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Irish Women Now: Loah, Singer/Songwriter

Loah

Irish women now – they’re driven, perceptive and at times, provocative. IMAGE meets eight intriguing creatives who are challenging the status quo and influencing Ireland’s cultural landscape through their achievements, and striking a chord with modern women everywhere. These pioneers don’t just prove that the connection between women is exceptionally profound, but collectively, we are capable of achieving incredible things.

PHOTOGRAPH BY EVE NORTH

LOAH, SINGER, SONGWRITER

Loah, aka Sallay Matu Garnett, describes her oeuvre as “artsoul”. The musician and singer thinks that while many artists would say their work doesn’t fit in to any single genre, hers, more than most, warrants a different label. “There are a lot of influences that are very  obvious, so I’m pulling from the classical music that I played as a child in orchestras; the choral approach to harmonies that I developed from singing in choirs; and to some extent, pulling from the West African and North West African tradition; I’m pulling from rock and roll, from soul music.”

Her diverse musical points of reference are, in no small part, due to her upbringing and her nomadic parents. She spent the best part of her childhood in Maynooth, moved to Gambia in her teens for two years, and then to Sierra Leone for another two, before going back to Maynooth and starting college in Dublin, where she studied pharmacy.

READ MORE: Irish Women Now: Jesse Jones, Artist

Her cultural mix, she says, is interesting. “I’m more Irish, in a way, than I am Sierra Leonean, because we grew up with our mum, who is Irish, and I was mostly educated here, so when I’m not thinking about anything, I think in a very Irish way. I notice when I’m abroad, I seem to be very Irish – being overly polite and apologising for everything and being self-deprecating. When I’m around family, we speak in Krio [Sierra Leone’s national language], and I see the world through those eyes, or just a broader picture. It’s kind of blurry, and I think that comes across, to some extent, in the music.”

READ MORE: Irish Women Now: Aoife Kelleher, Director

Although she managed to balance pharmacy and her art for a time, the music has now become full-on and full-time. While the two disciplines might seem diametrically opposed, she wonders if this is a female, multi- tasking thing on her part, but that there are parallels between both. “The attention to detail that you have to pay to something like pharmacy, and the level of mastery that you have to get to with the subject, can be applied to anything, and there are musicians out there who are just as deeply masterful in their field as most qualified scientists,” she says. “At a certain level, everyone starts to reach that point of specialised detail and attention to their work, and that is something I want to carry forward into music a lot more.”

Critical acclaim has been lavish, and she’s busy in the studio, with November seeing her release a new single from her forthcoming EP. She has worked with Kíla and Hozier (Sallay co-wrote the song “Someone New” on his debut album). This year also sees her first foray into acting and she will appear in Striking Out, the RTÉ legal drama starring Amy Huberman, which will premiere early next year.

It’s a new direction for her, and she’s curious to see where it leads. “I’m open to where life takes me.”

This article originally appeared in the November issue of IMAGE magazine, on shelves nationwide now.

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