Singer and songwriter Grace Acladna announced the release of When I Saw You, a self-produced new single, off her upcoming EP, Phonophobia, expected later this spring. With this album, Grace stays true to her unique sonic aesthetics: a blend of Nu-House, Soca, Electronica and Dub, crossed with soulful lyrics and striking vocals.
Her rich cultural heritage (Egyptian and Bajan) remains an important source of creativity, as she constantly explores her artistic kinship. Born to music lovers, in a long line of creative pioneers, Grace preserves her family’s approach to music: a personal, meaningful act of creation, meant to captivate and transform, both the artist and the listener. With Phonophobia, Grace takes her artistic identity to new heights – bold and unafraid, disrupting expectations and channelling a new-found personal and creative strength. We had the pleasure to speak with Grace about the new song and album, her fascinating love story with music, and her multifaceted artistic output:
Elena Stanciu: Your music has a very unique style, clearly with more than one source of inspiration. What can you tell us about your creative journey?
Grace Acladna: I have so many fond memories of music from my childhood. I think that's where my fascination began. I was exposed to a wide variety of songs and genres that have influenced my taste and preferences. My dad played us so many different types of music; he would blast Jazz and Dub out of the living room with windows open. As kids we loved singing along to KRS-One Sound of da Police and I remember being enchanted by The Prodigy's Out of Space, partly because I associated it with Space Jam! On the other hand, we were listening to a lot of Jazz, such as Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. I remember falling in love with Dianne Reeves' music when I was seven and we went on our first family holiday to Barbados. I sat at the table while my parents were cooking, imagining my school friends were sitting with me as I sang to them.
As an adolescent, music became more of a search for identity. I went through a phase of being obsessed with Hip Hop and RnB; that music never really left me. Then I became even more obsessed with Indie and Rock, which then led to a passion for electronic music. My pursuit of music is closely related to the desire to be entranced by it, just as I was as a child. That's where its power resides.
ES: Who is your music for?
GA: My music is for music lovers, people who want to discover and experience something new; for people who want to be transported without moving.
ES: In your work so far, you've been building on elements of your rich cultural heritage. What do you feel closest to from your heritage (in terms of tropes, gestures, myths, identities)? Is this something you continue to explore in your music?
GA: Cultural heritage is a funny thing for me because I don't feel like I know enough about any of the places I'm from or about my family histories. For varying reasons, they are all a little distant to me. Yet I think they come out through my music and I am intrinsically attracted to their sonic histories.
On all sides of my family there are musicians and people who adore music, but the person who captures my imagination the most is my great-great-uncle Halim El-Dabh, who was a composer, professor and ethnomusicologist. He composed the first known piece of electronic tape music. When I started experimenting with sound, it felt quite cool to know that there was someone in my family that had this fascination with noise too. When I first started recording my own music, I was in love with recording harmonies and I took to it so easily – it brought me great joy. Then I found out that my great-grandmother was a choir mistress who had the first Arabic singing choir. A little over a year ago I visited the church where she used to sing, built by her father; it was an intense and incredible experience that I don't have words to describe. All I can say is that I left puffy-eyed.
ES: For your debut EP, you've been producing visual work to complement the music. What inspired this all-in approach (music, lyrics, visual)? Are you still doing visual art?
GA: It's very easy to box someone into prefabricated ideas of appearance and identity. I had a lot of experiences of working with people who didn't listen to my ideas, perhaps partly because I didn't know how to confidently communicate them. Learning to do things myself has given me so much more confidence in my ideas, the vocabulary to express what I imagined, but also a healthy understanding of my weaknesses. I wanted to take responsibility for my output and release something that reflected how I saw life. I still make visual art; I really got into painting last year, which I'd like to continue. I'd also like to do a photographic portrait series that celebrates black beauty – a topic very important to me.
ES: You've just released your latest single, When I Saw You, on your upcoming EP, Phonophobia. What is Phonophobia about? What role does this record play in your career?
GA: Phonophobia is the fear of sudden, loud noises. Not only does this EP have a few of those, but it is also a metaphor for my own journey in not being afraid of being seen and heard; for being bold and bursting expectations.
ES: You've spoken about your personal experience as inspiration for When I Saw You. I would imagine there's a sense of vulnerability to open up and include your private experiences in your songs. Do you experience this? Or is it rather empowering to you?
GA: There is a sense of vulnerability in opening up; five years ago I would've been terrified to do that. I used to only write songs that were made-up stories or observations of the people around me. There's nothing wrong with doing that, but in my case, it came from a place of fear. I didn't want people to know what I was really thinking and feeling; I also didn't know how to confront my feelings. Then I discovered there is nothing like a good heartbreak to force you to acknowledge how you really feel.
ES: How do you think the song will resonate with your listeners?
GA: I hope that the joy and playfulness of the song resonates with people and vibrates into their bones! It's a song for celebrating the people you love, who lift you up and bring out your best colours. You know – the ones you think about that bring joy to your eyes.
ES: Tell us about the music video for When I Saw You – were you involved in the production? Dancing is a big element in the video, and I love the freedom and joy it transmits. Is movement and dancing important to you when writing music?
GA: Thank you! My good friend Tolga offered to make a music video with me so we went out and did it! We didn't have much of a plan, except for some locations I spotted around town and some references we each thought of. I wanted to pay homage to Anna Karina in Vivre Sa Vie and Bande à Part. Tolga showed me this beautiful Mondo Grosso video and we combined the sentiments of both references. We didn't spend any money except on travel; one time we spent £1 getting into the exhibition where we shot the last scene of the music video. Tolga was the perfect person to create this video with. There were moments where one of us would be flagging, but we kept encouraging each other to be our best selves.
Dancing is imperative to the music-making process. If a song doesn't make me move, then something isn’t right. If music doesn't cause a chemical change in the body, then it's not the one. I used to be afraid to dance but then I remembered – I am mortal.
ES: What song of yours have you most enjoyed writing?
GA: From the upcoming EP it has to be Ötenazi. I'm surprised and proud that it came out of me and every time I hear it, it makes me sweat without moving a muscle.