GLORIA. Photo/FX: Rebecca Eskilsson.

Meet GLORIA, the Newcomer UK Artist Creating Future Black Music

The London-based artist blends future R&B, vogue house and the avant-garde with commentary on the dystopia of modern life.

Born and bred in the North West England, with roots in both Nigeria and Jamaica, GLORIA is a figure who personifies the diaspora experience.

The newcomer artist, who is part of GAIKA's The Spectacular Empire collective, is championing forward-thinking black art and music out of her base in London. GLORIA's output presents an arresting visual aesthetic that provides earnest social commentary on the dystopia of modern life through a blend of future R&B, vogue house and the avant-garde.

We spoke to GLORIA about the recent release of her 5-song Testify EP, her new remix from Ase Manual, Afrofuturism as a mindset, and much more. Read our interview below.

What was your first interaction with GAIKA like?

I'd say that he's probably the leading artist in the UK who I'd say is pushing the most boundaries. I'd heard his music and really liked it. It was so much darker than what anybody was giving us at the time. We met at a festival... and he was very open to allow me to come into his studio without even hearing me sing. He just took a recommendation from my friend at the time.

People who take chances on people like he does, it reaps so many rewards, as I went into the studio and met Lafawndah. They were doing a track together at the time and I was like a little rookie in the corner not really knowing what I was doing. I got up and did some singing. I didn't think anything of it. Then GAIKA heard my voice and he said that was actually sick... the way we describe it is that it's got a lot of gospel and soul in it, but it's got that extra rawness as well.

GLORIA - TESTIFY (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

Tina Turner is a really big influence for me because her voice attacks songs Its like raw emotion coming out, and that was pretty much how I sing. He used the session on his album and we've been working together ever since. I am part of his collective The Spectacular Empire, a future black music and art collective. I don't think music stops online. I'm very focused on making the offline experience incredible as well.

Your short film, Testify, features two tracks from the new EP—"Second Chances" and "Friends." Tell us about bringing those visuals to life?

I wanted to create a timeless sense of purgatory with the videos. A sheer contrast between the abyss (scene 1) and a hyper real situation (scene 2). I also wanted to pull a thread of technology through the short film, focusing on how we use technology for escapism ( the headset) and intimacy (the uber pool). Its a mad contrast but I love it. The reason why the first part of Testify is black-and-white is because me and the director Claire Arnold love '90s and early '00s music videos. Janet and Michael Jackson's "Scream" was such a classic and always in the back of our heads. I am plugging myself into the VR headset but... these creatures pull me out of this dreamlike state. I loved the contrast.

The reason why I flipped to the Uber pool was that: I was supposed to be looking over the abyss in this purgatory space into the back of an Uber Pool and [seeing] myself interacting with a scorned lover and people completely ignoring me. All relationships are in transit... Technology has allowed us to create these spaces which we have never had before. That weird sense you get when you are in an Uber Pool with people you don't know. It's kinda visceral. "Do I feel okay about this? Who are the people who are with me?" There are so many different outcomes, so it was to pay homage to the way our digital world is moving. Hopefully it hits home for people.

GLORIA. Photo: Claire Arnold.

How important is it for you to incorporate elements of social commentary in your work?

It's very important. The big thing you'll see in my work is either an otherworldly or a dystopian focus. It can cover both, but without that social commentary in our work now, it would be madness. We are going through a large period of global change at the moment, especially with people misidentifying themselves. We are living in such a dysfunctional state and technology is being pushed further and further. We are all becoming disconnected—that is dystopia—but a lot of people would class it as utopia. It's about whoever the lens is on. I am a black female and a lot of people would say I am at the bottom of the rung, but I don't believe that. I like to push that powerful black female figure. It needs to be a constant theme through the music and the visuals, otherwise I'm not doing it right.

Any artists or producers coming out of Africa that you find interesting or may want to work with in the future?

Baloji. He's a quite nice Afro-Future artist. His look and the videos are insane. I also met Moonchild Sanelly and I think next year is going to be her year. Also Jumping Back Slash is a producer I'm working with at the moment, creating roots in South Africa.

You've also talked about GAIKA, Serpentwithfeet and Lotic. How exciting a time is it now to have all these different artists come up, who have their own sense of individuality and nuances?

It's so exciting because you get a proper melting pot of sound. When Motown was created, that was super exciting as it was a new movement in music. We're at that stage again, especially in the R&B space. [There's] JPEGMAFIA and all of these harder sounds but still using the root of what we class as our music... R&B, hip-hop. I'm so excited to see, I think now is the time for that music revolution again, [of] people standing together and making themselves heard. It's like a new punk movement.

GLORIA - OUT (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

How do you feel about people calling this new movement Afrofuturism?

At first I didn't feel as if I related to the term Afrofuturism at all. Afrofuturism is a very US-focused term which hasn't really been coined in the UK. I feel like in the UK we're just out here making future black music, but we create a visual aesthetic that looks at our connectivity to spirituality and sci-fi, focusing on making things feel otherworldly. I would understand how people start coining it as Afrofuturism but we haven't even thought about that yet.

Afrofuturism gives people a word to describe a movement. It gives people something to look into and then artists will get categorised underneath that. It allows people to grow their imagination of blackness in the future. We're all pushing Afro future black music but my agenda is to redefine what R&B sounds like in the UK and create a left-field sound. My aesthetic can be warped to sci-fi and I really focus on the meaning of mythology and religion and how it affects everything that we do. I say I tick 60 or 70 percent of the boxes. Maybe we will start using the word more in the UK and I think there needs to be a collective action from everybody for it to land here.

Essentially when you grow up and looking at music from Black America, it doesn't really give space for us to realise what we are doing here in the UK.

My first music video was about looking into your mind and seeing what you would classify as an alien, but the alien is stuck inside this unknown space. I based the area on Area 51. It's got a lot of dancing, a lot of sci-fi, BDSM, especially in the outfits. I sent it to somebody and they went "I really like the song but you could've just stood in front of the camera and sang to it, instead of all of this." That's the problem with people's perception when it comes to the traditional view of R&B. Nobody is going to get that from me. They're going to get non-linear storylines, which I love, and a lot of references to sci-fi and hyper reality.

It also relates to being a black artist in a white electronic space, there is always an expectation to represent a mass as opposed to your own individuality.

I don't now if other artists wake up in the morning and go I want to look and act like that other person but I know that I don't. This is it. Maybe this path of career is a slower trajectory, but for me this is exactly what I want to do. The fact that I am able to sit in a space and use technology to really push live performances, create unique videos It's an incredible experience, something I'm going to stay true to.

The Testify EP by GLORIA and Ase Manual remix are out now on The Spectacular Empire.

Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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