Toya Delazy. Photo: Simon Wisbey

Exploring the London music scene with Toya Delazy

Toya Delazy’s latest single London Town reached number 3 on the Music Week Urban Club Chart and she isn’t stopping anytime soon. Hazel Brown and Anusha Stribbling met her for a chat on a cold snowy day near London Liverpool Street.

Originally from South Africa, singer-songwriter, rapper, producer and label owner, Toya Delazy talks through her past accomplishments, her journey and what she has planned for the future.

Photo: Cosmoplitan

You’re originally from South Africa – what brought you to the UK?

I wanted to expand as an artist. I’m not a conventional artist and when I started off, I was really afro-futuristic. When my label signed me they really turned me into a pop star and I’m slowly trying to turn back into my original state.  With the things I write and my style, I thought I might have more of a receptive audience here and also wanted to be somewhere different.

Tell us about your new single London Town – you’ve worked with some well known producers and artists – what’s the story behind the track?

After moving here I started feeling more myself. It became my new city, a love-hate relationship, but at the same time, I felt like things were moving for me as a person and I wrote a song about it.

Originally you described your music as jazz, electro-hop and pop, and in 2016, you were more inspired by punk. How has your music evolved over time?

I grew up musically, in Durban, South Africa, around punks and goths. I was the one who’d come out with keys and play, but I had this punk thing about me. I love the pop scene and it exploded in Africa for me, but I never thought of it as truly mine. I mean it was me, but I wanted to express myself differently.

That scene was not about bragging, showing off and how cool you are, it’s more about expression and everyone is just raw and they’re themselves. I think that’s what made me comfortable in the arts. I’m trying to bring it back into that space.

You’ve got quite a distinctive style – what’s your biggest influence?

It’s all about how I feel. My mum was really afro-futuristic. She was a Zulu, but she went to study overseas and then she came back with all these cool ideas of individualism.

You started your own label Delazy Enterainment in 2012 and talk about the importance of bringing Africa to the next level. What aspect of your heritage is so important to you?

My culture. It’s so rich, and in a way, it’s been so un-commodified for such a long time. We have our ways, our traditions and strong beliefs. There’s that part of it that’s still so untainted and beautiful, which pushes me forward when I’m in a new space – to keep doing my thing and trusting my journey. Coming from this rich culture and rich tradition and having an identity which I am now moulding into my own because I hate boxes.

In Africa there are still so many restrictions. A lot of people get judged whether it’s for their sexuality or whoever they are. You don’t feel free to fully be yourself, and I said ‘Listen, if I can’t drive this vehicle, which is myself, I’m never going to get anywhere.’

What made you decide to start your own label?

After being with my amazing but super commercial record label [Sony Music Africa], I realised they weren’t understanding my identity as well as I was and they were trying to mould me into something else. I thought, ‘I need to take it into my own hands and do it myself’, and I thought I’d open the door to other African artists. Sometimes, if you don’t fit into a certain box, you’re overlooked even if you’re really talented. That’s what made me open my label – it’s a home for my music and others.

Who have you got on your label at the moment?

A collective of three women, Klutch Kollective – they rap. At the moment, they are also doing individual projects but we started them off and now they’re on a roll in the industry.

In South Africa, especially in hip hop, girls don’t get given the same amount of exposure that guys get. They don’t get the jobs and all that stuff. With my position and how far I’ve gone, I can do that and put people on.

We can’t interview you without mentioning that you were the voice of the first black Powerpuff Girl – how did that come about?

They wanted me to produce the new theme song for the reboot so that’s what I did in 2016. Then they said they had a new opportunity. They wanted to introduce this new character called Bliss and they asked if I would I like to do her voice. I was like ‘yes!’ I went for auditions in London, they liked it and I got the job. I couldn’t believe how big it became.

What do you want to achieve in the future?

I’ve got an album out, Uncommodified, so I’m trying to start setting up shows to gain a bit of exposure. Hopefully we’ll get onto mainstream radio and start gigging around London.

Photo: Richard Hanson

Production is an area that a lot women find difficult to get into – how did you get started?

I just had to kick the door down. Initially, I was telling my label I can produce and they didn’t take me seriously. So I just started with my second album – I started producing songs on there. I had them added to the album, people started hearing them and it gave me hope. That’s what I keep on doing now. I collaborated with Rymez on London Town – I wrote the bass and then he added all the cool drums and stuff. Rymez worked on Steflon Don’s song Hurtin’ Me.

Being a women from South Africa, have you come across any big challenges breaking into the industry in the UK?

It’s tough, because we’re branded by our accents, so it’s not like I can hide it and come across as British in any way. Also, when opportunities come, I think people would rather look into their own pool first. I have to be extra, I need to push way harder than anyone else would here.

As a rapper, have you found it difficult to get into the scene over here?

I’ve had to understand an entire culture… I’ve really invested in myself, listening to a lot of artists, being part of the scene and watching a lot of shows. It’s getting with the lingo. It’s been a learning curve… I’ve put in a lot of work, and I’ve got my eyes set on the horizon.

Feature image: Simon Wisbey

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