Through its hugely popular YouTube channel, COLORS challenges the traditional music landscape by showcasing the most exciting up-and-coming artists.
In this series we present a special session recorded at the COLORS studio in Berlin, alongside an interview with the featured artist. For this episode, we meet British R&B singer Jorja Smith.
The words are followed by nervous laughter. 13-year old Jorja Smith is sitting on a small hilltop in her hometown Walsall with one of her schoolmates. Both still wearing their uniforms because school is just out. They’re about to perform a cover version of Katy on a Mission by British singer Katy B. The video, shot with a handheld camera, is uploaded to YouTube. It’s 2011.
It’s 2016. Jorja Smith is working as a barista at Starbucks. It’s a side job; music is the dream. She’s just finished her first song Blue Lights, in which she samples Sirens of UK Grime pioneer Dizzee Rascal. The song is about police brutality, but she also reflects on her childhood in Walsall, an industrial town in the middle of England, referencing bus number four she took to school each day. Within the first week, Blue Lights has 100.000 plays, and Jorja receives shout outs from Skrillex, Drake and Stormzy.
It’s 2018. Blue Lights has been played more than two million times on SoundCloud. The now 20-year old Jorja has appeared on Drake’s More Life and Stormzy featured on Jorja’s song Let Me Down. Not to mention she toured with Bruno Mars, worked with singer Kali Uchis and reached over 25 million streams on Spotify alone with her 2017 single On My Mind featuring UK garage legend Preditah.
Her fans are probably already used to how she easily moves through pop, funk, garage and soul, but the singer prefers not to describe her music with a genre.
“I hate describing my ‘genre’. People will make their own minds up on what they think my music sounds like,” she says. “I like to think my voice makes up the genre as it’s consistent. ‘Jorja Smith’s music is honest’ – can honesty be a genre? Not really, but it is for me.”
Despite all the recognition and attention, she’s been consciously patient with the release of her debut album. “There should be no rush when creating art,” Jorja says. “I’m also a perfectionist, to an extent as some flaws in how I sing make things perfect, so I wanted to get my album just right.”
That doesn’t mean she hasn’t been busy though. Independently, she has released numerous singles and one LP over the last three years, and in December, Jorja won the prestigious 2018 Brits Critics’ Choice Award, previously won by Adele and Sam Smith.
And now her album is almost ready. It will feature a collection of songs she’s written from when she was 17.
“I feel now is a very good time. I was never told to write an album, these songs just fell into place when I decided I wanted to make an album,” she says.
For her session in the COLORS studio in Berlin though, Jorja decided to go back to where it all started. She performs her first single Blue Lights – fittingly – on a blue backdrop.
“It’s such a special song to me and I want more people to hear it,” Jorja says.
Words by Søren Lund Nielsen.