Exclusive Interview: Who Is Sekou Sylla?


Who is Sekou Sylla? It’s a question with three parts. Ask industry insiders, and they’ll tell you that the UK-born singer/songwriter is the next big thing. If posting song covers on Instagram and Tik Tok had RIAA certification, he’d be going gold every time he drops. Expressions like coo and lilt buckle in a pool of dread when tasked to describe his voice. His voice is puissant, and the microphone is his hypnotic medium, ensconcing listeners into a trance. It’s as if he can turn air molecules into miniature versions of himself with how he encircles whatever medium you hear him in. He’s captured everyone’s attention, including the legendary Quincy Jones. Sekou has become the reflective surface for the industry’s stewed eye glares. He’s become the red moon which turns forever into a four min set, just like a dream.

“Honestly, I love being the center of attention,” he laughed. “And I always will, and forever, I will be.”

Turn the sundial counter-clockwise even further to trace his origins and his mother becomes a key figure in his development. She took him back and forth between Church and music classes while playing, as he calls it, “legends only” at home. She inspired his ethos: Greatness is a quality that can be seen and heard. Ask who aided his mother in raising him and immediately answer with the Church. Legends like Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin all started by swinging congregations. He’s grateful to follow in their footsteps, “Thank God that I went to church and I listened to all these people that were powerhouses because that is what developed the tone of my voice.” But even more, the freedom it provided him—no judgment: only great music, great people, and the melodies of God.

None of this happened overnight, though. The earliest inklings of such videos go way back to 2018, when he was only 14, snuffing the air out of high school auditoriums. Back then, it was innocent fun to recapture greatness, repackaging the emotions of his favorite records with his unique voice. As the resolution of his videos improved, so did his confidence. Front-facing videos replaced side profiles, indicating he was starting to get comfortable with himself. Soon after, in between modelesque photos (“I love dressing. Fashion is my outlet away from music”), the piano and some friends accompanied him from time to time.

On January 6, 2022, he did what came naturally to him. He strolled into an empty church and placed his phone on the piano. He came prepared to sing and record an unreleased song he had written for his IG, something he did sparingly at this point. Once finished, he placed his trademark black and white filter on it, pressed send, and returned to his regularly scheduled programming of “hustling.” Six months prior, Sekou left his mother behind in Leicester for London to attend East London Arts and Music, also known as ELAM, to be like the icons who lounged in his home. 2022 was the year he’d embark on a voyage to embrace the process. His voice was growing. As an individual, he was growing. Fun wasn’t the priority anymore; greatness was the new goalpost. At that point, he never officially stepped into the studio and wrote an original song, and began to answer the question, “Who is Sekou Sylla?”

“I said to myself; I want to make sure that I get noticed. And, you know, I made some connections. I kind of focused on changing my life. I’m going to make sure by the end of the year, everyone knows who I am.”

As Sekou recalls, once he checked to see the response to the video, he couldn’t believe what he was reading. (“Like, I had so many people asking me ‘who I was,’ and just from this one video. It was incredible.”) Performing that cover was just another objective in his inventory to check off; all part of being seen and heard.

While that video made him the center of his attention to everyone, it wasn’t the one that Good Soldier A&R’s Ellis Mizen and Liam Willford were enamored by. ‘I was discovered on a few videos before by Ellis and Liam,” He said. “they were the first people in the music industry who spotted me.” It was a video from 2020, where his hair was much shorter than it is now, and he was singing his heart out, per usual, behind a black-and-white filter. When the viewership was modest at best, is where the belief in talent sowed. 

Everything happened at an F1-like pace, rocketing into new heights every month. In February, he flew out to Los Angeles for the first time. In March, he was pictured with Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak in Las Vegas. In April, the live performance of his unreleased single “Better Man” aired on BBC Radio and go on to be featured in local newspapers. In May, he learned he’ll be performing at Glastonbury in June. After giving our necks a chance to regain feeling after his Glastonbury performance, he turned 18 in September. That same month, he signed with Island Records UK and Republic records. In October, he was one of four individuals featured in British GQ.

He thinks back about it all and still seems to be in disbelief. “Where it’s just completely gone crazy.” He said. “I honestly don’t know how or why. Because when people tell me this stuff never happened.”

Who is Sekou Sylla? Pose the same question to Siri or Google Assistant, and you’ll realize how little algorithms know of him. Results of a D-II basketball player and two footballers of the same name emerge before the musician. Shazaming his Glastonbury performance won’t lead you to any of his streaming profiles, where multiple iterations of “Sekou” and “Sylla” coexisted but are disconnected from each other. No single song, demo, or leaked mp3 file is on the internet, just cover videos on IG and two BBC live performances on youtube. It’s emblematic of his relationship with the world when music isn’t the focus. To those in it, a superstar awaits. Those outside of it need to know if he even exists.

Ask the man himself, and he’s still scouring for answers. In his attempt to explain why the likes of Quincy Jones are drawn to a young man who has no music out, he jokingly fumbles through a list of reasoning: His nationality (“I don’t know if it’s because I’m British.”), his height (‘Honestly, I think I’m seven foot. When I look in the mirror, I’m like ‘oh my God”) and his personality (“Maybe they think I’m cool, I don’t know”) until finally landing on his voice (“I’m so grateful for my tone. It’s low tone, and then with my range, Sometimes I can go high, and then I go low. That what excites them and myself.”)

