own vocal style?
I mean yeah probably. For better or worst you know? I had no mentor, teacher or existing singer. Now that I feel confident with my own voice I wanna start studying more cause I don’t feel like too vulnerable, I feel like I can do me and take what I need to do me from others.
You’ve previously opened for alt-RnB artist Kelela; would you care to talk more about this experience?
I mean it was a dream. We’ve known each other for some years now and we have always talked about that one day we would be on a tour bus together, going all over America and fucking it up for ourselves and everyone in the room and it finally happened last year. Her audience is the best. So open and present and loving. I met a lot of very cute human beings on that tour and I felt like my music really landed in their ears even though stylistically, Kelela and I don’t make the same music, which was cool because people were surprised at first and then immediately very ready for it. It was a very empowering tour. For me, but also for the audience.
Since releasing your EP Tan in 2016, you’ve released “Le Renard Bleu” and “Joseph” — how do these tracks differ from your earlier efforts?
“Le Renard Bleu” is a collaboration with Midori Takada. Except a track with Teengirl Fantasy I have never sang on a track that is not mine really. So that experience differs in it’s set up and also I have never collaborated with an elder that I admire and with whom I feel so deeply connected. I’m singing in a whole new way on that track. A way I didn’t know I could even access or like before. Also it was the first time I made music which then gave birth to a film, usually those things go hand in hand or people score images.
“Joseph” is my new single. It’s probably the most naked song I have ever written. It took me a while to accept it and love it and so it made the most sense for me to choose it as my next evolution ’cause when there is that kind of tension within yourself, it usually means you are in a good path.
You’ve recently announced “Honey Colony Mixtape Vol 2”, could you talk us through this new project? What was the process behind its creation?
Honey Colony is a project I started last year. This is the second edition and there will be a new one every year. The idea is to take my friends acapellas from pre-existing songs, and start the production from scratch. It’s really fun cause there songs I would have never written so in a way it’s just a different approach to creating things outside of yourself and also it gives a whole new life to the song. When I work on my own music, sometimes it’s a lot so producing music around other people’s vocals is also a break from my own feelings and thoughts. It’s liberating.
This new mixtape has songs by Cardi B, Kelsey Lu, Elheist (an amazing mc and vocalist from London) and Fashio Amina (a 9-year-old Mauritanian pop star I found online).
In addition, we’ve just heard news of the HONEY COLONY show at Southbank with Kelsey Lu, Nidia Minaj, Elheist, Tirzah and Bonnie Banane. What are you most looking forward to about this live appearance?
Rehearsals! Spending time all together and having fun. it’s playtime! The idea of the show is that it’s not a line up. So it’s a show with all of us in it. Like a musical or a play.