SOULÈ, an up-and-coming r’n b singer from Dublin, had never previously been to Electric Picnic when she was invited to perform across three separate stages at Ireland’s biggest music festival this year.
In a weekend crammed with bucket-list encounters, the most thrilling came as she found herself nattering with 1980s soul superstar Chaka Khan. The chart topper had sage advice.
“We were all backstage and I got to watch her perform – that was out of this world,” recalls the Balbriggan artist, who has become the toast of the Irish pop blogosphere with sophisticated bangers such as ‘Good Life’ and ‘Love No More’.
“I told her I was inspired by her energy and vibe. As a female she is what I want to become in the future. She said, ‘I’m so happy you were inspired by me – just keep doing what are doing and you will go far’. That is going to stay with me forever.”
Soulè’s parents are Congolese and her music is influenced by American r’n’b (Janet Jackson is a favourite). There has been an attempt to paint her as part of a new Irish music scene, alongside rappers such as Hare Squead and Jafaris (known for his supporting part in John Carney’s Dublin musical Sing Street).
This perspective is especially popular abroad, where the notion of Irish people making music that does not involve fiddles, bodhráns or freckled-faced maidens remains hugely challenging.
The viewpoint was enthusiastically expressed in a recent British broadsheet piece which heralded the emergence of a fresh generation of Irish artists – with the not-so-subtle implication that, until now, Irish music has amounted to little beyond The Corrs or Daniel O’Donnell. A young person who knows her mind, Soulè isn’t having it.
“I didn’t read that article,” she says. “I remember being interviewed for it. To be honest I feel we are adding to what is already there. In terms of rock bands and singer-songwriters, Ireland has already had an awesome scene. All we are doing is bringing another element. There has always been a hip hop and electronic pop scene. What’s different is that we’re getting more media attention. Me and all my friends have been doing it for a long time. It’s just that now everyone is finally talking about it.”
Soulè’s emerging success is perceived as closely aligned to the rising profile of Diffusion Lab, a “collaborative hub” of labels, studios and musicians based at Wellington Quay in Dublin.
“I wanted to get some songs recorded,” she says. “I have a lot of musician friends who were recording at the time and were in contact with different producers, that’s how I got my foot in there.
“My first single was released last year – the producer said, ‘it’s a great song, we should put it out’. There wasn’t a whole big strategy. I thought, ‘okay, cool let’s do that’. The feedback was amazing. I thought – ‘maybe I should do some shows too’. And now I’m here. It’s been cool.”
As a child in Balbriggan, Soulè would sing along to the Spice Girls with her mother – and her adoration of the cheesy quintet can be discerned in her own music’s joyful, upbeat cadences. “I still love listening to them. I also listened to TLC, Destiny’s Child, Beyonce. I was into all genres. My parents were always very cool and supportive.”
Soulè has always been a precocious talent and went on stage for the first time aged 13.
All my friends are into music, songwriting, dancing – everything to do with the arts. I was in a youth club growing up too. We did a lot of exciting things to do with music. I was a teenager when I went on stage for the first time.
“Based on the feedback, I thought it would be cool to do this in the future. I still wanted to go to university and stuff. After that, I felt it would be cool to record.”
WITH a debut EP in the works, she is currently toiling hard at building her reputation as live performer. Having recently put in a storming turn at the Sounds From A Safe Harbour festival she returns to Cork for the jazz festival.
“That [Safe Harbour] was amazing – my first time in Cork. I am used to playing in Dublin so, going to Cork, I was a little nervous. I didn’t expect so many people to be there. The vibe was incredible – I received amazing feedback. I can’t wait to go back down to play Cyprus Avenue. It’s cool that [the Jazz Festival] has a lot of different artists.”
She is passionate about music – but there is a sense, too, that it isn’t an obsession or how she defines herself. Soulè studied tourism and French at DIT and made sure to get her degree before committing to showbusiness full time.
“I’m chilled about the whole thing,” she says. “People tell me that’s a very Irish view. I’m always thinking, ‘Things will be fine, they’ll be grand’. I’m laid back and happy that everything that has happened for me has come about in an extremely organic fashion.”
Soulè – whose real first name is Samantha – may have trod the boards since school. However, she couldn’t be further from the stage brat archetype.
“Whatever happens happens. I’m going with the flow – taking every opportunity as it comes.”
Watch this space.