Alumni Special: Malaika

From Leeds DIY to the BBC in Canada

Since graduating from our pop degree in 2013 Malaika (Shaw) has gone from strength to strength. Truly part of the Leeds DIY scene, she records and releases all her own material in collaboration with other up-and-coming musicians and producers from the city.
Combining  Jazz, Soul and Pop, Malaika has accelerated her own exposure, seeking out opportunities for unsigned artists like the local Trinity Sessions to BBC Introducing, and fervently working to maintain good coverage as an artist. Within her first year of performing she received airplay on BBC Radio, supported X-Factor Finalist Luke Friend and was hand-picked by Jamie Cullum to perform at The Montreal International Jazz Festival 2015. Embracing viral marketing techniques popular with chart-toppers, she’s just released her new single after weeks of teasers and social media fuss…
So we asked her to tell us what has driven her to a career in the music industry, and what life is like doing DIY in Leeds.
What was your earliest musical experience?
When I was about 5 years old my parents decided to try me out with a few piano lessons. It took so long for me to get a grasp of the piano, and the teacher advised that it just wasn't for me. The lessons were spent learning the notes on the piano and I didn't get much time to just 'play' the instrument, although I did spend countless hours on my own just jamming and creating my own melodies and ideas. That was fun!
Who/what encouraged you to study music?
When I was 11 one of my friends explained to me what University was, and I was like “AMAZING! A place where you can study your favourite subject every day?! Sign me up!”.
It was then that I began making steps to getting my grade exams and everything I needed in preparation for that adventure.
What made you aspire to a career in music?
It’s the time that I found a guitar in the loft at 11 years old. The second I saw it I thought, “this is my career now”.
Who’s your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration has got to be each and every musician I have had the pleasure or listening to and working with.
Was there anything in particular that made you choose Leeds College of Music?
After attending 2 other Uni auditions it was clear that LCoM was the right one for me. I felt that the tutors had the students’ interests at heart, and that is what I needed to grow and develop as an artist.
What attracted you to the course?
The fact that I had the option to study performance and composition alongside one another and as a singer/songwriter is very important to develop all aspects of your craft.
What was your favourite thing about being a musician in Leeds?
Leeds is such a vibrant city with a thriving music scene. If you’re ever low on inspiration there is array of fantastic music at your door step. The music scene has so many varying genres you can delve into and I am still discovering new artists and acts who are breaking boundaries in the music industry.
How would you describe the challenges and joys of being a musician in Leeds?
I think no matter where you live there are always going to be challenges trying to live as a musician. You have to think outside the box sometimes. You have to make difficult decisions about what might benefit your career and what can pay the bills, whilst trying to balance practice time.
Who be your dream collaboration?
I’d love to collaborate with Esperanza Spalding – she is such a talented vocalist and bass player, and writes the most interesting and unique melodies. 
What has your journey been like since leaving LCoM?
When leaving LCoM I didn't quite know what to expect about life as a musician – learning to be truly independent whilst trying to launch a music career proved to be a huge challenge. The greatest thing though, was being able to play the music I really wanted to play and experiment with new ideas.
How has your study at LCoM aided your career so far?
It has helped in so many great ways. I feel like I now have the tools to take my education to a new level. The one thing I am so grateful for gaining is the basic knowledge of the music industry and having the ability access the resources to further study it. It’s definitely prevented me from making many mistakes!
What has been your greatest achievement?
It has got to be going over to Canada to perform at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Having been chosen by Jamie Cullum based on my songwriting alone gave me the confidence to know I am doing the right things.
Since gaining my first Radio 1 play slightly beforehand, the support from the BBC has been amazing. It’s great to know that there are organisations out there to help unsigned and undiscovered music get to the audience it deserves.
Where would you like to be in five years? 
Continuing to write and perform my music!
If you had one piece of advice for a prospective student, what would it be?
Try to meet and collaborate with as many people as you can – it’s invaluable.


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