How Ethiopia Influenced Izzy Bizu's Viral Pop Hits
Izzy Bizu tells us about the millions of plays on her debut album, A Moment of Madness, and how she's been influenced by her Ethiopian roots.
At just 23-years-old, British-Ethiopian singer-songwriter Isobel Beardshaw, better known as Izzy Bizu, has already shared the stage with music's finest including Sam Smith and Coldplay.
While her talents behind the mic seemingly fell on her lap, it was through her Ethiopian roots that she fully discovered her unique, acoustic sound. What started as a mere outlet to escape the struggles of boarding school has now become a dream come true.
But music wasn't always the goal. Izzy Bizu's career goals first began with animals. Although she wanted to be a vet, she soon learned the difference between hobbies and passions. At the age of 15, she auditioned for a teenage girl-band, singing "Beautiful" by Christina Aguilera. Just one week later, she was in the recording studio.
Fast forward to 2018, Izzy's debut album, A Moment of Madness, has clocked in over 225 million global streams and her hit single "Diamonds" sits at the #11 spot at Urban AC radio. If that's not enough, she still manages to find time to travel back home and give back to the communities in Ethiopia.
Izzy Bizu. Image courtesy of RED Music.
How would you describe your sound?
Soulful, raw, rhythmical, reminiscent.
Tell us about your Ethiopian background and how it plays into your music.
My mum is Ethiopian, and we often spent holidays there when I was younger. The country is incredibly beautiful and spending time outside of the city allowed me to escape into another world. And I'm sure this played a part in my love of poetry and writing.
Ethiopians also love to dance. There was always music everywhere, which also had an impact in my love and appreciation of music. I also feel because of my mixed heritage that I am a bit of a world traveler, and this also plays an important part in my lyrics and how I see the world.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
Amy Winehouse, Marvin Gaye, and The Black Keys. Marvin always spoke of his darkness and challenging surroundings in such an optimistic and hopeful light. Amy spoke such truth and had a unique flair to her melodies. She had a slight bossa jazz touch. Through her more vulnerable songs and the stumbles she made, she taught me about relationships. And I'd laugh at her moralistic values. I think some of them stuck with me today! The Black Keys have this raging passion that I have, and sometimes it can be released in an impulsive way. Listening to them made me feel as free as screaming on top of a mountain. They make me feel like I'm allowed to vent! They have that "tough exterior, marshmallow on the inside" vibe.
Congrats on the success of your single "Diamond." Tell us about the making of it.
Thank you! I wrote the song with a producer called Ian Barter. He found my EP online and contacted me, and we ended up recording a load of songs in his studio, which is a converted shed at the bottom of his garden. He played me his production for "Diamond" and I wrote to it right away. We recorded the song within two hours. I didn't realize how much frustration I had in me. I was brought up with an African mum and an English old-fashioned father, so the minute I left the house and started writing music, I felt like a baby bird flying out of my cage. I felt my innocence was about to get messed with and that's what I wanted and that's what the song is about.
Did you ever think it would blow up like this?
Izzy: Well, at the time that was not my focus. I didn't know what my potential was. I just needed to let go of this oppressed feeling I had. And when I heard it back, I was so happy and felt lucky to have worked with Ian. It was later I started to really believe in the song and just wanted everyone to hear it. I was shy and finally I could show how I really felt!
You actually spent the holidays in Ethiopia giving back. What motivates or drives you to do such a great deed?
Izzy: Yes! I went to Ethiopia for Christmas with my mum and brother. While I was there, I had an amazing time visiting Studio Samuel, which is a charity for girls and young women. There's nothing more precious than the first time you have a taste for the passion you choose to practice. So when I was surrounded by these young girls at the age of 11 presenting self-written monologues about war, singing about their ideal universe and how they picture love though they haven't experienced it yet, it was so beautiful and moving. I think these voices are what can cut through this digital age, which in my opinion has great qualities but involves a lot of exterior validation. These kids don't care about that as their art really is the only way they can escape unfortunate events in their lives. The really amazing thing is that they didn't even complain about these things. I really learnt a lot.
Tell us about your relationship and experience working with Studio Samuel.
Well, I heard about them through my label in the U.S., Sony's RED MUSIC. An amazing lady, Tamara Horton, who works there set it up after adopting a child from Ethiopia—what they are doing is really incredible. It's not just about handouts. It's about building self-esteem in the girls and enabling them with life skills that they can go out and earn a living with. I did a voiceover for this film they made last year, which explains more. It's well worth a watch.
It's a charity that is really close to my heart and I'd like to do more with going forward. We are talking about how else I can support their work, and I will definitely always visit when I go back to Ethiopia.
Your debut album A Moment of Madness dropped in 2016. If you had one song for fans to hear your story, what would it be?
Each song represents a part of my story, going through the emotions of new beginnings and they all interlock, so it would be hard to pick one. The album as a whole is about my transition from a girl to a young woman.
You're only 23. What are your long term goals?
I've never been that person that has a massive game plan. Right now, my goal is making this album and taking other creatives on the journey with me. For me, being in the moment makes things feel more spontaneous. Having big expectations can kill the passion sometimes.
What would you be doing if you weren't doing music?
Probably marketing or creating apps! I love thinking of new ideas to improve people's well being, both mentally and logistically.
Who's the most played artist on your phone?
Right now, it is Massive Attack. Their string arrangements are insane, and the lyrics always kill me.
FKJ, Tom Misch, or Masego. Groovy as hell!