The soundscape of London is changing. What was once only heard in underground clubs has now been accepted into the mainstream. The champions of the Grime sound are mostly the ones actively pushing their genre into the forefront. What we’re witnessing now are other genres in the UK on a similar journey of discovery. British R&B has a rich heritage but it doesn’t seem to be on the same trajectory being ushered forward by the old guard. In situations like this, it falls on the youth to continue the tradition, to use their influences and create a new sound that carries the R&B genre forward.
One artist who is doing just that is Paige Lihya. In 2016, Paige released ‘In My Thoughts’, an EP that spoke on the experiences of a young woman in a relationship. Stories of walls being built as a result past encounters and jealousies were are included in this 5 track project. Considering these scenarios described through storytelling were coming from a teenager, it led me to believe that Paige had had exposure to honest and bold R&B music. “I made the EP in a period of my life where I was in a relationship. I was so overwhelmed by what was happening. I felt that I wasn’t treated well and I was beginning to feel unhappy. The EP was an expression of that.”
I had grown up in a house filled with music but I’d never had the thought of becoming a rapper or a musician. Music was something that I enjoyed instead of wanting to take part in it. Unlike me, Paige didn’t have musicians in her family, so how did the thought of becoming a singer take hold? “Music played a big role growing up. Wherever we were, in the car, in the house, there was always music playing. My mum loves playing music. She loves the bass. I grew up listening to Mary J Blige & Missy Elliot but it was probably Beyonce who made me want to start singing. She has such an amazing voice and a great performer, I wanted to do that. I really love singing. I would sing loudly in the house and sing in the mirror but I didn’t think about becoming an artist at first. I was just singing along to songs that I liked. But as I grew up I thought to myself, I could actually do this. I started writing, people started saying I was good and I just thought, let me continue with this.”
Living on an estate, it seemed that everyone had bars and everyone wanted to be a Grime MC. Meanwhile, I was happy with memorising D Double E bars. If I think back further, I didn’t even think about writing songs, in fact, I hated English at school. Paige on the other hand, has been writing songs from the age of 13 and being creatively involved in making music is something that appears natural to her, it’s just got further ignited once Paige started getting into studio sessions.
“I used to write with songs in mind. I use to go the studio sessions with Haile (WSTRN) and he helped me a lot. He pushed me and was the first person to encourage me to write. At first, it was hard. Everyone around me was doing great things but he helped write songs with me and then I developed further by listening to how people would structure their songs and that helped me continue to write.”
In this digital age, its quite rare that you hear stories of labels picking an artist from out of nowhere. In today’s market, it pays to do it yourself. You don’t just get in a studio session with someone who writes hit songs without putting in work. Haile reached out to Paige Lihya after hearing her songs on YouTube. Paige understood that she needed to put herself out there for the people to see and hear. After seeing her perform on Facebook, he invited her to create music. “At that time, I would record myself performing cover songs and would upload it to the internet. I taught myself how to play piano in primary school but it would take me a few hours to learn a song. I studied music at school but I’m not classically trained. It was really fun. I learned a variety of things. Getting that foundational musical knowledge really helped me describe sounds and it’s still beneficial.”
Creating something for yourself and putting yourself out there can be a daunting thing. The decision to become a recording artist with the intention to make music that everyone can hear is quite a different level than singing songs in your room. “I was 15, still in school, life was happening. At that I point, I didn’t think to myself that I wanted to become a singer for the rest of my life. I just thought this was a fun thing to do. But it got to a point when I started to take it more seriously. I set up a place to make music in my house. I wanted to see what I could do by myself with the skills that I’ve learned. In studio sessions, people would do things for me but I wanted to learn about the technical things for myself. I had loads of ideas floating around my head. I used to play with harmonies as I’ve always found them interesting. I loved the way they uplift a song.”
Coming from a household where R&B and Reggae ruled, it was a strange experience listening to albums by Kool & The Gang, Earth Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder – but none of it prepared me for Cam’ron and Mobb Deep. But Soul music, like Hip Hop, touches on the human condition – pain and anger were intertwined with great instrumentation and melodic voices.
“With R&B, I see it as putting your heart on the line. I’m young but I’m old school. I talk about love and relationships in my music”
Artists seem compelled to put their innermost feelings out for the world to judge and yet its those same personal experiences that inspire so many great songs. “At first, it felt really good putting my music out. But then I started to feel insecure. You don’t know what people are thinking, you know what I mean. It’s something that is very personal to me that I released out in the world for people to hear. But it’s out now. No going back. When I got the responses back, it made me feel good because what had happened to me happened to others and they related.”
As Paige embarks on her final year of college studying performing arts, the joy that she experiences making music keeps motivating her to spend all her free time being creative. The new single from Paige Lihya, ‘So Good’, is like the light at the end of the tunnel. If the EP documented the struggle, ‘So Good’, is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Paige regains her confidence and side steps any attempts to bring her down. Musically, it took me back to summers of the early 2000s. Familiar sounds were nostalgic but simultaneously fresh. “My new single, produced by Skye Chai, came about from us in the studio playing with sounds. I like being involved in the production. We had a reference when we came into the session but it came out really different. With ‘So Good’, it was based on how I began to feel after my relationship ended. Like, you know what, I’m good. Don’t ring down my phone. Just leave it. It’s done.”
We’re about to go our separate ways, and I randomly ask Paige who she would work with on a remix of ‘So Good’. “You know what, it would be Ty Dollar $ign”.
Paige is all good with the reaction to her music video and getting ready to release another song in the future. Wherever R&B is going in the UK, Paige has her own plans and plans to show her versatility.