Alewya is a child of many worlds: born to an Ethiopian mother, Egyptian father and raised in West London. Now, as a multi-hyphenate artist — singer, musician, painter, sculptor — Alewya draws from many worlds, too. At home, her parents’ Arabian and East African music influence gave her a spiritual release. Revolutionary singer Teddy Afro and jazz icon Mulatu Astatke were on rotation, alongside drum-heavy sounds infused with the meditative strings of the krar and masenqo. Her brother’s tastes in alternative rock and electronic music showed her alternative ways of being as a young woman of African descent, exposing her to the Pixies and Smashing Pumpkins, among others.
Out in the streets, London’s pulsing sound-systems gave her a physical release, raving to funky house drums, junglist breakbeats and the meditative bassweight of Caribbean dub music. These inspirations have all come together in Alewya’s sound: a raw, renegade blend of the devotional rhythms of East Africa and the funk ‘n’ grit of Black Britain. Alewya considers herself a late bloomer — she worked in fashion in her teens, and started writing music in her twenties — but “I’m ahead in the sense that I’ve had experiences that leave me with no illusions, it’s harder to tempt me with the usual” she says. “I’ve seen behind the curtain, and that allows me to align with what I need to do and who I need to do it with. This could all go tomorrow, but I know that creativity is in my spirit. It can’t be taken from me.”
Others recognised Alewya’s creative spirit immediately. In 2019, she met UK jungle legend Shy FX in a London club and, after seeing her perform, he became her manager and hosted her on his stage at the iconic Notting Hill Carnival. Teaming up in the studio with Shy FX, and co-producers Dean Barrett, Craig Dodds and The Busy Twist, Alewya wrote and produced her debut EP, ‘Panther In Mode’, led by singles ‘Sweating’ and ‘Play’. The EP was released in November 2021 on Because London Records. “I’ve got a family of people to create with, but the demo of most songs starts with me in my bedroom,” she says. “I know what Alewya sounds like, so forming and presenting that to the world is our process. We work harmoniously and I feel so understood with the people I surround myself with.”
After a pandemic-induced pause, Alewya is taking ‘Panther In Mode’ to the masses. Notably, in 2022, she headlined the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury Festival, and supported Mercury Music Prize-winning rapper Little Simz and Bristolian grunge punks IDLES for their respective UK shows. Alongside her solo material and performances, she also sang and played electric guitar with London experimentalist Moses Boyd on 2021’s ‘The Code’, a gripping, free-form ride through jazz and grunge. Onstage, Alewya cuts a commanding figure. Inspired by fearless performers like Fela Kuti, she connects to her band and audience with a tactile power. She’s adorned with ink tattoos of her own drawings and the tribal tattoos of Ethiopia; black henna is drawn across her throat, fingers and toes, and orange henna stains her nails. Her name is imbued with divine significance, too; Alewya translates to “the most high”, or “highest”, in Arabic.
The aesthetic is fused to the sound. On the raucous ‘Jagna’, the title translates from Amharic as “warrior”, a nod to the Ethiopian women who fought colonizing Italian forces nearly a century ago. The track was named by Alewya’s mother, who also co-wrote the Amharic lyrics for the Shy FX-produced, Carnival-ready ‘Ethiopia’; the final track on ‘Panther In Mode’ and a recent contribution to the COLORS live YouTube series.“Ethiopia is a big inspiration,” she says. “Ethiopians are a tenacious yet humble people, and that stems from our history. We’re from a divine land. It’s written about in the Bible and the Quran and remains uncolonised by the West. It all translates into this aura: we know who we are and we have nothing to prove, but we also have all of this history to protect and preserve.” In September 2022, Alewya will release her latest single, ‘Let Go’, on Because London Music. Co-produced by Alewya and Dean Barrett, ‘Let Go’ leans heavier into the raspy melodics, punchy drum programming and grunge attitude of ‘Jagna’; Alewya’s search for the divine feels more powerful and timely than ever.
“I’m freeing myself up, getting more confident in how lost I feel,” Alewya says. “With ‘Panther In Mode’, I was coming from a more poised space. The next phase is more wild. I have nothing to hold back anymore.”