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Singer Laura Mvula speaks on diversity and growing up in ‘racist’ Birmingham

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In infant school “Kids used to say: I won’t hold her hand, the brown might rub off”

Laura Mvula says she grew up feeling that there was “something not quite right” about the colour of her skin after facing racism as a child.

lauramvulamimjydswatpmThe singer grew up in Birmingham, where she says children in her school saw her as different

The singer, 30, was born in Birmingham and says her classmates there saw her as different. In People, a track on forthcoming second album The Dreaming Room, she sings: “Her skin was a terrible thing to live in.”She told ES Magazine: “When I sing that line I always think about the experience I had when I was young, where kids in infant school wouldn’t hold my hand.

“You know when they line up the kids and say, ‘Get a partner, hold hands’? They would say, ‘No, I’m not holding her hand because I’m scared the brown’s going to rub off’.
“At that point in my life, as a five- or six-year-old, being taught subconsciously that there’s something not quite right with my skin led me on a very difficult and distorted path in terms of my identity, self-worth and self-esteem.”
Mvula, who rose to prominence in 2013 with her debut album Sing To The Moon, did not attend this year’s Brit awards ceremony in London because of a lack of diversity among the nominees.
She described the paucity of black women in the arts as “abominable”, adding: “The problem for me is knowing there are young black kids growing up feeling they’re not acknowledged in society, in media and in mainstream music.

“It’s like when black women come up to me and go, ‘Sister, your natural hair, man, I love that, it’s amazing’.
“And I’m like, ‘It’s just my natural hair — why is that revolutionary in 2016?’ There’s a huge alarm bell there. We have so far to go.”
Mvula was among many artists left devastated by the recent death of Prince, whom she met three years ago and became friends with.
“He was one of the biggest champions of my work,” she said. “He spent time putting my name out — I can’t tell you the amount of times I’d go places in the world and people would say, ‘I know your music because of Prince’.

“There was no one like him. And I just remember he smelt so divine, that’s the thing. Kind of like vanilla, kind of like heaven.
“We’re obsessed with what’s not real and so sometimes it’s easier for people to play up to things. He did not. And he was fearless.
“If you’re going to succeed in the truest sense of the word, and let your music have as far a reach as possible without diluting it, without compromising, you have to be fearless. And that’s hard as hell.”The singer was one of a lucky few invited to party with Prince after the 2014 Brit awards, when she was nominated but did not win.
She recalled: “He sat down and he just said, ‘How do you feel?’ And I was like, ‘You know what? I’m disappointed that I’m disappointed’.
“And he said, ‘I understand’. He laughed, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I made Prince laugh!’ And he talked with me for 40 minutes about how he’d tirelessly worked to create and own his music. He was the most relaxed, angelic presence.”

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