Photo Credit: Valentina Alvarez
Following the summer release of debut EP This Heart, Loah sits down with Rory Clarke to discuss all things musical and chili sauce-related.
“It’s not strictly soul, but it’s not folk, it’s not rock, it’s somewhere in the middle.”
Loah, or Sallay Matu Garnett as she is known to her friends, is a bubbly and down-to-earth musician with a unique heritage and appeal. This purple dread-rocking artist has struggled to label her particular brand of music. In the end, she invented a term,“ArtSoul”, she calls it. “It’s not strictly soul, but it’s not folk, it’s not rock, it’s somewhere in the middle.” She says that she has been heavily influenced by Erykah Badu and Björk, among others.
Loah grew up in Maynooth to Irish-Sierra Leonean parents, and her African influence is irrepressible: “Even when I try not to put it into my music it just comes through.” This is despite her “grumpy” resistance to moving aged 12, first to the Gambia, and later to Sierra Leone. “I felt really robbed of getting to start secondary school with all my mates,” she says. Today, Loah readily admits to acting like a “broody teenager” and finds herself going back to African music “with crazed affection.” She says: “It has this really powerful nostalgic and homelike quality.”
“I have big choruses in my songs, in an almost symphonic, orchestral way.”
Loah learned both violin and piano, and her classical education is another big influence. “It made my songs dramatic,” Loah explains, “I have big choruses in my songs, in an almost symphonic, orchestral way.” She likens herself to other female artists who use these techniques, such as Florence and the Machine and Kate Bush.
“[Hozier] made it into a really perfect little pop song – I would have taken it into the cosmos!”
Loah frequently writes with other musicians, and says she loves to do so: “I’m very good at creating nuggets of ideas, but it takes me a long time to finish things.” Perhaps her most famous collaboration is Hozier’s ‘Someone New,’ which she co-wrote. Loah says: “Left to me that song would have been very different, longer and more complicated. He made it into a really perfect little pop song – I would have taken it into the cosmos!”
We lose ourselves in discussions of chilli sauce and Rihanna’s merits as a singalong artist. When I eventually ask about her stage name, Loah’s face lights up. “Loa is the name of these energies in Haitian Vodou. I googled it by adding a ‘h’ and it turned out to be a female name in Kabalarian – which I don’t subscribe to – for a musician.” She ends, with clear satisfaction “I was like, ‘I’ll be having that!’”
Loah tours Ireland from 30 November. She plays BelloBar, Dublin on 7 December.