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Laura Mvula's debut album is called Sing to the Moon. (Courtesy of the artist)

Laura Mvula: A Soulful Voice That Once Answered Phones

by NPR Staff
May 19, 2013 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Less than two years ago, Laura Mvula was a receptionist honing her phone-answering skills at a music organization in Birmingham, England. Now, she's got a record deal and critical acclaim, and she's touring the U.S. with her debut album, Sing To The Moon.

She even stopped at NPR last week to record a Tiny Desk Concert.

After the show, Mvula spoke with Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition Sunday, about how much of a whirlwind the last couple of years have been and how she approaches her music and audience.


Interview Highlights

On her musical family:

"We were the kind of household where you couldn't have TV in your room. So, when my dad said I could have his keyboard in my bedroom, that was like, 'Whoa, this is another level.' I remember, that was the first time I wrote something and I got his ghetto blaster and I recorded it on tape. I rushed down ... and he played it in the car. I remember my [brothers] laughing, but my dad really loved it, and I think that gave me confidence."

On her favorite instrument to play:

"Well, I am by no means a pianist, I think that's safe to say, but the piano, for me ... it gave me what I needed, and gives me what I need, to write a song. I think playing or improvising on the piano is where I feel most liberated and sort of less conscious of all of my insecurities or inadequacies."

On her voice:

"When I used to think about singing, I used to think that if people sung well, [there] was a very sort of basic criteria [and] vocal gymnastic. How much power does the voice have? So I struggled a lot. If anybody asked me to sing anything, I was happy to sing in a group, but please don't ask me to sing solo. I think when I started writing songs, my voice just became another tool. It wasn't something that I was going to try desperately to try and woo a listener [with]. As long as I'm using my voice in a way that helps people understand what I'm trying to say, then I feel like I'm doing all right."

On the intimacy of doing a Tiny Desk Concert:

"I don't think I always look in people's faces. I think, especially when I'm doing my more intimate songs, that are more personal, I always think it's a bit accusing if I stare in someone's face when I'm singing quite a personal lyric. I kind of like people to feel that they have their own private space and not have me invade it with my eyes."

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