The singer in her songs

Jon Seymour profiles a local musician following the release of her debut album

Singer-songwriter Leyley

Singer-songwriter Leyley, from Walthamstow

An island girl shot in this direction lands in Walthamstow just as the borough receives the London Borough of Culture award.

Bullseye; Arrows is the sixth track in Leyley’s debut album, Find Your Tribe.

Does first listen put you in mind of an ocean’s distant sail or the hammock’s tranquillity of lush? Both are wrapped in the sound of the sea, and so is her voice.

Leyley’s songs of intimacy float in the body’s heat and on the haze of the horizon. The tune lands in your lap, but the wave has carried you away.

This album is the soundtrack to a journey, a curve etched against the sun. The late Nobel laureate Derek Walcott spoke of the islands of English around the world; Leyley adds Spanish, Portuguese and Creoles, bringing the many together here; her latest port of call.

In November 2015, friends, family and strangers crowdfunded the ‘impromptu magic’ of a journey through Latin America, ending in Trinidad and Tobago; for her that umbilical link to where her mother grew up. I asked what questions she was seeking to answer.

Leyley said: “The real question is the questioner; but the places, the people and experiences are the other half of the story. The loose plan was one song in each country, but with the room, space and scope for it to evolve.”

A line from the fourth song, Quilombo – “How beautiful is the chaos?” – inverts the history of the island’s slave area, celebrating the hope for escape, for fleeing boundaries. The tension between confinement and passage flashes in every song. There is deception in its gentle simplicity; the lapping wave is the tongue singing a mighty sea.

As prologue, her journey opens at the spring of childhood, the water from which we all drink, offering us a fading light remembered on a Berlin metro platform. At the last of her goodbyes before leaving, comes this first: “Grandma sitting in a chair, staring out the window pane, staring out, god-knows where…”

The album of reflections opens upon this double portrait through the refracting glass. Her grandmother’s view becomes the many windows of metro, bus, auto and plane which her travels encapsulate, and these songs sing.

Her use of the present tense is also telling: “I often see her gazing with a somewhat vacant look, but I am certain she is visiting other dimensions…”

This launches a sequence of nine songs; a prologue to three trilogies of simultaneous crossings, departures and arrivals; for Leyley this is the confined spirit of her schizophrenic grandmother let loose to roam wide. She slips into the stream of her families’ migrations, knitting her Indian-Scottish-Philippine-Portuguese-Viking-Afro-Caribbean selves in a journey toward her spiritual home.

Leyley says she has been working with Arts Against Abuse: “So much of what I am doing now is geared towards healing, on an individual and collective level.

“My music is more a dreamscape, open, ever changing and fluid. Art is movement, a reflection of the ever-changing times. We are all going through the fluctuations of this crazy human experience; I am here to express them honestly and authentically with my heart and with my soul.

“I believe if we can truly reflect, explore and share the joy of the present moment it inspires others to do the same in the ways that they know how.”


For more information and to buy Leyley’s album Find Your Tribe:

Visit leyleyismusic.bandcamp.com/releases

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