Hi Riah, please introduce yourself to the On Record Magazine faithful.
Hey! I’m a singer/songwriter and actress from the Sussex countryside in England. Right now I’m living and working in Berlin, playing at the Maxim Gorki Theatre and making music as part of a Romnja Jazz residency.
How did you get into music?
One of my earliest memories is being a toddler; climbing up on a table to perform my latest song to my grandparents- I wish I could remember the tune!
Now songwriting for me works as a cathartic process of expressing and getting in touch with how I feel about something. I Will Roam, for example, started out as a song about my connection to growing up as a mixed heritage Romani in England.
Do you feel your parents background in activism influenced your journey into music?
I think I was always proud of the work my parents did, and they were, and still are, very encouraging and proud of me.
My mum’s an English Romani and she’s been involved in lots of campaigns and initiatives in the UK about the situation of the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities there. I think it was very influential for me to grow up surrounded by these events because it meant I spent a lot of time celebrating our people and got to meet a lot of the movers and shakers in our art and activist community. Sometimes I was given the chance to perform at the events, so even as early as age ten the work of my parents was allowing me to participate in the connection between music and activism, and showing me the power of music to communicate a message to people in a different way.
Talk to us about the crossover from the stage performance and the recorded music side of your project. Do you have a favourite?
I don’t know if I could choose a favourite! For me, the process of both is so different. With I Will Roam, it was a song I’d written before but then reworked with OJ & Fridel to fit around the production Roma Armee’s themes of empowerment, unity, and fighting for our rights as Romani people.
In the production, the song is kinda the finale where all the actors on stage get together and have a boogie. In this context, it’s a final message of celebration and pride and the lyrics are related to the other members of the cast who I see as leading the way for a new representation of our people. Outside of the show, the songs refrain, ‘ I will roam/ till my dying day’ is in relation to the current situation of the Romani people in the UK; travelling is a big part of our cultural identity and way of life and it is being increasingly pushed to the margins and criminalised. So it is also a song about our rights to live and the discrimination we face today.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my first solo release right now and there are some jazz and hip-hop collabs coming out later this year, so stay posted!