Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit


10 June 2013, 11:30 | Written by John Freeman

It’s mid-afternoon on a sun-spattered day in Brighton. Yards from the town’s venerable pier and nestling under Brighton’s version of the London Eye is a small stage. A gaggle of shoppers, teenagers and bemused pensioners are watching YADi belt out her whip-smart take on urban pop.

The London-based singer-songwriter (Hannah Yadi to her mates before her name was invaded by capital letters) unleashes a cascade of pop nuggets – early singles ‘Guillotine’ and ‘Sahara Heart’ both get a play – and the unthinkable begins to happen. Joe Public starts to dance. If an afternoon flash gig is the graveyard shift, YADi has just woken the dead.

Several hours later, Best Fit catches up with Hannah ahead of her ‘proper’ show that evening. We create our own living space in a filthy stairwell and the instantly likeable Hannah is quickly into her interview stride. We begin with familiar territory. Of Algerian, Italian and Norwegian descent, she’s well versed in answering questions about her background. In truth, she admits to being bored by the journalistic fascination with the subject, but YADi’s take on pop is so rich and stylistically diverse, it’s virtually impossible not to be intrigued by Hannah’s insight into her African roots.

YADi’s star has risen sharply over the last three years. After being ‘discovered’ by Tribes’ frontman Johnny Lloyd, YADi released a number of hugely impressive singles and also teamed up with collaborators such as über-producer Ariel Rechtshaid (who has worked with Haim and Usher) and Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard. Her debut album is complete bar “a couple of songs” and, if a beguiled Brighton public is anything to go by, YADi’s sharp pop could well win over a million hearts.

I believe your father is Algerian but fell in love with British music as a teenager. How has he influenced your taste in music?

My dad moved over here when he was 18 because he loved British rock music so much. He came over to watch The Rolling Stones in 1976 and never left. My dad used to sit me down every Saturday when I was a kid and take me through his record collection. So, I have definitely inherited that love of British music and I make British pop music but it has a little twist. People are fascinated by my heritage but it is not so important to me, although I am fascinated by the past and historical stories that are passed down through my family.

I like the idea of history being passed down via stories and songs. It feels like a rich and traditional way of keeping a culture alive.

Exactly. It’s not in Algerian culture to write things down, so I have to get these stories out of my family. I always joke that I want to go on the ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ TV programme and my Dad always says ‘you wouldn’t find anything, the stories are all we have’. Whenever my grandparents are over from Algeria, I sit in the kitchen with my grandmother and we cook and she tells me about family, and history, and stories of the revolution – things that are going to get lost if we don’t speak about them.

I recently spoke to a musician who had worked with the Sami people in northern Sweden. She told me that they write songs about a specific thing – a river or a tree – and that the song is forever connected to that object. Is that concept prevalent in Algerian music?

Yes – in Africa, particularly in a place like Mali, a lot of songs are sung about family, respect for women, tales of older family members and about the origins of music itself. They often sing about the Nile and riverbeds and where music comes from – the heart of music. I think it is the nostalgia in those genres of music that I really relate to. I think if anything has come through in my music from listening to those songs, it is the storytelling aspect of it. I often sing about my family and things that have happened – either good or bad – and it is a way of keeping the stories alive.



Can you give me an example of a song of yours which is about a specific event?

‘The Blow’ is about a specific event – about falling in love with somebody who was about to go to war. It was me anticipating what that would be like and about living in uncertain times – that moment where you get to an age where everything becomes a little more serious. Love becomes more serious and death become more serious and you are much more aware of everything. You get more fearful. You kind of have to start to let go of the idea of being a child. ‘The Blow’ is about all of that.

Talking of childhood, did you always want a career in music?

I’ve wanted to be a musician from as far back as I can remember. I always used to say to my mum ‘ I want to be a singer when I’m older’ and she would just say ‘you are a singer’. That was my mantra. If I just kept going with that mantra I would be a singer, as that’s what I do.

The YADi ‘vibe’ is very eclectic – how long did it take you to home in on how wanted your music to sound?

Well, I’m still morphing and it has been a slow and steady thing. At college and university I was in indie bands because those were the kind of guys I met. There would be a guitarist, a synth player, a drummer and a bassist and we’d put everything together and it came out as it came out. It was soulful indie pop. Since then I have refined that and it was one of the reasons I decided to do a solo project, as I had a bit more of an idea of what I wanted to do and the influences I had never really drawn on. I wanted to make music that would reflect me as a person. I want to make music you can dance to and not just shuffle around to. I’ve developed a little bit more of an urban edge to the music. I love to dance and you will see that at my live shows.

I’m fascinated by your use of rhythms, which, to my untrained ear, have a very African feel to them. I assume this is very deliberate on your part?

Yes, I wanted tribal drums and ‘Guillotine’ was the first song I wrote where I really knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write a chant and not try and write a pop song. I wanted it to sound like a call-to-arms with militaristic drums. Recently, I’ve started exploring African beats a little more with songs like ‘Unbreakable’. I collaborated with a great African artist called Baaba Maal, who is from Senegal – and originally Malian – and that was an amazing experience as I had grown up listening to his music.

You’ve worked with a number of collaborators, but I believe teaming up with Grace drummer] Chris Hutchings was a pivotal moment for you.

That was a massive turning point. Chris is an incredible drummer. I love drums but cannot play them. I would thrash out a beat to him and then he would play it incredibly amazingly. That set the tone for ‘Guillotine’ and ‘Gold’. It was just him and I in a room with a load of drums, samples and percussion so we could get that shuffly feel. He allowed me to go in the direction I wanted to.

How about your other collaborations? Who were the people who had the biggest impact on you as an artist?

The collaborations have all been very carefully selected – I’ve only worked with people I really love. Some worked out, others we only had a day together. I worked with Ariel Rechtshaid and it was really great, we wrote ‘The Blow’ together. I then went to LA and worked with him – there are a couple of songs on my album that we did together. He understood where I was coming from musically and wasn’t trying to change it. We clicked. Joe Goddard did a remix and I’m a huge fan of Hot Chip, so I was really pleased with that.

Finally, your video for ‘The Blow’ was shot in Casablanca. How did your music go down in Morocco?

I was going over there to get back in touch with my North African roots and all they wanted to know about was Western music like Azealia Banks and A$AP Rocky. It was a really nice exchange of cultures and the people I met were really awesome in the video – we just hung out like we were old friends. They had lots of stories to tell. My grandparents actually met in Casablanca, which is one of the reasons I shot the video there. They used to gallivant around on motorbikes, courting each other.

The single ‘Creatures’ will be self-released on 29 July.

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