WORDS MAISIE DANIELS - PHOTOGRAPHY MEARA KALLISTA - FASHION AISHA JIMOH
Hotshot Alicai Harley is the Jamaica-born, London-bred artists whose strong and distinctive approach to music is turning her into a creative powerhouse as she presents the world with a unique blend of Western vibes and Jamaican flavor. Her latest single 'Naah Done' is the perfect expression of Alicai's uniqueness and strong aesthetic both musically and fashion. She has been on tour with the BBC Introducing crew and headlined at London Black Pride and wherever she goes, Alicai exudes confidence, power, and talent. We had the immense pleasure of meeting with her for a chat where the London-based artist discussed her creative beginnings, the influence of her Jamaican heritage on her music and much more.
Maisie Daniels: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us. So, let’s begin with; how you are today? Alicai: Thank you for having me and I’m out here living my best life.
M.D: You have recently performed at London Black Pride. What did this mean to you and what was your experience of the event as a whole? Alicai: Listen, when I say turn up I mean it was TUNNN UPPP (*insert Jamaican accent here*) - Laughs. No, but seriously, it was an amazing experience and the crowd was phenomenal! It meant a lot to me to perform at London Black Pride because I believe in people fully expressing themselves and being their true selves. So for me, that is what Pride is all about, to break barriers, and I’m here for it 100%!
M.D: You have a truly unique and exciting aesthetic both musically and fashion. Is this something that you have always adopted, or has your style developed over time? By the way, your outfit at UK Black Pride was AMAZING! Alicai: Well, firstly thank you so much! My sound definitely comes from my background and growing up. Being born in Jamaica, but growing up in the UK, I started to write the way I speak, and once I did that it created something very different that felt natural, and I fell in love with it. Even today, I’m still growing and developing as an artist. I do not believe in ever being good enough, I want to be better every single day.
M.D: What relationship do you see between music and fashion? And how important do you think aesthetics are in the music industry? Alicai: I can see how fashion plays a big part, especially being new to the industry or looked at as a “public figure” people always want to see what you’re wearing. I love to dress up and I love fashion! When I’m performing if I look good, I feel good and if I feel good I’m going to slay, baby! However, the music is the music, and you don’t have to see the person to enjoy the way the music they create makes you feel.
Alicai wears top PRETTY LITTLE THING; skirt FILA; trainers NIKE; sunglasses LYNDON LEONE
M.D: Something that I instantly recognize with you is your abundance of energy and strength of character. Where would you say that you get this from? Alicai: Thank you. I’ve always had a very strong and crazy character. I have my own unique way of thinking. I’m not really sure where my character came from, but growing up, I dealt with a lot emotionally and I think just finding jokes and the best in everything kept me joyful and it made others happy too.
M.D: What is it that makes you feel empowered? Alicai: I feel most empowered when I go through my songs and Instagram freestyles as if I was someone watching me for the first time. It brings a different type of happiness to me, not in an egotistical way, but I don’t get much time to appreciate all the blessings that are happening and when I stop and take a moment to do that, I feel VERY empowered.
M.D: Jamaican born, you can clearly hear how your roots are deeply planted into your music. Can you tell me a bit about the influence Jamaica has had on you artistically? Alicai: Jamaica has had a very big impact on my music. It’s painted all over it and I try to keep it as raw as possible but clean at the same time if that makes sense. [Laughs] For example, I won’t make the facts sound sugar-coated and I’ll use a lot of slang. However, I try to keep my swearing to a minimum or none at all.
Alicai wears jacket MO&Co.; unitard FILA
M.D: You moved to London from Jamaica at a young age. What effect did this have on you both as an artist and as a person? Alicai: Moving to London at 5 years old allowed me to really take in the London culture and also grow up as a ‘Londoner’. I’ve had the opportunity to appreciate both worlds and blend them into my music.
M.D: A little bird tells me that you went back to Jamaica for the first time in a very long time last month. How did you find this and did it spark anything creatively for you? Alicai: Sounds like I got a rat in my camp [laughs], only joking. Jamaica was amazing. I was so nervous as I didn’t know what to expect after 15 years, but I wouldn’t have wanted to shoot it anywhere else. I got to see my family and they were so proud of me. For a long time, I wasn’t able to really just appreciate everything and whilst I was in Jamaica, as much as we were working and shooting ‘Naah Done’, I felt like I could breathe and take in the greatness. I kept saying “OMG, I’m finally home and I’m shooting my video”. Jamaica sparked many creative ideas and by God's grace, they will be shared soon.
M.D: Your incredibly catchy and super summery single 'Naah Done' was released last month - congrats! What has the response been like so far and how did it feel releasing this out into the public ears? Alicai: Thank you! The response to ‘Naah Done’ has been a blessing. I’ve had everyone congratulating me and asking how did I come up with it. I’ve been overwhelmed with happiness. I’ve had so many fans telling me how proud they are and I’m just really grateful.
M.D: You’ve been on the road for the BBC Introducing tour, how was this experience? What would you say is the best and worst thing about being on tour? Alicai: Honestly, the BBC Introducing tour was so good that the only part I would say was ‘the worst’ was it coming to an end. Going from city to city, I learned so much while performing, and experiencing tour life with Mahalia, who is another amazing female artist, was great.
M.D: Who has been the biggest influence on you musically, and why? Alicai: One of my biggest influences, since I was very young, has been Lady Saw. I admired her raw delivery and dominating character. Another musical influence has been Beyoncé. Watching her interviews, I’m always reminded that there are no limits.
M.D: You’re a South London lady - where is your favorite venue to go out & listen to music? Alicai: I love going to Lotus Bar in Clapham on a Wednesday night! Oh yes, I am a weekday party kind of girl. [Laughs] They play the best music and I get my full dose of bashment.
Alicai wears jumpsuit ZDDZ; heels MISSGUIDED; sunglasses KOMONO; jewelry STYLIST'S OWN
M.D: What is the biggest thing that you think London has to offers new artists? Alicai: The sound in London is so global and as a result of that it opens up the window of opportunity to collaborate and network with them all. For example, we have things like BBC Introducing who support new up and coming artists, and they cater for all genres, they have especially been a huge part of helping me grow and have appreciated my authenticity.
M.D: What is next on your radar? Alicai: Hmmm I’ve just released the video for ‘Naah Done’ so it’s GO TIME! I’m really excited about Hype Festival in Germany and showing the world what I have to offer.
M.D: And lastly, what is your favorite f-word? Alicai: My favorite F-word is ‘Faith’ and this is because without faith I wouldn’t be doing this interview nor would I have accomplished anything. In the past, not everyone saw the vision, including myself sometimes, but I had ‘Faith'.
Words: Maisie Daniels
Photography: Meara Kallista
Fashion: Aisha Jimoh