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Ama Lou Makes Her Mark

Interview

Ama Lou is a classically trained singer, songwriter and budding director. But she won’t let those boxes contain her.

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It’s not every day that a young singer gets a shout-out from Drake. But as Ama Lou can attest, there’s quite the intense regimen behind her rising success.

First on the list: long-distance running, which Lou has done many times, either during 1 a.m. gym sessions or late at night with her mother. Next is singing while simultaneously doing said long-distance running, to strengthen the diaphragm. When she did that for the first time, the pain was excruciating, she says, but she held on in hopes of improving her breathing stamina. And after that: more hours of singing practice, hitting all the queues, lengths of notes and intonations, sticking to the written music — no freestyling or adding your own flair. The body also must be controlled in particular stances to make these exact phrases and expressions.

“Plus, you’re usually singing in another language,” the 20-year-old says.

Lou, the songstress, songwriter and director who Drake recently credited as being an inspiration for his latest “Scorpion” record, is a classically trained singer whose mental and physical discipline has prepared her for cross-industry breakout.

It is with this work ethic, sense of dedication and ear for specificity that Lou stepped onto the American music scene with her triptych video release “DDD” earlier this summer, part of her EP release by the same name. The video, which was written and directed by Lou and shot by her sister Mahalia John, was also mixed by Good Music producer Che Pope, responsible for such classics as “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and Destiny’s Child’s “No, No, No Part 2.”

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Coming off a tour with Jorja Smith, the North London native is holed up in Los Angeles, and as she picks up the phone to chat, is in a car headed to the studio of Snoop Dogg’s son, Cordell Broadus. While the automobile speeds ahead, she ticks off a list of her favorite directors.

“Wong Kar Wai, Stanley Kubrick, Alexander Payne, Sofia Coppola and Greta Gerwig,” she says. “And then, of course, Francis Ford Coppola, who did ‘The Godfather.’”

Lou is blessed with a mind that can juggle multiple mediums at once: her deep, gravelly voice is strong; her songwriting skills oscillate between accessible R&B, classic soul and straight-up prose, and she has a talent for filmmaking. Growing up, watching movies was her way of ingesting new information.

“I am dyslexic, so I can’t sit down and read for a long time,” she explains. “My whole family reads a lot, but I used to watch documentaries and then that led into any kind of video, and then films. It was my way of learning.”

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She says for the three-part video “DDD,” she came up with the plot first, then made the music to go along with the visuals — a reversal of how most musicians approach their video process.

“I wanted to create a long film and a segmented piece, one that is in pieces, but blends together throughout the film,” she says. “My sister and I decided that through the story, we would change different parts of the day, but not just in style or song — also through aspect ratio and the way the lens is positioned.”

In the past, Lou has said she isn’t a “gassed person.” But since Drake posted a photo from her last single “TBC” on his Instagram story, she admits it’s been pretty cool that people are starting to know who she is and appreciate her music.

“[Drake] had told me what he’d thought about ‘TBC’ before, so I knew,” she says. “And then when he did it publicly, I felt really grateful. But he’d already told me more personally what it meant to him so that was more meaningful than a public declaration.”

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With recognition rolling in, upcoming projects and a concert tour on the way, Lou — who trained herself to sing classical music by slogging up a hill in running shoes, accessing parts of her lungs she didn’t even know existed, panting while trying to hold notes — doesn’t plan on being limited or relegated to any singular category.

“You know what? Film, directing and music are going to go alongside each other — and I’m adding about 10 more things to that as well,” she says, laughing. “So I’m just gonna be popping up in every industry, OK?”

Words
Maxine Wally
Publication