“Legend only” is said in the same fashion as Abbott’s Elementary Barbara Howard praises the lord. Sekou‘s head is tilted downward with his hands slanted upwards at an angle, enunciating each syllable with a lullaby-like sway. When his name comes up, he wants it to be associated with Whitney Houston, Micheal Jackson, Adele, Prince, and other icons. Planned or by accident, legends are those who evolve music in one fashion or another. In his eyes, Pop music is overdue for a makeover. He wants real singers back into the fold, those who make bones quiver out of satisfaction. But most of all, he wants to return the feeling of joy in the music.

“I think if someone brought that back, and not in a throwback kind of way, but back to the feeling of records in the same vein of “Wanna Be Starting Something” or the “Superstition,” the sense of that rhythm, and I want to bring some joy back. I want to bring joy into music again.”

Stevenson: For someone with no music out, like not one song, you have the interest piqued the interest to a degree very few have before. How did this all happen?

Sekou Sylla: I asked myself this all the time. Everything happened so quickly that I honestly don’t know how or why. People tell me that stuff like this doesn’t happen. Some of the rooms I’ve been in, some of the people I’ve worked with when I’m writing and recording, people like the weekend sometimes can never have all these people in one room. It’s crazy.

And to have all this happen in the space of a year is wild. It just completely exploded. And to think, I have no music out yet with what people are saying, it’s amazing. But I’ve got to make sure that you know everything I do will be great because there’s a lot of hype and expectations. Sometimes hype can be distracting if you don’t do well. And I don’t want to be just, you know, another hype artist.

How hard has it been to develop as a musician with so much hype around you? Do you ever lose yourself in that? 

It was tough, and it is, but you got to be yourself. I always had the mentality of being unique, a little bit of a freak. I know it’s easier said than done, but you must love what you love. And I always had a passion for soul and Motown music, and I thought, ‘Well, I’m not going to try and be nobody else. I’m not going to try to copy this person or sing like this, and I’m just going to open my mouth and sing.”

However, it took a while because I didn’t know what type of music I wanted to make. But it’s a long process. You’ll find out who you want to work with and figure out what role you want to have in this whole thing. You’re not going to find it overnight. You’re still determining what I want to do, whom I want to be, and where I want to go. So it’s a process. And that’s one thing I didn’t know about stepping in when entering the industry, just how much of a process everything is. And I’m still learning, and I’m still in that process. But it’s been a joyful ride.

Can you pinpoint what it is about the church’s environment that makes you feel that way? 

It’s freeing. The church is a part of black culture, especially in music, and that’s very important. You know, it’s iconic. The greatest of Legends have come from church. You have Whitney Houston, who came from church. You have Aretha, who also came from church. And when you think about their singing, they can all sing, like really, really. I think it’s just incredible how they all have distinctive voices, and that’s what I learned about myself through the church.

In your answer, it feels like there is a distinction between church and religion. Are there differences in your opinion?

There are similarities, but you know, I believe in God and put God before anything. However, there is the size of a church, the building, and the people, and then you have church, where people go for it for the love of it, smacking their hands and feeling connected to the scripture. It’s important to me to go and be able to take in that atmosphere. You’re also can just do your thing and sing to anything you want and just let the feel the music in your heart, your soul, and that’s when you know you’re doing it right. 

Church has that delicate balance of rigidness and freedom that I’ve noticed related to your demeanor on and off the stage. It’s like there’s two different people.

I am two different people. Onstage, there’s this fierceness inside of me, and I can be a bit of a diva. But when I’m not doing anything related to music, I’m just, you know, a shy kid.

Seems like you are you’re learning about yourself just as much as you’re finding yourself. I mean, you just turned 18. How hard has it been to find yourself when surrounded by such high expectations in the industry? 

It’s definitely tricky, but I’m a strong person. I’ve been built with the idea that I can deal with problems myself if I’m struggling. And It’s so, so hard to find yourself in any industry. You can lose yourself quickly. Especially in the music world, you have to be real. You have to be honest with yourself. 

What is one thing you do now that you could not have done a year ago? 

I would say stepping into a studio session is the one thing I couldn’t have done a year ago. And I know it sounds crazy, but I didn’t know what I had. I didn’t know what or how to express what I had. And I would be on my own, and I would have no idea what I’m doing. But now I love it. You know, I’m doing what I love. I would say to myself that you can’t be scared of doing anything.

How did you feel when you saw that Quincy Jones messaged you?

Honestly, when I saw that message, I couldn’t read it because I was blown away. Like Quincy Jones, my idol, message me. I was screaming and crying, calling everyone I knew about it. When I finally sat down and read the message, I didn’t know what it meant to be honest. After a while, I instantly thought he was telling me to be true to what I was doing, be true to my art, and make something honest with myself.

Is there something lacking in today’s pop music that you want to change? What exactly do you want to change? 

When I say I want to change pop music, people might think, ‘Oh, damn, you haven’t even released a song. How you’re going to do that?” And I say it within time. I want to be a versatile artist. You can hear me singing in the ballad or on an up-tempo record. For one thing, I love to dance, and I always said that the moment people see me dance to an up-tempo track, that would change how they view me because it’s so different.

But in today’s society, people are a little less honest about what they think is a great song, which ruins everything. And I think there’s no voice as much anymore. Everyone mumbles or they’re quiet. And that’s excellent, but I want to be known for being a singer and an entertainer.


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