Journeying through life charged by her spirit and the strength of her ancestors, London raised artist Alewya, has graced 2021 with the release of her debut EP, Panther in Mode. Commingling her creative gifts and charismatic persona, Alewya has solidified her purpose as not only an artist of this world, but a renaissance of her time. As she magnetises her audience with cutting-edge sounds, Alewya has mastered the tasteful hybridising of genre, by cross-pollinating electronic and afro-infused rhythms.
When listening to Panther in Mode, we were transported to an otherworld. Alewya’s powerful lyricism kept us engaged but also reinforced the vigour in her narrative voice. Her infectious energy also secured Alewya a place on tour with Little Simz, where she has been rapidly growing her fanbase and international recognition.
We had the opportunity to further divulge with Alewya about the conception of Panther in Mode and discuss how things like the sounds of Ethiopia, were translated into her music.
Congratulations on your latest EP release, Panther in Mode – let’s talk about your vision for this EP and what hopes you had for your audience when listening to it.
I think it pretty much formed itself. The vision for Panther in Mode is basically in the title. It’s just the first step, you know, the first project I’ve ever released. A panther in mode to me, is just before they prowl, just before they attack, they get really quiet, and they get really like smooth and focused and just still. I knew that this EP was going to be that for me in my whole career. This EP in the coming years, for me, is gonna be that mode. It feels like that ’cause there’s so much more to come, just sonically and visually. So, yeah that’s the vision for Panther in Mode.
And well I didn’t really have any hopes you know (laughs) I never really thought about that. I guess if I was to think about it now, I would say that I would hope it would act as like a breath of fresh air and just be some sort of hope for anyone who receives it in that way, you know. If it could be that for anyone, I’ve already won.
What did your journey look like when creating this body of work and how were you able to translate that into your music?
It’s been a long process for this EP. Some of the songs, Dragon being probably the oldest one on that EP, I wrote about 4 years ago now. I made that on my iPad, on Garage Band like years ago when I didn’t think I was going to be doing this, back when it was just a hobby. So, Dragon was four years ago – the title came soon after Dragon for another song that isn’t even on the EP. So over those years, I’ve just been creating songs and slowly towards the end, when I had a bulk of songs, I just picked which ones were gonna make up this EP. So, the creative journey for all of it, is really just my life. Yeah, just my life, my spiritual journey and transformation and just how my life has changed. It kind of documented at each moment what I’ve learned and then being able to channel and put it out into a song.
I think there are many layers to your sound in this EP. Several of the beats and rhythms that you work with are across genres and include influence from afro-beats to dancehall – what inherently connects you to a beat?
It’s just a feeling… it’s so simple. It’s just like, yes or no. Everything I do, there’s not really much thought in it, until the end. Then it takes kind of cleaning it up and you know all the details and blah blah blah – all that stuff at the end, you know mixing and mastering. But up until that point, everything is about feeling. There’s nothing to really explain, it’s just you either feel it or you don’t, you know.
Your artistic identity is also deeply rooted in your Ethiopian-Egyptian heritage, what aspects of culture do you intentionally translate into your music?
I would probably say more so, the essence of those two cultures. I’m not forcing it you know. I’m not trying to like, prove to anyone my identity in these cultures or where I’m from. I think it’s just something that’s inherently in me and in my blood. I want to know more about who I am and where I come from – what’s connected to me and what that means. Certain notes or certain scales help me to find that out in my soul. For me, it’s just a way to connect me to my roots and to eventually take me into my future. So, that’s what it is… it’s more so an essence. Just me exploring who the fuck I am.
So, your connection to culture fuels the more spiritual aspect of your music?
Absolutely. It’s just that is my spirit… our DNA holds everyone who came before us, you know. So, certain sounds and certain songs just jog my memory of new visuals in my head or new feelings in my spirit. There’re some songs that literally have that, they’re so heavy in where I’m from. When I listen to it, I’m so engulfed by another world and everything in that other world is still so real and very present to me. So, it’s more in that way, as opposed to just being really patriotic.
The song ‘Ethiopia’, which you also performed so beautifully at Colors Studios – holds a lot of strength within its lyricism. Can you reflect on the lyrical aspect of this track and the meanings behind it?
So, this song was written…I think it was 3 years ago, when I first heard the flutes, and some people think it’s Arabic, but it actually reminded me of this Ethiopian flute called Masenko. And sometimes Ethiopian scales blend in with Arabic scales, especially if people don’t really know Ethiopian scales so they just say it’s Arabic – cause the world don’t really know Ethiopian music like that. So, for me, when I heard that flute, I just thought… Oh my God, this is literally both my cultures in one little sample. SHY FX produced it and he brought in the dub element as well, which just made this song feel like a lion. The beat just felt like a lion, you know. I just wanted to express how I feel as an Ethiopian woman. How I view my mum… how I view Ethiopian people – we’re a different type of strength. It’s not the most obvious strength to people who don’t know but to those who do know, they know. I just wanted to reclaim that and again, not from a patriotic or like, political, current state of affairs standpoint. It’s just in our blood. Don’t fuck with us, we got God on our side (laughs). I just wanted to be that, and the lyrics came pretty naturally. My mum helped me write the chorus, which means the crown and the glory is ours – that’s what ‘zebdew kebru-lenya’ translates to. And weirdly enough, we didn’t plan for it to come out at the same time that there was a lot going on in Ethiopia. Part of Ethiopian’s standing up to the world mainly, and Western media – is the coming together and this unity that just exists in Ethiopia from a love basis… it’ just so special. And the song just came out at the same time, so the timing was crazy and like, the lyrics literally say the glory is ours. Literally saying you can’t touch us… and that was 3 years ago. So, yeah, it’s a really, really special song to me.
You’re often referred to as being a multi-disciplinary artist – other than music, what mediums of art do you also engage in, and do they ever intersect with your music?
Um yeah, so I paint, I graffiti, I’ve animated sculptures… just basically anything I can try, I’ll try to express myself in. The ones that blend in are definitively the paintings and my music cause I put them in basically everything that I do. I mean there’s artwork, visuals, tattoos all over my body. These figures are my saving grace and my safe place you know. So, yeah, they definitely blend and mix.
As an artist that is becoming more globally recognised, where do you hope to take your music and what sides of your artistry do you hope to show more of?
It’s not even about what I want to show more of from me, I just want to expand what the world actually can be and what humans are. I’m not interested in people knowing more about me, if I’m honest (laughs), I’m kind of just like, I’m painting this world, I’m building this world. Like everyone has a part to play in helping build and that’s what I want the focus to be on. Like my artistry is just me doing what I’m meant to be doing on this planet. It’s so mad that you can get this attention and things happen, like a little bit of success comes and in my mind I’m like… for fucks sake… I’ve cracked the code (laughs). Like how I am just doing what God gave me and that’s why I say I’m just doing my job. I want everyone, who listens to my music or watched the videos to just see what’s happening here. Cause it’s so much bigger than me, it’s not just about me. Everyone has a part to play in this.