Soulful vocalist Yemi Bolatiwa discusses songwriting, Niamos and picks some tunes for nineties nostalgia

Born in London but based here in Manchester, Yemi Bolatiwa is a compelling voice in the city’s neo-soul scene. Anyone who caught her outfit Pareidolia supporting Charenée Wade & The Gil Scott-Heron project at Band on the Wall in late 2016, will appreciate the rounded character of her voice and conviction in her performance. Recent months have seen Yemi pushing her solo work, with sessions for Word of Mouth and MCUK unplugged, plus a collab with deep house producer Diversion. Ahead of her stripped set—accompanied by a keyboardist and viola player—at Inner City Waves on Friday, we asked the rising singer-songwriter for a playlist of some favourite tunes and a little on her writing and arts work.

You’ve put together a fine playlist, can you tell us what inspired your choices and whether a particular theme runs through the selections?

Yemi: ‘The theme is ‘90s RnB nostalgia: of the 90’s from the 90’s. These are songs I loved from the age of say, 4-9 years old. Songs my mum and aunties played around me, my early faves.’

You first performed at Band on the Wall with Pareidolia back in 2016. What has the band been up to since and is there new Pareidolia material in the pipeline?

Yemi: ‘We’ve been steadily playing gigs and festivals, but selectively, because ultimately (with members cross the UK and overseas) it’s been difficult to stay consistent on the scene. But we are still alive, playing Hootananny, Brixton on 14th July and Soundwave Festival, Croatia!’

Silent Sufferer is an emotive track, highlighting your capabilities as a writer as well as a performer. Can you tell us a little more about the subject matter and if the track has a place within the trio live set, being a contemplative number?

Yemi: ‘The song was written about six years ago when I started songwriting (as an adult). It’s very much a confessional and very much about me and my thinking. The vocal is quite simple. the lyrics are the same. but I like to think the simplicity gives it some truth. It is something people often feel especially when you’re perceived as strong and are a little stand-offish, you make your own bed in that way and suffer in silence. I’ve learnt to let go since then so this song is more reflection now.’

London’s contemporary jazz scene is an international topic at present, but you know as well as anyone the quality of musicianship among Manchester’s young jazz players. Who and what should we be listening out for in the City at present?

Yemi: ‘Gosh, it’s a hard question to answer without listing all of my friends. I guess look out for Kara. emerging act with 3 amazing singers leading the band, music composed and performed by Marco Woolf, needless to say Plume, Agbeko are killing it of course, Shunya is an inspirational act right now…in terms of jazz: Flightless Birds trio are def’ ones to watch out for!’

Some singers have quite strict vocal routines, while others do very little but still sound great! Do you have any specific techniques to warm up and maintain your voice?

Yemi: ‘I’m very bad, I never warm up and I don’t practice as much as I should. Because I never studied music or singing, I’ve probably picked up bad habits; I learnt by watching. I went to a vocal coach recently for the first time, which helped to talk about technique, your voice as an instrument! I do also think over-practising is wearing out your voice unnecessarily, so perhaps there’s a balance that needs to be struck. It’s only when I feel the wear and tear in my voice that I start to do my scales, and “mummmss” haha, so that is probably a bit too late!’

You were involved in the recent reopening of Niamos. For those who aren’t familiar with the project, can you tell us a little more about it and what it means for Hulme and Greater Manchester?

Yemi: ‘It’s going to be a fantastic project which is about nurturing emerging talents. Creatives in the community and across Manchester now have a space to make their ideas come to life, in a setting with a legacy like no other in Manchester. Nina Simone played there in the ‘90s, but it’s more than that. The theatre is still spectacular, it’s a big open space just waiting to be filled with arts, wellbeing and creative projects! So exciting. I was honoured to sing at the opening!’