Print Features Editor Jaysim Hanspal reviews Mahalia at O2 Academy Bristol
Anyone who is down with the current sexy Spotify vibes playlists will be very familiar with Mahalia (pronounced like “hail”, not “hal”). Aged 21 (now that’s depressing), she has just released her second studio album, after being signed at the age of thirteen to a major label. Needless to say, the girl is talented.
The O2 academy is filled with young blonde-haired girls – clearly Mahalia’s Spotify demographic. The crowd is buzzing, and luckily for them, the opening act Hamzaa is ready to go. Again at only twenty years of age, Malika Hamzaa dominated the stage. Her set screamed gospel, and she worked the crowd effortlessly. It seemed that no one knew the lyrics but this did not stop her, and by the end of her set, the entire audience was singing the lyrics to ‘Sunday Morning’ back at her. She recently managed to sell out London’s St Pancras Old Church and Omeara, so she’s definitely one to watch.
Every song is performed with confidence and an assured hair flick; you could only have respect for her
Now for the main event. The roadies cover the stage in vines and flowers, and you just know you’re waiting for something special. She starts her set with ‘Good Company’, minus Terrace Martin, but it’s just as good; she dominates the stage. The supporting band seem just as into the songs as the audience, and jam together like it’s a private session: “And I don’t expect you to feel the same/But if you can respect me, I’ll let you stay”.
Between songs, we’re treated to relatable relationship stories; every song is inspired by a break-up or a disagreement or a lost love. Despite the sensitive content, Mahalia’s mum stands proudly at the back as her daughter talks about how she doesn’t have time for confusing relationships or as she puts it “what’s going on here or f*** off”. By the time ‘Simmer’ comes on, “Sometimes you’ve loved too hard/Sometimes you go too far” is a little bit too relatable, and you sort of feel like she’s a mate, sharing her anger at every stupid guy who mistreated her.
As the set really kicks off, Mahalia strips off her neon green power suit for a black leotard and tights, and suddenly it feels like Notting Hill Carnival and she is definitely a girls girl. Her sass is unparalleled as she introduces ‘Karma’, supposedly about a guy she liked who had a girlfriend, with the words “this girl is good but I’m better”. The song is so slow and soulful, I really didn’t pay attention to the lyrics the first time I heard it. It’s surprisingly daring: “I could bring you joy/You could have me for nothing, huh/So, what you waiting for?” Her quiet confidence is infectious, and all of a sudden the entire audience, boys and girls, have their hands in the air. Hamzaa gets back up on stage and everyone is living their best life.
‘Sober’, another favourite of mine, is introduced as a song about a bad relationship oh, and drug testing. The beats roll through the crowd and everyone is singing along, drowning out Mahalia’s soulful voice – “you and I are over/Me and you are done”, it’s surprisingly sad and mature for a girl who was eighteen at the time. Every song is performed with confidence and an assured hair flick; you could only have respect for her.
Every song is consistently great, and I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Just before her final song, Mahalia tells us about her mum moulding her confidence by making her dance in the middle of a Centre Parcs dance floor on her own for ten minutes. Her confidence and her infectious aura seem achievable, and by the time ‘I Wish I Miss My Ex’ starts the entire audience is on a massive high – we’re talking Lizzo levels of confidence. Regardless of our relationships with our ex’s, we imagine shitty relationships that we’ve cast aside and raise our arms in the air and sing “too many missed calls, too many texts/I wish I missed my ex”.
As the song ends, 21-year-old Mahalia imparts some final wisdom:
- Whatever you want, wait a bit longer.
- Whatever you want will come.
- Be Confident.
- Never let anyone tell you you have to wear a bra.
Lizzo plays us out of the venue over the speakers, and it feels right.