If you like NAO or Jorja Smith, make way for the next great R&B artist from England: Mahalia Burkmar, better known by her stage name Mahalia. The Birmingham–based artist is just 19, but she has shown repeated glimpses of brilliance in her small discography.
One of Mahalia’s strongest tracks, "Sober," functions as a sudden realization of the need to break off the relationship she had with her ex. Over relaxed boom–bap production, Mahalia laments, “You and I we’re over/Me and you are done/When I wanted to be closer/You just wanted to run." However, Mahalia makes it clear that there’s no love lost for her upon realizing the necessity of this breakup, as she goes on to say, “Though I know it’s no one’s fault/If I’ve learned anything at all/With us, no matter how I add it up/One plus one is none.” "Sober" not only acts as a simultaneous ode and warning to all the one–sided relationships out there, but it also showcases Mahalia’s ability to evoke emotion from a song with production that isn’t particularly stimulating. The beat itself isn’t particularly moody, but Mahalia juxtaposes the boom–bap with a song full of regrets and self–rebuke. While some of her other R&B tracks might rely more heavily on sullen, lower tempo beats, it is really Mahalia’s vocals and lyrics that steal the show and set the atmosphere of "Sober."
"Sober" is simply one of the many standout tracks from Mahalia, tracks that also include "No Pressure," "Never Change," and "Mahalia." The young up–and–comer does not have a large number of public songs, but the variety of production within her released songs is simply astounding. Mahalia proves that she can create a great song regardless of the mood—whether it be a soulful, upbeat guitar sample in "Mahalia" or a darker and moodier R&B beat in "No Pressure," there is never a beat that feels “wrong” for her. If Sober’s beat acts as a sort of blank canvas for Mahalia’s vocals, the production on "Never Change" acts as a perfected complement to her lyrics of self–confidence and individualism.
"Never Change," a more upbeat, fast–paced track on her album Diary of Me, takes the realization Mahalia has on "Sober" and turns it into an ultimatum to her love interest: either change your ways and become more responsible, or she’s gone. She writes, “If you can’t change, thing’s can’t be the same anymore/If you cannot change baby, I’ll go my way and you go yours,” making it clear that there’s a progression for Mahalia from "Sober" to "Never Change." On "Sober," the slower, sadder song, Mahalia comes to realize her relationship isn’t what it should be, and it’s probably time to break it off. On "Never Change," the more fast–paced and upbeat song, the realization turns to action— rather than beating herself up for getting into a toxic relationship, Mahalia decides it’s either got to improve, or it’s over.
Not all of Mahalia’s tracks are focused on relationships, however. "Backup Plan" is a song about Mahalia following her dreams, and it is also arguably her best vocal performance on the Diary of Me album. Her defiant tone is ever–present throughout the track, even in the song’s final verse, “Now she’s grown, she’s all alone/With two kids screaming on the phone/Landlord calling for his rent/But she’s still stalling cause she can’t pay again.” Despite the dire situation, Mahalia follows the lyrics up with, “Oh my, she’s on a mission to show the teachers and the guys/She made something of her life.” This final verse celebrates her determination to do what she wants to do rather than settle for a backup plan, despite the improbability of her success in entertainment. But this is also the point where the narrative of the song splits from the reality of Mahalia’s career.
At just 19 years old, Mahalia still has plenty of time to continue chasing her dream, especially with the vocal talent she possesses and her ability to flourish over just about any form of R&B production. Despite her smaller track record, Mahalia should continue to gain momentum as a young and gifted artist. And while she may not be famous yet, Mahalia’s career requires no backup plan.