Having relocated to Los Angeles,recently made a return to Stockholm to catch up with family and friends and, more importantly to us, to perform live at Debaser Medis. We spent a large part of the day in her company to get to know her a little better.
There is a mild drizzle as I make my way to meet the emerging, quite buzzed about Stockholm singer Beldina Malaika. The sun is fighting its way through the clouds and in the end the rain gives way to a bright warm beautiful setting as I walk into Babylon on the quieter side of Medborgarplatsen.
Describing herself in her Twitter bio as a “long-legged traveller”, she is immediately recognizable. Tall and composed, she looks like a model. Wearing tight blue jeans and a leopard-print shirt her composure is as poised and calculated as someone who has taken a year or two of etiquette class. We have a brief introduction and order breakfast, her an omelet, while I opt for a beer and a croissant.
Born an only child to a Kenyan mother Beldina grew up in the Swedish suburb of Rissne in Sundbyberg. Her childhood was comfortable and multicultural and with family from Kenya and America she spent a lot of times in the States. As a child Beldina began singing in choirs and dancing, provoking her mother to train her little entertainer. She joined the Swedish opera at age ten and her teenage years were spent gaining an education in performing that would serve her well.
In her senior year she was doing professional gigs with Mando Diao, Looptroop Rockers and Tingsek to name a few, and from then on being contacted by more artists eager to have her vocals on their tracks.
The spotlight wasn’t always welcome. “I was very conflicted,” she says. “Because of my voice I would always get attention, and I was always standing out and just wanted to be not seen. I was tall, I could sing, it was a bit hard but in high school I felt more comfortable when I got in touch with people who also just wanted to do music, so I just embraced it.”
Her progressive, glitchy disco anthem Here We Go gained some serious traction when Perez Hilton announced it on his site as a song to jam to, this was followed by her single What Can I Say.
A free mix tape entitled *Opening Act*, made her a hot property, and even though she is only 22, her CV is impressive – backing vocals for Stevie Wonder, had a viral hit with her hook on Childish Gambino’s Not Going Back, tours with Swedish acts like Rasmus Faber and Timbuktu and opening up for huge US artists like for Pharrell Williams and Billy Paul.
The internet has been instrumental in her rise to star to stardom, creating a fan base and making her accessible to the artists with whom she would soon be making time in her schedule to record with. “Just having that square on your phone makes it so easy to build your foundation and do whatever you want with your space, that’s your personal moment and you can create that connection.”
While we talk everything she does is small and calculated. I’ve never seen anyone eat an omelet so delicately. She thinks before she talks and hesitates before answering questions. I ask her about her guarded nature, and she smiles.
“I’m very conscious about what I put out. I don’t blast everything out there. I’m not like ‘hey, I’m doing this,’ it’s more ‘look at what I done, pay it forward of you like it’.”
She has yet to release her debut album, and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry.
“People have been asking me so many times about my debut album, I just put out an EP and might release another one before that.
“It’s like when you’re engaged people are like ‘when are you getting married?’ I want my musical journey to be an experience, I love music and am such a big fan music so I want to create something that’s exciting for the ears – I’m a good singer. There are so many sides of me that I want to portray.”
Operating outside of the former industry standard practice of record-release-tour, I ask her how she pushes herself. “Just wanting to be better all the time. I know what I am doing now, but in my mind I know where I want to be and that is what drives me.”
And where do you want to be, I ask. “You’ll see,” she says coyly, before changing the subject.
Throughout the day she fields calls from her publicist, producers and friends. Her hair spills over her shoulder as she checks messages, posts Instagram pictures and answers texts. The moments when we get an unbroken ten minutes of to talk, she speaks about her music, her experience, what she wants to do, brushing off personal questions that might paint her as a mere mortal.
What is clear is that she has her goal set on success in this industry, and in being an artist that will speak through her work, rather than through who she is dating or what she is wearing.
We make our way to the soundcheck. With the mic in her hand, her soft, steady speaking voice is transformed and her guarded nature goes out the window. Backstage before the show, she appears to be a little nervous, downing a glass of white wine and fidgeting with her extremely short green dress shirt, white silk jacket while towering over everyone in six-inch heels. But when she takes the stage accompanied by her DJ, Primrose, they command the stage and the audience like 90s supermodels. After the first two songs the room is jam-packed, with revelers from the adjacent bar stumbling in to see who has this magic voice. She goes through her singles before closing with a cover of Rihanna’s We Found Love before jumping into the crowd, where everyone is eager to reach out and touch her.
She makes her way back to the stage and finishes off the set calm and composed, sitting on a chair before the curtains close.
After the show she is effervescent and bubbly, chattering excitedly with Primrose, her best friend and co-conspirator since high school. They discuss the show, the audience reaction when she jumped into the crowd, the next gig. Smiling and laughing, they take Instagram snaps against the red curtain.
We take the elevator up from Debaser to the dressing room where the girls pack up their things and get ready for the next show.