Sallay Matu Garnett, aka Loah, is a Sierra Leonean-Irish artist and a gem - most recently, she played a triumphant set in the Other Voices tent at this year's Electric Picnic.
She calls her music ‘ArtSoul’ - a mix of her rich cultural roots, soul music and her artistic sensibility. Loah will bewitch you in the most beautiful way with her deep sounds, reminding you what the power of music truly is.
When did you start performing?
Very young... but if you mean professionally, maybe 2014. Not earning a living from it, but recording and doing gigs in a serious way. When I was a kid, I played mostly violin and a bit of piano. I was a member of a choir but I never really did anything solo. I think it helps when you’ve got a lot of different experiences.
Why the name 'Loah'?
I like my real name, but I think with music, when you do it professionally, people sometimes project a lot on you. It’s nice to be yourself with your family and friends, and have that part of your identity being private.
Also, from a performance point of view, it’s nice to be able to say "Okay, I’m Loah now!". It helps me and it helps the audience, I think. In Haitian voodoo, the little spirits are called ‘loa’, and I think it’s a beautiful word. I was doing some research and then if you add an ‘h’, it’s actually a name in Kabalarian. It means musician, artist or poet, and I thought that it was perfect, so I was like "Okay, I’ll take that, thank you!".
Why do you call your sound ‘ArtSoul’?
Well, I’m still discovering, and it changes all the time, but basically it’s a kind of soul music, but because it’s influenced by West Africa, it’s also more than that. There are influences from classical music because I played in orchestras, and folk music because I’m Irish, and rock music because I’m Irish as well!
You can’t be truly original - you can have an original viewpoint, but you always learn from the people who came before you, so it’s art in the way that I’m kind of showing all my influences in music. I have all these artistic influences - musical, cultural and other art forms like painting or poetry... All this comes together, and then I make a song out of it!
Who are your influences?
I have loads, but I’m just gonna give you a few like Oumou Sangaré, a Malian singer, probably one of my favorite artists ever. And I love Bjork so much! There’s so many! It’s very difficult! I love Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, D’Angelo… oh My God I love D’Angelo! I really like Nina Simone, because I like her compassion and she’s very authentic, and I love Joni Mitchell… I tried to sound like her, but it didn’t really work!
Where does your inspiration come from?
I don’t know! I wish I knew! I haven’t been writing a lot recently, which is painful. The process of finishing my EP, plus a lot of logistics... that kind of thing switched off my creative side. I’m kind of an intense person, so I need to be immersed, it’s difficult for me to do the logistical stuff and then go and write.
I need peace around me, I don’t really have a routine, so most of my work came when I’ve been overwhelmed with inspiration, something that happened, or a person who inspired me. So I operate on this magic, the feeling when you’re like "I have to write this right now!", which is wonderful! It’s great - but you can’t rely on that every single day. So I’m exploring different ways of working.
Why are you singing in Sherbro (a native language of Sierra Leone)?
When I wrote the song Cortege, it was definitely musically inspired by Oumou Sangare, and I wanted an African sound because it was the feeling that I had for the song, I just needed that. My father is from Sierra Leone, so my auntie helps me with the translation, from English into Sherbro, and musically it sounds beautiful. I don’t speak Sherbro, but I speak Krio which is a more common language from Sierra Leone. And it doesn’t work in English, it doesn’t make sense. There’s some things you can’t say in another language, things have a specific meaning, and when you have access to all of that, it’s a waste to not use it. It’s criminal!
How do you find the music industry in Ireland?
Ireland is very small, so if you’re doing interesting stuff, you'll be noticed quickly - we’re such a small community! And everybody knows everybody, it’s difficult not to meet people here. There’s no anonymity in Ireland! I love working here, it's like a family, everyone supports everyone else, it’s really warm,
What are your plans for the future?
More music and more gigs!
Picture: Eve North