In The Middle with B-ahwe

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200 Degrees Café. Leeds. Raining – the perfect weather for the cozy sounds of B-ahwe. 

So Beth, big first question- how did B-ahwe come about?

I was writing a lot when I was ill, but obviously at the time I couldn’t start gigging with it- it’s only really been just over a year that the live project’s come about, with the band. I went from doing just one gig last year to this year playing quite a few jazz festivals and stuff, headlining in Sheffield and Manchester and London. 

Before coming to uni I was from a massively musical family anyway, I’m one of seven and all my siblings can sing. For a while I was going to study English but it never felt right, I wanted to do music but was too scared because it had never been a real option. Being a musician was actually never suggested to me – only recently I’ve been able to say out loud that this is really what I want to do.

Do you have any artists that inspired your music the most?

Yes! Definitely Sarah Vaughan and the jazz influence her music has brought me, the sweet angelic highs of Millie Riperton, a little bit of NoName in there! Then also stuff like Hiatus Kaiyote, and Yazmin Lacey. 

You studied in Leeds and have stayed here since graduating- why is that?

This is my fifth year here – Leeds is incredible, there are not many places like it that have such a tight-knit music and art scene, it’s so supportive and so many people come from different backgrounds. There’s such a student hub, an art hub here. There’s a very real jazz and soul scene here in the way that people play and collaborate together, jams that people go to, it’s always been a thing in Leeds. People from the south, they say that you wouldn’t be able to grow a community in the same way down there. It can get a bit difficult in terms of bands because you feel limited, you feel like you’ve played all of the same places already.

You know the scene, you know the crowd.

Exactly. Whereas the scene and the people and the music that has come out of Leeds in the last few years, it definitely comes from the students here and all the different universities.

What’s it like staying in a student city after graduating?

It is difficult when you’re not a student anymore, you can start to feel a little like you don’t belong anymore. It starts to feel a little bit smaller but even a few years after graduating, it’s such a great place to grow as a person. I’m sure when I do leave eventually, I’ll always be drawn back to it. But I don’t mind the new students- I was at Morrison’s the other day and wanted to laugh – it was so cute, these freshers were talking about having the independence to buy their own Cookie Crisp and how it was £2.50!

The real student lifestyle, being unable to buy Cookie Crisp…

Having to make real-life decisions about cereal! It was just really cute, it was nice to be around.

You’ve been touring at the minute- what’s that like, and what has it been like starting to perform with a live band? 

I’ve experienced touring with some other projects I’ve been in, it’s really special in terms of spending an intense short period of time with the people you make music with. Being a vocalist, you have to have a boring life to look after your voice so touring you can often feel a bit run into the ground. It’s good to come back to Leeds in between shows to have some rest. I don’t know how the hell Beyoncé and huge artists do it!

I’m really lucky with B-ahwe since the live band aspect is really special, the group is amazing and the energy between us is really balanced. We’ve been gigging a lot more recently, I love spending time with them- it’s all Leeds College of Music people from my time there. My little sister is also a part of it! Live harmonies are so special, the sound is just so intimate and not many projects take on this many vocalists.

So the show next week at Headrow House-

Are you coming?

Yes! I can’t wait! It’s a lineup of different artists chosen by you, isn’t it? What can we expect?

I’ve lovingly concocted it as a celebration of people I’ve worked with previously, and people I’ve stumbled across at festival lineups this year and got on with. It’s a visual wonderland, a step through a looking glass into the B-ahwe world – an off-kilter Alice in Wonderland theme. Marie Collier is an artist I’ve worked with before, her paintings are going to be projections all over the room- each act has their own visuals done by her!

My little sister is the opening act for the show- had to have some family involved! Her music is like psych-rock-soul, with elements of everything in between. She leads LADY, it’s a five-piece band at the minute. Then, Rosie Tee is someone I stumbled upon at a jazz festival this summer, she’s a composer who sings and has a jazz trio behind her, but it’s a bit electronic as well! NikNak is mixing in between acts- the woman, the myth, the legend – she does so much for the music scene here in Leeds. She’s gonna be mixing and bridging through the acts so it’s like a seamless journey! But all the acts are definitely threaded together with soul.

Your track ‘Closer’ came out recently- can you tell us what it’s about?

This is just the first track of the EP that’s coming! The artwork for it is really relevant, it’s a face lost in smoke- it threads into the EP’s story overall. A lot of the lyrics were written when I was really ill, and on my own for about eight months- you learn a lot about yourself and your outlook during times like that- the darkness that’s in all of us that prevents you from seeing the good. Your body is literally your own worst enemy sometimes! 

‘Closer’ is about the small perspectives you get, how you can block yourself off in a small looking glass when things are difficult and the everyday noise of life is fogging up your view. But there’s always an angel on your shoulder- the things that are worth it aren’t meant to be easy!

Thank you for sharing this with us, a lot of people could probably relate to this! So what do you see in the future for B-ahwe?

I have a second EP written already that I really wanna record and do it justice, because we’ve been playing those songs live for the last few months and they’re all really special to me- then after that I’ve got bits of songs from the last few months that I want to pull together!

It’s been amazing to talk to you today Beth, and I’ll see you on Friday!

B-ahwe is performing live at Headrow House on Friday 1st November- tickets available via the event page.

Header Image by Manchester Jazz.