Mali Hayes.jpg

Course Studied: BA Music (Popular)

Year of Graduation: 2015

Top Career Highlights:

  • Performing at Manchester Jazz Festival in 2017
  • Performing Backing Vocals for Tito Jackson

Mali’s music takes influence from jazz, neo-soul and R’n’B. The resultant, unique sound has been compared to that of Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. Accompanied by either 4-piece or full 9-piece band, she was recently chosen to be part of the Gilles Peterson and Brownswood’s Future Bubblers programme, has performed at Manchester Jazz Festival and received notable support from the likes of Jamie Cullum.

We caught up with Mali to learn a little bit more about her journey since graduating from Leeds Conservatoire.

Since leaving Leeds Conservatoire you have been building a career as a singer – how did your experience on the Popular Music degree set you up for this?

The course threw me straight in the deep end of properly communicating and networking with other musicians and producers. It definitely gave me a lot more confidence, particularly towards the end of my 3rd and final year (which seems a long time ago now). That was when I felt ready to go and pursue the career I wanted.

Growing up your mother was a sound engineer and you toured the UK and Brazil – did this experience influence your decision to become a musician?

It was great to be able to do that with my mum - I'm so grateful she gave me the opportunity to travel with her. I knew I always wanted to sing, but I was more comfortable singing at home or in a choir. It wasn't until I went to university, and had the sudden realisation in my 2nd year that I really wanted to do this full-time - and believed that I could.

Your music crosses over into a mix of genres – R’n’B / nu-jazz / soul – do you think it’s important as an artist to be adaptable and appeal to a wide variety of audiences or find a particular niche?

This is a super interesting question. I think artists evolve naturally anyway and will write a number of different styles - myself included!

However, it can be scary. I recently wrote a song with a couple of my band members and I think it's quite different to the stuff I've already released as a solo project. I wasn't sure whether it should be titled under or credited to another artist or different name. But I really love it and I’m a firm believer that you should release what you love! I'm in this because I love music and the openness and freeness to express yourself - you shouldn't have to be tied down to one thing, in my opinion.

You recently played Manchester Jazz Festival – what was this experience like?

Manchester Jazz Festival was incredible. I've been so many times to see friends perform there over the years - and to be able to play a pretty iconic gig in my hometown felt truly amazing. People stayed to watch, took pictures and talked to me after the gig - it was great.

What external support have you had and how has this impacted upon your career?

I’ve been part of the incredible Future Bubblers programme this last year which has been truly amazing and eye-opening. It's part of Brownswood Recordings (Gilles Peterson's label) and funded by the Arts Council England in conjunction with Help Musicians UK, PRS for Music Foundation and Ableton. Being on the scheme has been super helpful - I feel I've achieved so much in the past year than I would have been able to without it. My mentor, Claudio Lillo who works at CAA (Creative Artists Agency) has been so helpful (and honest about everything I've put across to him). I'd like to think I'm a hard working person anyway - but being part of Future Bubblers has helped me gain the contacts I needed to move forward.

Do you have a portfolio approach to your career, and if so what other activities are you involved in?

Although I have a part-time job for 2 days a week back home in Manchester, my main income is from function gigs on weekends (mainly weddings, corporate events and birthdays). It's bittersweet with function gigs because it could easily take up your whole time, and you’d have no time left for your own music creation. However, equally, function gigs allow me to sing and make money from doing what I love! 

What have been your career highlights so far?

My career highlight has to be performing at The Jazz Café (Camden) earlier this year. My band and I got asked to cover 2 of The Neptunes’ tracks, which we thought we had to provide a fresh take on. When we got there, we heard other acts soundchecking and doing straight covers of the tracks - so we were somewhat nervous before our performance.

However, the tracks went down really well (what an iconic place to play in!) and the crowd were demanding an encore, chanting 'more… more… more…’ It was overwhelming to know that people really loved what we did. To relive that gig and play a cheeky original at the end would be ace.

What’s on your career bucket list?

My ultimate goal is to tour around the world.

What’s coming up next for you?

At the moment I'm writing a lot of new material, planning new releases and gigging here and there (keep an eye on my socials for updates).

What key advice would you give to aspiring singer / songwriters?

Don't be afraid to say no, don't be afraid to chase after what you want and don't be afraid to just be yourself and do what feels right for you.

Find out more about what our successful graduates have been up to in our Alumni Profiles

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