SALLAY MATU GARNETT – better known by her stage name ‘Loah’ – has been around the Dublin music scene for quite some time. In her current, solo guise she debuted in 2014, but Loah already had experience working with Hozier and Kila under her belt.
Now, having done gigs as far afield as New York and Texan industry festival SxSW, she’s finally putting her work down on record.
“I planned to record the ‘This Heart’ EP a couple of years ago,” Loah told the Gazette. “I had most of the tracks back in 2015, but when I went to record it I just had a bad feeling. I decided to wait. In June 2016 I went up to Hellfire Studios and spent a week there. I had planned on doing it all in one go, but I decided to take longer on the vocals, and worked with Ken McCabe [of Dublin act Come On Live Long] on sorting out the arrangements.”
Matu Garnett, from Maynooth, has long flitted between an astonishingly broad assortment of projects, which probably explains much of the time taken getting her sound down on record.
Self-described as ‘Art Soul’, her music explores a wide mix of genres including funk, soul, jazz, blues and afrobeat. The entire process has squeezed between work as a pharmacist, and a period in which she was working largely as a screen actor, and making music around it.
“I was acting full time at the same time as recording in 2016,” she recalls. “I struggled to keep up my steam, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. This EP is quite out there. When I was a student I used to write really happy music, but a lot of what’s on the EP explores my internal fears. It’s a lot about insecurity. When I grew up, I told my parents I wanted to be a poet, but I’ve never felt entitled to be an artist, and in some ways I’m my own worst enemy. At times it’s direct, it’s spiritual, political and painful. Not everyone will get it, and that’s fine.”
Loah is being characteristically modest: her rise up the Dublin music scene to a solo act with a formidable live reputation and a substantial amount of local hype has seen her tagged as one to watch by many. Her background, as well as her work with Hozier and Kila, saw her spend time with the Discovery Gospel Choir and around a productive Trinity College music scene. A period living in New York helped cement her direction and artistic intent.
A recent trip to Texan industry festival SxSW was also something of a marker for progress: a trip that only those expected to progress in music get to make. It was also something of a learning curve for Loah.
“It was really challenging, and kind of a different headspace to playing in Dublin,” she explains. “People know what I’m about here, and the scene is very welcoming to me. SxSW forces you to think about what you are, and how people might perceive you. It’s challenging in that I don’t really want to define myself, but you need to be stronger and clearer about who you are when people don’t understand the context of what you’re doing. This EP has lots of changes in style. My next EP will be a lot more streamlined, I think!”
Loah’s also realistic about the modern reality of music, admitting that she doesn’t necessarily expect to sell that many copies of ‘This Heart’. “Record sales are more a measure of the demographic of your fans than anything else today,” she says. “It’s not really a measure of success. If, after doing this, I’m playing bigger venues, or I get to tour outside of Ireland, that would be a measure of success.”
Another side of Matu Garnett’s work sees her exploring her origins: having grown up in what she calls “suburban” Maynooth, she describes herself as having “nostalgia that’s sort of really in the mind” for her roots in Sierra Leone.
“It can be strange, as while I grew up in Maynooth, people often ask me where I’m from,” Sallay explain. “We did visit Sierra Leone a lot when I was young, and I guess I have this kind of idealised version of it in my mind. I wrote a song in my grandfather’s native language, krio, which I really made for myself, exploring my roots.”
To say that Loah’s EP is overdue is something of an understatement: she’s convinced many she has the potential to be one of the biggest act out of the city in quite some time, even if she’s far from convinced of that view herself.
“Working in music is a real rollercoaster,” she concludes. “There’s so much excitement and so much disappointment. I’m still learning.”
Loah’s debut EP ‘This Heart’ comes out on May 5, with a live launch at The Sugar Club on May 12.