For a girl who hasn’t yet entered her twenties, Jamaican-Irish singer Mahalia Burkmar has achieved an awful lot already. She’s performed with Emeli Sandé, opened shows for Ed Sheeran and Tom Odeel, and appeared on the big screen in Noel Clarke’s Brotherhood.
Raised in Leicester, and now living in Birmingham, the 18-year-old’s first full-length mixtape, Diary of Me, is a mellow amalgamation of acoustic guitar melodies and chilled pop, which form the beds for her autobiography songs.
Having lent her honey-spiced R&B tones to Rudimental’s ‘We the Generation’, one might expect Mahalia, who signed to a major label at the age of 13, to exude the energetic pop of, say, Ella Eyre or Foxes. But though she flirts with fame ambiguously (‘Back Up Plan’), there’s an relatability (‘Begin Again’) and tenderness (‘Rollercoaster’) to her music that is often closer to her guitar-playing contemporaries, such as Sherika Sherard and Billie Marten.
On most counts here, Mahalia does not quite achieve the same emotional union between vocals and guitar rhythm as the aforementioned musicians. However, she does exhibit moving lyrics. ‘Silly Girl’ grows from her venting about a school spat into a surprisingly understanding refection on life and social prejudices. The Craig David-ish, early-00s vibe of ‘Independence Day’, which sees Mahalia adopting a sharpened tone akin to North Carolina singer PJ, is wonderfully catchy. And the romantic reminisce ‘I Remember’ is a real simmer-down-and-pay-attention moment.
Diary of Me is an intriguing snapshot of this fledgling singer-songwriter. Just who Mahalia will be in a year, or even six months, from now is anyone’s guess. The melodic control and haunting emotion of a Laura Marling or a Denai Moore may be possible. But she could just as likely inhabit a carefree pop persona, a la Izzy Bizu. Whatever her path, this suburban senorita’s story is one to follow.
Diary of Me is out now on Asylum/Atlantic Records.
Image: Jenna Foxton