We caught up with KAMARA at Oslo’s by:Larm festival and were left even more convinced that she’s someone to keep an eye (and ear) out for.
We caught up with KAMARA at Oslo’s by:Larm festival and that left us even more convinced that she’s someone to keep an eye (and ear) out for. And she’s not going to let anything get in her way.
“This is such a cliché. But I’ve found that when things are cliché, they are usually true: Music was the only thing for me,” the young singer says when asked why she decided to go for a career in music. “I could not fathom doing anything else, it’s always been a huge part of my life.”
22-year old Fatumata Kamara was born in Sierra Leone but raised on the Norwegian west coast, in suburban Bergen to be exact. She started as a backing singer for Bergen-rapper Myra, but last year she stepped into the spotlight with the catchy demo “Don’t Call My Name” (now to be released as an official single) which was playlisted on Norwegian national radio P3 and she was since nominated for ‘Årets Urørt’ (similar to BBC Introducing).
“I decided that if I was going to do this, I’m going to do this now. I don’t want to be 50 and bitter and regretting not having tried. The worst thing that can happen, is that people say no. Or that people don’t like what I’m doing but music is so subjective. So I found people who like my music, and me, and then I’m working with that. Not everyone is going to love your music, not everyone is going to love you, but you have to find the people who do and then worship and grow that.”
But how do you get from dreaming about a career in music to actually starting one? In KAMARA’s case, she got a lot of help from a friend we all know well: Google.
“In high school, I just started researching the music industry, my room looked like… You know in detective series where they have those boards with strings and stuff connecting the dots? That was my room. I would look up ‘what’s a manager’, ‘what’s a booking agent’. I made myself a sort of dictionary and my search history was literally ‘How to make it in the music industry 101’. I wanted to learn everything about the industry I was getting into, I didn’t want to get caught off guard. It’s really important.”
Good ol’ Google also helped her find her management team. In 2017, she googled fellow Norwegian AURORA and found out that she was with MADE Management. She sent them a demo – ignoring the submission guidelines on their website using a direct personal email instead – and they got back to her almost immediately and she’s been with them ever since.
“I’ve always been singing. I probably learned to sing before I learned to talk,” she laughs. “No one in my family is musical though. Mum can’t sing to save her life. If aliens came and all she had to do to save the planet was to sing, we’d all die.” But her mum did introduce her to some really good music, like South African synth-pop artist Penny Penny, and names like Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Tupac, and Biggie would end up shaping the music KAMARA makes now. “I learned song structure from Celine and Shania, and vibe and flow from rap. I draw inspiration from lots of different artists and make it into my own,” she explains.
“The way I started writing songs was by rewriting my favorite songs. In elementary school, I was in a talent show and I covered “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé. But I had no patience to actually learn the lyrics, I was like 11, so I just wrote my own.” She writes and co-writes all her songs herself and explains that it has been vital to her to find people who understand her – and what she wants with her music – and who she feels comfortable with. “It wouldn’t make sense to me to work with someone super famous that I don’t vibe with when I can write with someone like my good friend Edvard Tronstad whom I’ve been working with for years. We write really good music together.”
“I’m a ‘melody queen’, I love melodies. They’re the most important thing for me. You can write something in so many different ways, you can say I love you in so many different ways but if it has a good melody, no one can deny it. Like “Strangers” by Sigrid,” she says and starts humming the chorus.
“The melody is what makes the song. She could use any other word in that chorus and still sell it with that melody. Lyrics are important as well, of course, but melody comes first for me. I rewrite lyrics according to the melody, that’s how I like to work.” In addition to Sigrid, KAMARA mentions names like The 1975, Aurora, and Charlie XCX as influences. And one particular sibling trio that has stolen her heart completely. “I LOVE Haim. They’re my all-time favorite band. Not girl band, band. I hate it when people say girl band. They’re just a band.”
Girls to the front It happens that producers prepare R&B beats before even meeting her, and then they’re surprised that Sigrid and Zara Larsson are actually more of her jam. She’s hoping to break some stereotypes and she’s thrilled that there are role models like Lizzo popping up. Hopefully, we’re on a path that will lead to more women – no matter what skin color, size, shape, background, or genre – in the industry.
“We have the right to be proud of what we make and who we are. I think it’s really important. Like my mum, she’s so strong. She’s me confidence idol, she doesn’t take shit from anybody,” she says.“She always says “Know your worth – and then add tax. She taught me really early on to be a good person, be proud of who I am and what I do, and stand for. I don’t know, Africans are pretty confident, it must be something in the water. Everyone is like “I’m the best”,” she laughs.
“I’ve grown up around really strong women. My mum’s a single mum, so she’s my mum and my dad. I’ve always looked up to her and I feel like I can’t let her down because she’s never let me down. I cannot let any of the other women who look up to me down. There are so many people who want to see you down, so you have to be strong for yourself. And it’s hard – confidence is not something that’s just there, it’s something you have to work with all of the time. And it’s also okay to have days where you are not okay – but as long as you know yourself, it’s going to work out fine.”
She adds that ‘victim mentality’ can be crippling as well. “What you think, you manifest – I don’t go around thinking about myself as a black female and therefore it will be harder for me. I think ‘I’m black, I’m female, and I might have to work harder, but I’ll never give up, and I’ll never feel sorry for myself. You take what you have and you work it.”
She’s also happy to see that there’s a movement towards getting more women on festival line ups. But it should never be just about filling quotas. “It shouldn’t be like ‘she’s a female, we’ll throw her in’, it should be like ‘she’s good and we want her’. I don’t want to be picked out for something because they need an extra, I want to be picked because I’m brilliant. But we have to pave the way for some of that as well. Open the space and let the girls in and then we’ll show them why.”
Although Covid-19 has turned a lot of KAMARA’s plans upside down, then that doesn’t mean that everything has come to a halt for this young talent though. She’s been writing lots of new music and she’s convinced that people need music now more than ever. And though there are lots of new tunes in store, she’s very excited to be releasing the ‘oldie’ “Don’t Call My Name” – a love song that balances vulnerability and sass in a retro-tinged pop universe.
“Don’t Call My Name” is a song about being all in, or all out, when it comes to love. When it comes to love, half-hearted just doesn’t cut it” “Don’t Call My Name” will be out via Sony Music Norway from May 1, 2020.