Photo by www.marcusway.com
Makala Cheung is a Singer/Songwriter/Producer from Knowle West in Bristol. Makala makes oriental tinged urban influenced electronic pop music. I had a pleasure to speak with her about new album “River”, music industry, kung fu and more.
Your new album “River” came out in January. Can you tell us a bit about the album?
River was a collection of songs written over the previous year, and it was the first time I did more than a 4 or 5 track EP. It was named River, for four reasons: I believe in a state of being called ‘flow’ where time disappears and you are so in the present moment that you lose track of time and that’s how I feel when I am producing. The city where I live and that I love has a river running through it (as mentioned in the song Bristol Beat), so it was like a reference to my city. I did have a period of a lot of tears during the making of the album, if you listen to the lyrics of the song Carry You you may be able to see what I mean. The album represents the journey I feel like I am on musically, I’m not at the finish yet, but then the journey is much more fun!
Your songs are very good but your music videos are great too. Do you think vision is as important as sound in musicians perspective?
Definitely for me it is because I feel like the artwork and videos, all the package is just as important to me as an artist. I remember once I gave a CD to a local industry person, it was my Butterfly EP, in the handmade Chinese red packet, with the gold inked butterfly stamp made of musical notes and my initials, it represented my culture, a lucky envelope for Chinese New Year. I told them that to me the CD case was therefore just as important to me as the songs on the CD. They looked at me like I was mad, and said something to that effect. But I didn’t care, because that is how I feel. And yeh I always spend time thinking about the video concepts when I move from writing a song, to working on the recording and production and to me it’s all part of what I want to share with the world. Of course most of the time I need to work with other visual artists to fully make them come to life!
Your music sounds very oriental. Where do you take inspirations from?
Growing up I watched a lot of Kung Fu films with my dad, and also when I started performing Chinese festivals I heard lots of other Chinese music, my favourite is the drumming with the new year Lion. So I think that’s where the oriental bits come from. But in terms of all of my writing, I think a lot of it came from the music I listened to, but now a lot of the new material I am writing (and yet to release) I feel like it’s just coming out of me, and I’m not even sure where it comes from when I finish, I’m like oh did I just do that! Sometimes it sounds a bit mad and terrible, and it gets filed away, and sometimes I can’t stop listening to it and can’t wait to work on it, so I know it’s going on the new album.
In music industry young indie artists competition is high. How do you cope with it?
Before I used to always feel like I was fighting to get somewhere, for someone to notice or care, once I let go of that and just had fun and enjoyed making friends and meeting new people, and just creating the music, then I didn’t really care about ‘competition.’ Sometimes you see a success of someone and you start like wishing that was you, but then I remember that all that matters is that I am expressing myself and loving that, and I’m doing for myself first. Plus also now I feel like a have something to say, and a lot of my newer stuff to come, you will see more messages in a lot of it.
Do you consider yourself as indie artist or pop one? Or indie pop?
Hmm I suppose I see myself as pop, in the sense that I seem to write catchy chorus lines, and I can say that as I’m really just quoting what other people say here. And I suppose I do follow the traditional popular structure most of the time of verse chorus verse chorus, but I think I am getting braver the more music I make in terms of the direction I am going, and I think I’m going less middle of the road now music wise, while still keeping that easy to sing along chorus.
Your music gives me pleasant shivers. Do you find your music scary?
Haha I don’t know why you ask me that. Is it because of my ‘Ring’ / ‘Grudge’ inspired video for Caught Up? Sometimes I get carried away and I’m scared at how bad it is, but those ones don’t get shared publicly lol. But seriously, I think the only thing I have to say about that is that you made me think of something I once read in a book: (something like) ‘what scares you/one even more than failing, is how amazing you/one could be’. I think everyone should have a little think about that, I wonder if that means anything to anyone?
Can people see you gigging soon or studio is no place you’d rather be?
I’ve had a lot of gigs over the summer, and the autumn is always a more quieter period, and usually, as it is this year, finishing of my next body of work. I’m currently finishing off my next album, but I do have a few gigs waiting to be confirmed over the winter, so keep an eye on my website and social media. But yeah although I love performing (even though I’m always terrified before I go on), my favourite thing is being in the studio, and I do also love sitting at my piano, writing new material, playing and singing.
Tell us about your non-music activities. I heard you gym a lot. Is that true?
Haha that’s hilarious, I absolutely hate the gym. I just don’t enjoy being on machines, and in front of loads of people. But maybe it turned into that story because I do love martial arts and right now I’m learning Kung Fu. I used to teach Karate, but mainly I learned that because I couldn’t find a Kung Fu class close by. I also used to do a lot of dance when I was younger, I was in a crew and made a lot of the routines, and a few years ago I was volunteering doing choreography for a local kids dance club. Then The music started getting a bit more serious, or let’s say I decided to take it that way, so I had to stop the dance and Karate. But now I feel like I have the momentum going on the music, I have started learning Shaolin Kung Fu and I am loving it!!!! I’ve been learning forms, swords, and more, I am hoping one day to be able to flip! I think I’m really taking to it and it feels like everything I’ve done before prepared me for it. The karate gave me the grounding for the stances and the strikes and kicks, I used to do majorettes (baton twirling) which means I’m quite good with the sword and the sticks, I did a tiny bit on trampolining when I was little which helps now with all the leaping about, and learning the moves of the forms comes easier due to the choreography/dance stuff. One day I really want to do Kung Fu in one of my music videos. Plus even though I don’t make dance routines for shows anymore I still love dancing around the house, I often make up little dances in front of the mirror, even though no-one sees them, I find it so fun. I don’t think I could do any exercise that wasn’t fun. My friend does bootcamp, that just sounds miserable to me!
If you had to describe yourself in 3 words what they would be?
Happy or emotional – which is usually happy… but basically whatever emotion I am feeling its very apparent! I wear my heart on my sleeve and I also feel other people’s emotions a lot and that tends to affect me to. I think that really helps me write, as its always an expression of mine or another’s emotions.
Creative – I love coming up with ideas, playing around with things. My favourite things to do growing up were writing stories and poems, and later songs when I got a keyboard, and making dance routines and drawing. Everything I do now I love to do it creatively. Especially with my music I love thinking about the look as well as the sound, but l do often get in some talented friends of mine to film/edit, design and do photography. And no matter what else I’d like to put here I know everyone else would say: loud
People (anyone I know well, or puts me at ease so I am being myself) often search on my back for the volume/off button when I’m chatting. Though funnily I struggle with volume when I sing, because I am not very confident about my voice, although I am improving on that the more gigs and recording I do.
Find Makala and her music at: