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  • Writer's pictureMatt Tarr

OLIVIA-LOUISE: The process of becoming a voice for the voiceless

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

When it comes to the UK, 'woke' rappers and singers who use their music to highlight social struggles and encourage the rethinking of social norms are often under-supported by mainstream media in favour of radio-friendly hitmakers. For many artists looking to make a difference in the world that reality may even see them hang up the microphone for good, but for singer/songwriter Olivia-Louise the desire to be a voice for the voiceless has been her fuel in recent times.

Hailing from Chester in the UK's North West, Olivia-Louise is no newcomer to the music game. After being nominated for the 'Get Rated' award at GRM Daily's inaugural Rated Awards back in 2015, Olivia has gone on to release a number of strong records and worked with some iconic names in British music such as DJ Q and Manga Saint Hilare, but 2020 has seen the entrancing vocalist create some of her most open and unapologetically honest work to date.

A soon-to-be-released EP titled Process is the fruit of Olivia's labour and through the release of the project she aims to both continue and magnify the conversation around sexual violence. "It's heavily about processing trauma," Olivia tells me as I explore the meanings behind her highly anticipated release. "Last year I put out a post saying I really wanted to write something that was really vulnerable and stripped all the walls back. It's all the stuff we're afraid to say out loud and share. A lot of people can relate to it but it heavily relates to sexual violence."

One of the lead singles from Process, a song titled 'New Day (Affirmation)', is hypnotically beautiful. The leading piano phrase is a clear blue ocean gently lapping onto a sandy white beach, satisfying the ears with every repetition underneath Olivia's sensitive and empowering vocal harmonies. Breaking down the song's positive aura, Olivia explains, "I wrote 'New Day' as an affirmation - it's a positive affirmation to give to people. You are surviving, you're getting by and every day is an opportunity to see the world through a new lense. Trust in your ability to be able to heal. So that's what 'New Day' is really about. It stems from myself but I wanna help other people as well."

Whilst Olivia has never been afraid to speak on topics she's passionate about - her 2017 EP Juicy Fruit focussed heavily on empowering women to feel comfortable talking about their bodies - her recent tracks have really tapped into some of the social discourse emerging from high profile moments from the last few of years, including the #MeToo movement. "Over the last couple of years I've been becoming a bit more vocal in my music about topics that I'm passionate about, especially when it's regarding women or women's experiences," Olivia explains, "So I just reached that stage where I thought if I'm still here doing this at big 30 years of age I need to be really saying something. I don't really care if it gets played on the radio or not, I just want it to have an impact. Even if it just helps one person and one person listens to that and thinks 'I don't feel alone today', that means more to me."

"I definitely think age is a huge factor in that. The project's called Process and I've had a process within me to think 'Wow. Actually there are some things that have happened to me, to my friends and my family - to literally every woman in my life'. Now that I'm vocal online, I'm surprised how many men have come to me and said 'This has happened to me and I've never really shared it with anybody, but thank you for doing this work'. This is a problem and we're a community who need each other; we need healing and we deserve a space where we can be heard. I'm not trying to say I'm the voice for everybody but when I listen to art I like to hear something that resonates with me and I guess I want to give that back to people."

2020 has been a year like no other. Aside from the obvious tensions around the global pandemic, important issues regarding both racial and gender equality have rightfully continued to dominate conversations both on social media and amongst people's real life social circles and Olivia credits some of the brave people who have spoken out about their own experiences with sexual violence, in particular, as an inspiration which have encouraged her to put pen to paper on this new release.

"I actually started writing the project last year, but it has taken me a while because the content is quite heavy. It's not a depressing project to listen to, it's quite uplifting, but getting to the the place where I could write it and vocalise it has been quite heavy for me. I've had to take breaks in between certain songs unlike I would with any normal project," she reveals, visibly proud when thinking about the emotional journey she's been on to put this project together. "With the #MeToo movement - if that hadn't have happened I probably wouldn't be writing a project like this because that really has given me the confidence. This year, with everything that's happened, a lot of people have been outed as abusers within the industry and there's been a lot more conversation around it, which I don't think would be happening if it wasn't for #MeToo. "

"We've had a lot of conversations around Black Lives Matter and I think what's really important within that is to remember that black women's lives matter. I did some research recently and 20% of black women in the UK have been abused or assaulted. Bare in mind the percentage of black people in the total population is just 3%, it's hugely disproportionate. So I feel like it's really important to elevate the experiences of black women as well."

