Express & Star

Home is where the heart is for superstar Jorja Smith

She’s delightful. She’s a genuine, bona fide dream. Jorja Smith, the remarkable talent from the West Midlands who won a Brit and was nominated for a Grammy.

Jorja Smith with her Best British Female Solo Artist Brit Award in the press room at the Brit Awards 2019 at the O2 Arena, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION PHOTO. Picture date: Wednesday February 20, 2019. See PA story SHOWBIZ Brits. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.

Yer she is humbler, sweeter, and more dignified than anyone might have reason to hope.

The singer-songwriter broke through with the dizzying single Blue Lights, earning the attention of Drake with the sassy brilliance of Where Did I Go?

A major publishing deal followed before she performed on Bruno Mars’ world tour, and won the Brit Critics’ Choice Award.

All the while, she’s basked in the hazy afterglow of her inventive and remarkable debut album, Lost & Found, which secured a gold disc in the UK and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

It's all a long way from her upbringing in the modest surroundings of Walsall.

And, as the conversation flows naturally, she i very aware of the importance of where she has come from. The chat focuses on three key issues: home, her family, and her stunning, self-reflective new record, falling or flying.

Home is – and always will be – Walsall. Her parents, Peter, a benefits officer and some-time neo-soul musician, and mother, Jolene, a jewellery designer, are the rocks in Jorja’s life. She grew up surrounded by music, not least that made by her father’s band, 2nd Naicha, before learning to play the keyboards from the age of eight, with a teacher, Helen, from Walsall.

“My mom and dad encouraged me to go and play keyboards and write songs.” She became obsessed with the keyboard. “I used to write poems and books but I’d never finished them. But songs were the first thing I ever finished. So I did that.”

Just before she moved to Aldridge High School, aged 11, she watched a documentary about the iconic Coventry ska band, The Specials, which concluded with Ghost Town. It was 2007. “I remember watching that and thinking the things they were singing about were like the things that were happening in Walsall, with the credit crunch and everything closing down.” So she wrote a song about it. And she’s not stopped since then.

She and a friend, her neighbour, became music obsessives, listening to such artists as Alicia Keys. Her mother and father, meanwhile, continued to encourage her passion. As Jorja drifted into cake shops and launderettes, she’d be forever ready to sing. And, by the age of 15, it was time for her to play her first gig. “I’ve always just been about following your dreams.”

Home features prominently and there’s a reason for that. Home is where the heart it, it’s where Jorja doesn’t feel the need to impress, it’s where nobody’s judging her or crowding her with expectations, it’s where she can just be.

For a young woman who’s successful made headway on an independent record label and who is highly regarded throughout the music industry, you might expect a touch of swagger, arrogance, or bravado. All, however, are notable only by their absence. There’s not a hint of self-satisfaction nor ego – quite the reverse.

“The thing with singing is I just feel at home. I love performing. I don’t like the attention but I enjoy performing and singing. I love writing. I love to do that. I’m quite introvert. Some people wouldn’t realise I’m quite shy. I get people who recognise me but I’d rather just be at home.”

Blue Lights was the breakthrough, though it didn’t come encumbered by silly dreams of world domination. The highest hope Jorja ever had was to do a show with Jools Holland, a box she ticked when she performed on Later five years ago.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m so hard on myself, I’ve never had real big dreams. I wanted to have a little label. I’m not signed to a major. Hopefully, that’s inspiring to other people.”

For a while, she lived in London. She’d seen programmes about Brit School and the Silvia Young Academy and imagined all the action was there. She survived it for a while, before moving back home. “I’m so proud of where I’m from.”

We’re supposed to be talking about her new record – and we do, a little later – though she’s not yet done with home. She wanted to help other kids like her, who’d grown up in working-class surrounds, who’d not been given the opportunities they might need to succeed, and who might be able to live better, more confident lives with a little support.

And so she formed a choir, for kids like her. “There were youth clubs when I was growing up. Then there was nothing. I feel like it’s such a weird time at home at the moment, there’s nothing for anyone. I started a choir because I need to get back to what the kids needed. The girls just come together every Wednesday for an hour. It’s beautiful that because of what I’ve done I’m able to help people. I write to figure out how I’m feeling, so that things make more sense to me. I can put that in a song and people hear it and don’t feel alone.

“It’s beautiful that kids come along to the choir. I set it up and you know, I was finishing videos and doing my album. My heart just melted when I heard these girls sing. I couldn’t stop smiling and the girls just couldn’t stop smiling. Just seeing all their faces was bliss.

"My mom said a lot of the moms had come up to her and said they’d got their little girls back after they’d been to choir. They’d been away in lockdown and were feeling a bit more anxious. Now they were feeling good about themselves again. I don’t just want to do the choir though, I want to do more for the kids in Walsall.”

We really must talk about falling or flying, the remarkable coming-of-age record that presents Jorja Smith as a fully realised talent. She’s built on the legacy of her poppy, r’n’b debut and grown. Sonically, lyrically, and musically, it’s a record that is destined to become an undeniable modern classic. Out in September – though heard in part by this writer – it thrillingly embraces jazz, soul, funky house, and r’n’b. It will be released globally in September, at the same time as Jorja plays a series of album release shows.

It was written in the West Midlands, in Walsall and Birmingham, with two friends, one of whom she’s known since she was 15. “Falling or flying is how I’ve felt, really. You know, when I put out my first album, so much happened. I feel like I’ve been falling or flying since then. If you know me, there’s nothing in between. I’m happy or I’m sad. I’m falling or I’m flying.

“Yes, I feel like I’m 26. I’m stepping into womanhood with this album. it’s sick because the songs were written for now. When I was a kid for the first album, it was about thinking I was in love or stuff from overhearing conversations.”

Her life has changed, though perhaps she hasn’t. She’s still the same down-to-earth, community-conscious, free-spirited dreamer who learned to play keyboards because she had two great parents who backed her to the hilt. Everything’s changed – and nothing’s changed.

Though Falling Or Flying will once more take her around the world, she’ll look forward to being back in Walsall, back home. Her ambitions are unchanged. She wants to make music, she wants to connect, she wants to make a positive impact on those around her. And, with Falling Or Flying, it’s tick, tick, and tick. She’s a remarkable young lady – her time is now.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.