We talk to the two-time nominee about gender, race, grime + David Bowie
Andrew Trendell
13:08 5th August 2016

"This is a music honour - this is not any showbiz bullshit," smiles Laura Mvula from the Mercury Prize red carpet, weighing up the privilege of being nominated for the second time for her exquisite album The Dreaming Room, alongside the likes of David Bowie, Radiohead and many other stellar contemporaries.

Humbled as she may be and while the sense of occasion is far from lost on her, Mvula remains defiant and vigilant in calling for more diversity when it comes to recognising those leading the field in UK music. 

There are a wide range of artists nominated for the Mercury this year, from Bowie's timeless farewell to the punk edge of Savages and grime nods for Kano and Skepta. But is it enough?

"I've been saying to people in interviews, like because people are saying 'it's a great and amazing diverse list', I'm like 'alright, yeah - it's a good start'," she admits. "It's like when a lot of black women come up to me in the street and say 'you've got your natural hair, you look so good'. But it is 2016, why should that be an achievement? It's the same with music. Yeah, we need to wake up - but we still have a long way to go."

Mvula continues: "We absolutely need more diversity for women. This is something that we can't be too loud about and we should be fearless with having the dialogue and being fierce with that. It is a problem. I don't like that it can be diluted to this lukewarm notion of 'it would be nice to get an extra one in there'. No, let's be real and face ourselves.

"It's still a majorly male-dominated industry. There aren't many rooms, whether it's the studio, the stage, on the road, in record labels - you're in the room with mostly men. That's my new reality, and it's not at all accurate to what is possible in music...It's not cool that this is still happening."

After all the BRIT Awards furore, is she relieved to finally see grime given the recognition it deserves on a platform as revered as the Mercurys?

"Surprised? No. Slightly relieved, yes - because it means we're all waking up," she nods, sternly. "Let's begin to take ourselves more seriously and I think this is a really important year for music. I hope that people realise that the world takes its cue from British music. It breaks my heart when it's not accurate and people turn around and go 'is that it?' It's not, but we've made a good start."

And in closing, Mvula takes the time for honour the late, great David Bowie - who has been posthumously nominated for Blackstar. This marks the second time that she has squared up against the Thin White Duke, having been nominated alongside him back in 2013. 

"We just did the Royal Albert Hall Bowie tribute prom, so I just feel very much in his world right now," she smiles. "I'm very inspired by it. He is unparalleled, his legacy is infinite, he is the ultimate artist. When I'm watching his interviews, which is like one every three days, I try to listen to his words and take everything to heart.

"His music too is a great reminder to keep being yourself. He once said 'if you're paddling as an artist and your feet aren't touching the floor, then you're doing something right - you should always be uncomfortable'. "

- The winner of the Mercury Prize will be announced at London's Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith on Thursday 15 September