Hawa is just 17, but she's already experienced the kind of success that only comes with knowing your path, and following it resolutely. She insists on the term creator rather than artist as a reflection of her multi-dimensionality: "When I was writing 'Might Be,' I was destroying all the negative energy, and creating something new," Hawa says over tea in lower Manhattan. "There was a point where I felt people didn't really appreciate my music. I see so many artists my age making music that's such bullshit, and I'm actually trying to put musical elements first."
Hawa has the credentials to back up her confidence—selected to join a classical writing workshop when she was just 11, Hawa cut her teeth as a composer, writing pieces for entire orchestras. Her compositions have been performed around the world and by the New York Philharmonic, but shortly after she turned 15, the thrill of classical music faded.
"The thing about that whole orchestral genre, everything is in a line," she says." If you're making classical, you have to incorporate this and that. It wasn't the music I wanted to make." So she started playing around with other styles, and was introduced to Tony Seltzer (Wiki, Show Me The Body) shortly thereafter. The two made an EP, and the first track dropped last week. "Might Be" is a subtly complex hit, a drawn-out denunciation of the simplicity rampant in today's popular music. Listen below, and read on for our interview with Hawa.
How'd you link up with Tony Seltzer for "Might Be"?
Right when I went in with Tony, I knew I was going to fuck with this kid. I fell in love with the beats, and I knew this was my man when every beat he put on, I couldn't not dance. That's how I usually choose my beats—if I can move to it I'm fucking with it. I was going to pass over that beat for "Might Be," but I was in my bathroom... I always write in my bathroom, that's the best place to be.
I'm not a person that likes big fancy studios, I don't need couches and all that, I just want the mic, interface, that's it. The restroom is the most private room in the house, and that's how I came up with "Might Be." Once I get the beat, I think of a melody, and once you have a melody it's ten times easier to write a song. That's usually how I go about.
Do you write from real experiences, or imagined perspectives?
I see so many artists my age making music that's such bullshit, and I'm actually trying to put musical elements first. I could always sing, dance—I was born an artist.
When I was writing "Might Be," I was angry. I do like to write from experience, but I feel like a creator—not an artist, not a musician, I'm a creator. I feel I'm able to destroy while I create, and create while I destroy. When I was writing "Might Be," I was destroying all the negative energy, and creating something new. That was just me really mad, how people try and put me down when they don't know what's going on.
There was a point where I felt people didn't really appreciate my music. I see so many artists my age making music that's such bullshit, and I'm actually trying to put musical elements first. I could always sing, dance—I was born an artist. I used to compose for the New York Philharmonic so I know the notes and melodies, how everything works. When I put that in modern music, I feel like people didn't appreciate that. They just want to hear, "I just popped a Xan and I feel great." I could care less about that.
How did you first get involved in the Philharmonic, are you still working with them?
It started in elementary school. I was chosen for this program, and I've always been very lucky with music. They said, "Everyone has to write a piece, whoever writes the best piece will see it performed at Carnegie Hall for 26,000 people." Mind you, at this time I was 11. I won, so I got it played at Carnegie. From there, every time I wrote a piece, they liked it. I was writing for an orchestra, so I tried to put as much soul into every instrument as possible. You have to pay attention to every instrument or the other ones get jealous.
Then they wanted to put me into a program based in the Lincoln Center. I went there, I did that program. But I was the only one they kept on choosing to have their pieces performed. They sent me to China to have my pieces played, they played my pieces in Venezuela, but by the time I was 15, I was thinking, "This is really boring." Because the thing about that whole orchestral genre, everything is in a line. If you're making classical, you have to incorporate this and that. It wasn't the music I wanted to make, it wasn't me trying something new. I did a good job at it, but I don't like taking rules from someone else. Especially when it's my music, I should write it the way I want to write it.
After that I focused on modeling, but then I told myself I wanted to focus on music. I turned 16, and realized that music was something I wanted to make a legacy out of. Three months later, I'm sitting in front of you.
Can we go back quickly to before Carnegie Hall? Was there a family member, or someone in your life early on that pointed you towards music?
It's something I was born with. My uncle is a musician, he strengthened the passion but he never introduced me to music. He does what people in America would call "African music," but in France and other countries he's really famous. I love his music, it made my passion stronger. The one person that really made me want to do music though, was Beyoncé. Fully. Or Bow Wow. He had that rap with Ciara, that shit was fire. I grew up with a black mother, spicy woman, and she would listen to Motown, Marvin Gaye. That's why my basis of music is so wide, I have so many people and genres and I've learned how to expand that.
I grew up with a black mother, spicy woman, and she would listen to Motown, Marvin Gaye. That's why my basis of music is so wide, I have so many people and genres and I've learned how to expand that.
Is there any difference in how you approached orchestral music versus what you're making now?
Not much. I always write with my own ideas in my head. They would tell me, "This is a jazz piece, you need to incorporate some jazz," but I'm a little bit stubborn when it comes to listening to other people. I feel like I was born a leader, so for me to listen like that, it's not really me. I'm a little bit of a rebel, I fuck shit up sometimes. I've done a lot of things in my past, but I don't think it's lashing out. I just think it was me not thinking twice.
Did Tony Seltzer produce all the stuff that's coming up for you?
He did, I really fuck with him. He produced a lot of the songs that are going to come out, and I appreciate him as a creator too. I feel like when he comes in, he can vibe with any type of shit. He has that superpower that not many people have.
I heard you're a twin. Is twin telepathy real?
Depends on the situation. But also, I speak Susu, that's a language from Guinea, West Africa. So he and I can speak our own language and be chilling. I'm with him every fucking day, there's not a day that we don't see each other. When we were in the womb, we had our hands locked together.
Where is your accent from?
My dad's German, my mom is Guinean and French. I grew up in France and Africa, but I've also had a lot of English mates. A lot of people in America think the accent is English, but it's not. And it gets me tight. There's more people in South Africa that sound like me, not English. Just want to get that one straight.
Is there a specific instrument you really love playing?
I stopped playing instruments. I tried to learn the piano, and I got so bored after I learned the scales. I like the violin and viola a lot, but I had to stop playing because when you try to play that in front of a girl, it doesn't go the way you think. I prefer the viola more, but I play the violin. It's an intense instrument, but the viola shows so much heart and soul. You can be angry as fuck, and when you play it it's just soothing. Classical music really made me in tune with music in general. I'm not hearing someone rap over a beat, I'm just hearing straight instruments. It made me feel more, and I think that's why I love the viola. I would hear the entire orchestra playing, but I'd be only listening to the viola.
What's your end goal with music?
My goal isn't to be the best, it's to take out the best. It's go big or go home. As I'm building up, this is just me pointing out my targets. Once I'm ready to shoot, it's going to be bold out here. My parents always taught me to be me, and my whole family knows how they want their life to go and they know how to get it. If you don't have that at a young age, it's harder for you to see what life really is. But I've always been confident and I know what the fuck I want and if you say no, I'm going to go get it anyway.