Sipho: ‘Black boys can be vulnerable and honest like everyone else’

When the Birmingham-born Sipho was 11 years old, he entered his school’s talent contest with a bunch of friends. They performed a cover of Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends. Unfortunately, they didn’t win. “It was the corniest thing ever,” he recalls. “But I was actually really passionate about the whole thing.”

Nowadays, the music Sipho (pronounced See-Poe) makes – an earthy amalgamation of R&B, gospel and metallic electronic pop – is anything but corny. Writing, producing and recording everything himself, the now 21-year-old nevertheless jokes that his short-lived band’s loss a decade ago fuels his ambition today. “I came for revenge,” he laughs. What really seems to drive Sipho is his inquisitive nature and active mind. Raised as part of the Seventh-Day Adventist church, it wasn’t until he discovered the It’s Supernatural! Network, a YouTube channel where evangelists discuss their brushes with hell, that he fully immersed himself in his religion. “A part of me was trying to be thorough and figure things out,” he says.

By his mid-teens, however, he began to see through the evangelists, many of whom were also trying to sell a book or product, and began to question his own faith. “Being in this church, you see how headstrong people could be about their beliefs,” he explains. “However, a part of a lot of religions is this idea that you should not be prideful or stubborn about things. I came to the conclusion that there might not be one single explanation to it. We all just know that we feel a presence, whatever it is, and we call it God.”

After he finished school, he worked in a dental lab (“I was making teeth out of porcelain all day”) before applying to the BIMM Institute Birmingham to study songwriting. There he caught the ear of British indie label Dirty Hit (home to Beabadoobee, Rina Sawayama and the 1975) and signed a record deal.

His first Dirty Hit release, the thrilling and visceral self-produced EP And God Said … , dives into his brush with religious devotion, with the dusty punch of Bodies and Almost Lost, which ponders morality and spiritual scepticism. The two songs at the heart of the EP, Moonlight Pt 1 and Pt 2, also explore the different facets of young Black men: Sipho demonstrating how “as much as Black boys can be forward, aggressive and ostentatious, we can also sit down, reflect, think about things and be vulnerable and honest like everyone else. I can be more than one thing.”

Signing a deal also means that Sipho, who had previously managed every aspect of his career, is having to delegate. “Slowly, I’m learning where my place is in this whole thing,” he says. “I want to find that place and then nail the fuck out of it.”

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