Fatima: #realtalk

May 12, 2014

If Fatima were a hashtag she’d be #realtalk. Telling it like it is without condescension, she speaks at the speed of light, calling you on your bullshit when you don’t even realise it. (“Yeah but wait, what’s the question?”) Her words come in a wave-like motion. Slow to start, they accelerate, eventually knocking you sideways with a blunt blow of insight and candour. And if you listen really carefully, you can even hear it in her songs. Whether it’s in being “pimped by greedy debt” over the big band release of “Do Better” or “Technology”’s looping, clipped sample of a double-bass lurching along its malfunctioning neo-soul rhythm. An immaculate and inviting voice shifts with its dreamy current moaning the refrain: “Fal-ling for it!”

Dan Wilton

“There are loads of positives,” Fatima prefaces, before going into the negative side of social media. “I don’t find it wrong to take photos of yourself and put it up there, but it’s more like, the way certain people do it and the way it’s turning into narcissism. It’s more like the way that people search for ‘likes’ and just want to feel accepted, to boost their confidence and make them feel good. But I think it’s a problem when you get addicted to it and it’s like, ‘Well, what if you don’t get any ‘likes’?’”

Sat at a table outside on an overcast spring day in London, the Swedish-born Fatima is flanked by heavy baggage. There’s a leather handbag, in a grid of red, green and brown, plus a paper one with a change of clothes and some black and yellow Jordan Airs for the photo shoot to follow, just in case. “I’ve got them because… well, because,” she shrugs with a chuckle. She’s already arrived in an impeccably coordinated outfit, colour blocking across primary shades, a matching frilled scrunchy to top it off.

“Halfway scuffed sucks,” she scoffs in reference to the spotless white sneakers she’s also wearing, to go with her white tights and white top, bound by a silver chain and a pendant featuring a Frida Kahlo self-portrait. “I saw this when I was in a shop in Brooklyn, but on the other side it’s this,” she says, turning the pendant around to reveal a miniature reproduction of Kahlo’s harrowing “Wounded Deer” painting – the Mexican artist’s head on the body of the beast, fatally wounded and in flight. “That’s the beautiful side and this is the… there’s good and bad.”

This is where the conversation gets philosophical and a little personal, if ambiguous. In the same way that the swaggering address to an anonymous figure could be applied to any all-too-familiar tale of unrequited love in “Biggest Joke of All,” Fatima shares her thoughts on relationships in light of the tumultuous one Kahlo shared with Diego Riviera. “I get too many comments on her love life,” she sighs before adding, “she put up with a lot but I think a lot of people are like that in relationships because you love one side of a person so much, you’re addicted to that feeling,” she chuckles. “You might actually, sincerely love a person but then you let yourself put up with certain things just because the positive side is so strong. Some people choose to live with the heartache.”

Somehow the interview has turned into some kind of therapy session, where Fatima offers up the same wisdom that she so poetically applies to her music. There’s the softly sad lyric “and I’m still alone, talking to my own reflection,” in “Technology” and “then I wait another year or two till I see you again” in the cool organ swagger of “Biggest Joke Of All.” “I don’t really analyse myself but I just think that sometimes it’s more straight on and sometimes it’s more, maybe abstract,” Fatima says about the way she writes her lyrics, “I guess that’s what’s interesting about music and paintings or whatever. It’s up to each individual to figure it out for themselves because there are a lot of different answers to one thing.”

Perhaps those multiple perspectives are why Fatima has such mixed feelings towards the selfie, especially with Kahlo being a much-referenced progenitor of the phenomenon. “Some old painters used to paint themselves, that’s just what they did. And today people are taking photos of themselves every day. But for some reason I feel like Frida Kahlo is a little bit deeper than just taking a snapshot of yourself just to get quick ‘likes.’” Fatima chuckles.

Born in 1985, Fatima still remembers the days before digital media; when the internet didn’t exist in the everyday and the “tape” in mixtape was more than just a figure of speech. “I’m happy that I can still remember what it was like before this,” she says. “Now, you’re used to getting everything so fast that you feel like you’re going to explode because this file’s not downloading in two seconds! I grew up sitting in my mum’s living room doing my own homemade mixtapes. I’d sit there for 90 minutes, waiting for that song to end and then doing the next. It took more dedication and you actually appreciate it more. I am thankful that it takes two seconds to download stuff now but I think that if you know how it used to be, maybe you appreciate it in a different way.”

That loving attention and sweet sense of nostalgia resonates throughout Yellow Memories. Inspired by a rummage through old family photos at her mum’s place in Stockholm and named after the yellow-coloured paintjob of her grandma’s house, Fatima’s album is a symbol of lost innocence. There’s the poignant, minute-long a cappella “Rest in Peace” and the mournful petition against abandonment in “Gave Me My Name.” “Family” is a sincere account of an ex-pat’s longing for a home, sung over the typically dreamy, evocative beats of Chilean-born, German-raised Londoner FlaKo.

You can’t help but hear the sincerity in Fatima’s music and her lyrics, but in describing her character in person, the word “bubbly” more often springs to mind; a personification of the clicking, bouncing jitter of “Ridin Round (Sky High).” There’s a rhythm to her rambling, revealing a powerful grounding in reason, and something that she alludes to when she declares, “I am the truth,” in the Spanish slang of “La Neta,” as a bounding, swaggering guitar melody carries the heavy burden of enlightenment through Fatima’s poetry. The lyrics – “You look above you dream away and say, ‘When will I make it?’ / That’s when you need to recognise the fool that you ain’t” – reveal the harsh reality of ambition as something perpetually unfulfilled.

As the conversation touches on the meaning behind names (“there’s more to people than that”) and horoscopes (“you know, newspapers that write about anything, ‘you’re worried about your cat.’ ‘Oh my god, I’ve got a cat!”), Fatima reveals a quick wit, underpinned by a light thread of sarcasm, which is probably what makes talking to her feel so easy and refreshing. In fact, it’s the same feeling that you get listening to Yellow Memories.

All photos: Dan Wilton

Header image © Dan Wilton