Taking Flight: Laura Mvula

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By Caitlin White

Our love is like the morning clouds
Like the morning dew, that goes away

"My goal was to do something that was authentically me, which I hadn’t done before in any way."

Laura Mvula sips a scalding coffee and manages to look graceful perched on a bar stool, surrounded by straws and napkins in Greenpoint’s Uro Café. Leveling her gaze with a stately precision, she's sporting five-inch nude heels while speaking about the Biblical allusions in the above lyrics, which appear in the Psalms and several other places. On her debut release Sing to the Moon, Mvula plays with tensions in secular and sacred culture, shouldering an immense heritage and probing it with a strikingly fresh voice.

She grew up in Birmingham, England as the daughter of an Elder in a Pentecostal church, equally inclined toward musical and spiritual study. Early interviews infamously reference grueling hours of piano practice and she alludes to her dad’s strict tutelage in all things Miles Davis. Then there’s her African-Caribbean heritage alongside a British upbringing and a degree in classical composition—this influx of sounds and cultures simmers to a boiling point in Moon.

Laura muses through longing and fulfillment, consistency and capriciousness, the ephemeral and the eternal, but latches onto those issues with a personal take that feels intimate, even otherworldly. These songs grapple with existential questions wrapped in compositional structures that rarely make their way into the mainstream sonic fold anymore.

"I’m so happy in this album, for me, because it was one of the first tools that enabled me to publicly have this new conversation, and a way of expressing my questions, profound doubts, and fears. That struggle—'Like the Morning Dew' kind of defines the whole album," she said.

I'm so happy in this album, for me, because it was one of the first tools that enabled me to publicly have this new conversation, and a way of expressing my questions, profound doubts, and fears.

The song begins with Mvula’s own voice recorded in twelve part harmony and then tripled—an indication of her ingenuity and thundering determination to be heard. A song about waxing and waning, this track does get at the heart of Moon, the cyclical nature mimicking the cosmic body it’s directed toward. The album continues on in this vein, pop truncated to fit within vocal acrobatics and orchestral abandon, religious-heavy lyrics from a woman who no longer knows exactly what she believes in.

"I don't know where I'm at spiritually, but I'm okay with that,” she admitted. "I grew up in a Christian home, I still feel like I'm growing up in a Christian home," Mvula laughed. "It's my default context. That's how my worldview was shaped. I guess the conversation within myself and with the world and with my relationships is just different now."

For a woman who has taught musical education, directed choirs, participated in musical groups, and even done clerical work for an orchestra, it seems inevitable that Laura finally end up here: in the realm of the divas. Now, a cloud of celebrity has descended, and it seems more than a little unfamiliar to Mvula. In moments, her natural shyness is palpable, at other times, though, passionate responses burst forth, trumpeting her reluctance to get personal about her art.

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