Continuing to prove her passion for the cause and her belief in the importance of amplifying the conversation, Olivia-Louise has set up a platform called ATTICS. "As a part of this release, I created a whole other side project called ATTICS (All The Things I Couldn't Say). It's an online platform that's separate to my music but it was inspired by my music. I feel like we've all got an attic, we've all got that place where we put things, bury them and store them and when it gets too full it ends up collapsing and that's what surpressed trauma basically feels like. So I created ATTICS and within that I'm really trying to look at myself and think 'I've experienced these things but I'm a white woman so I still hold a certain privilege when it comes to the systems that are out there to help me with these things'. I really wanna get more black women on board and get their voices heard within that platform - men too, because everyone's a victim to it."

Whilst Olivia-Louise lights up when discussing Jahnine Davis, whose work as the co-founder of Listen Up has seen her create some of the leading research in the conversation around child sexual abuse, she's equally passionate when discussing the need for male allies to enter the discussion and highlights broadcasters Funk Butcher and Sideman for using their platforms to increase awareness and encourage dialogue.

"For me, it's so important that we have male allies," Olivia asserts, firm in her stance that men need to be active in tackling each other's behaviour for real change to take place. "With regards to dismantling racism, for example, the oppressors are the ones who hold the power and are the ones who need to be checking themselves and each other in order to take the system down. It's similar to what you find with sexual violence. Men are the main perpetrators of sexual violence - whether that's to other men or women - so they need to be checking themselves and holding each other accountable to dismantle that system. I'm really uplifted seeing men doing that work, in the same way white people need to be doing the work when it comes to racism, but it's ironic that it's black men doing the work. I've not seen many white men being the champion voices."

Addressing some of the questions and comments she's received from men on social media following her vocal posts on the subject, Olivia adds, "I try and be a gentle educator and I never want to belittle anybody. I always feel that if someone wants to learn then I don't want to belittle them and make them afraid to ask a question ever again, but sometimes I also feel like people need to go away and do some of their own research first."

Having created such a reflective and personal body of work, I'm curious to find out what Olivia-Louise felt were the biggest challenges during her creative process and the biggest, she admits, was allowing herself to be vulnerable. "I've shared within the project but there's still a wall up around how much I'm willing to share because some things are just for me and I feel like you can say enough without saying everything. The idea here is not to retraumatise myself or anybody else but to say in a gentle way, 'I see you, because I recognise what you've been through and we are not alone - we're together'. So the hardest part was being vulnerable because there are certain friends or family members who I've never had conversations with and listening to this music will open them up to things. It's removing the embarrassment and the shame that's attached to it all and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and to have that conversation through music."

"Music is supposed to create a connection. If you listen back to good music from different periods it tells you about what was happening at that period of time. You can listen to some Soul or Motown or Hip Hop and within that music you can get an idea of what was happening. Some of it is process music - it's emotional. It gives you a piece of what was happening at that time and I think good music should be a reflection of that."

Whilst the platform she's been able to create in order to raise awareness through her music is clearly important to her, Olivia-Louise is also a proud mother to a teenage daughter and the process of creating her forthcoming EP and addressing certain situations from her past has strengthened the mother-daughter bond she so clearly cherishes. "It's actually inspired me to have more conversations with her. My daughter's thirteen now and I've always been quite open and honest with her about certain conversations - still protecting her, but making sure that she's aware and educated. The other month we had a conversation on the sofa where we basically just sat and cried together and it was really vulnerable, open and lovely and now she understands more about certain family dynamics and more about herself."

Olivia-Louise is a refreshing break from the norm. Keen to support causes close to her heart and to impact society in the most positive way she can, the singer is intentionally waiting to release her Process EP until January 2021 in order to ensure the conversation around sexual violence isn't left in 2020. With the most socially conscious release of her career on the horizon, the proud Northerner assures me that the next twelve months will also see her tackle another thing close to her heart - UK Garage: "I feel like now I've said my serious heavy stuff that I want to say, I'm ready to have a bit of fun again."

More power to you Olivia.

Follow Olivia-Louise on Twitter and Instagram to keep up to date with her journey.


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