The Potential To Empower: An Interview With Poppy Ajudha
“You can’t empower people if they can’t understand what you’re saying.”
It’s been a frenetic few months for Poppy Ajudha. Since finishing her BA Anthropology and Music degree in June, she has worked almost non-stop on her forthcoming debut EP (which is currently being mastered), abandoning scheduled holidays due to the intensity of the workload. “The first EP feels like a special moment. I feel like delivering a body of work to people is really important to me because it’s an accumulation of my last few years of thinking and my development as a person.”
Though some may view her plan-altering dedication to the craft as potentially detrimental, Poppy explains how it has aided her. “As an artist, I think I’m really growing and my fan base is experiencing that with me.” This growth as an artist has coincided with her personal evolution that began through writing poetry – something she has done for as long as she can remember, admiring female music figures during her childhood and being privy to her sisters’ experience as part of a band.
While contending with the usual battles that most teens have to deal with, Poppy also had to come to a decision about following a career in music. “As a teenager, I really decided that’s what I wanted to do and I had to really push for it because, at a young age, no one really believes that’s what you’re really going to be able to do.” Guidance from her mum resulted in the parallel pursuit of a degree, but Poppy’s personal ambitions always lay within music, explaining how “it was always there” but a lack of confidence affected her. “I always wanted to be an artist but I just didn’t think I was good enough for a long time, so it was kind of in and out. I’ve always been writing, it was just that confidence thing, I think, that a lot of people experience.”
More recently, her progression can be emphasized by the way she is attempting to merge all her musical influences in order to present her unique perspective. “I think [my music] is very Soul influenced. When I look at my childhood and the music I listened to as a child that is one thing that has always come through, with the Jazz influence coming through the chords I write. So, it is that kind of vibe, but I used to want to emulate what I’d grown up with and bring that back, but then I realised that wasn’t actually what I wanted and I love a whole load of really modern, electronic music and so my EP is about melting those ideas together.”
An artist in particular that influenced Poppy’s sonic direction and, perhaps more importantly, her lyrical focus, was Solange Knowles. “She just really inspired me,” Poppy declares, speaking specifically about Solange’s impactful A Seat At The Table album. “She gave me the framework within which I could talk about the political things I wanted to talk about. I couldn’t work out how to put together my political understanding with my music because I had never written like that before and I didn’t have the confidence to say them as if I wanted to teach someone something or help them understand something. As a musician, you are a vessel for understanding concepts and ideas. You can’t empower people if they can’t understand what you’re saying.”
Still just 22-years-old, Poppy confesses she’s “trying to navigate this place” and despite being set to embark on the music career she’s envisioned since a teen, that aspect is no longer her incentive. “It’s funny, I don’t feel like I have a motivation,” she says. “I get quite depressed when I can’t write music, so it doesn’t feel so much like a goal to make sure I do it and get it out, and even if I feel like it is sometimes when I don’t do it I realise how important it is to my mental health. I think it’s something that everyone needs more than they think they need and I don’t think it’s something that is unique to me.” She repeatedly adjusts the position of her coffee cup on the table, gradually creating more space for her hands to gesture and complement her words.
Poppy describes ‘Spilling Into You’ – her latest single, which features fellow poet-turned-musician Kojey Radical – as a suitable song to show her repertoire, in addition to a “good basis” for what she aims to do with all her musical output in the future. “I spent a lot of time recently reflecting on my audience and how I come across because I think it is really important. As artists I think we can often be quite narcissistic – it’s about us and our therapy – and that is important, but I think you have to think about who your music is for and how you want to present yourself and being conscious of that is really important.”
“I really realised the impact I could have when I was playing some festivals this year and I had a lot of young girls come up to me. I just didn’t realise I was having an effect on seven to fourteen-year-olds and, for me, that’s really important,” she confirms, her eyes flickering rapidly mirroring the speed of her thoughts. “I remember how difficult that time was for me as a young woman. A lot of the concepts that I talk about are quite complex, but I think you don’t really need to do too much to inspire really young people.”
Despite being aware of public perception, how an individual is seen is often out of their control, something that Poppy acknowledges. “I guess I’m never going to be perceived how I want to be perceived because people take things in different ways, but I hope that the way people perceive me either makes them feel empowered in the way that they are or make them feel like the way they are – they don’t have to feel that way. I think I’ve got a very liberal feminist outlook and it’s not a traditional feminist outlook and a lot of people don’t get that.”
Themes such as gender, race and politics are all issues Poppy is emotionally connected with and consequently form the nucleus of her debut EP. “I had all those ideas as a young person, I’ve always been quite a strong feminist and had ideas on politics, but I didn’t have any way to put them into action,” she affirms in an impassioned manner. “University really empowered me to talk about that stuff, [it empowered me] to feel like I knew what I was talking about as well. It completely changed the way I write. The majority of the songs I write are now based on politics, gender or race because I feel like those are the things that are really important to me. It feels like what I should be doing right now. I want [my lyrics] to provoke thought, I want people to feel unsure and look [the meaning of my lyrics] up. It’s important for everything not to be on paper so you can just read it and take it in. You have to be a critical thinker and with music that does that, it teaches you to be a critical thinker.”
The title of the EP is tattooed on Poppy’s hand, but she is reluctant to have the name revealed publicly during our conversation. Though what she does divulge is what effect the practice of creating the EP has had on her. “It’s been a really amazing process for me, but really, really hard,” she admits. “I’ve only ever made a single at a time and so [creating an EP is] hard because you spend all your time with whoever in the studio to make four tracks and two interludes in the space of however many months.”
This has introduced an element of pressure, which has forced Poppy to adopt new ways of being as productive as possible. “It’s really hard to rush creativity. I’ve had to learn a different way of working because up until now music has been whenever I wanted it, whereas now I’m actually a musician – this is my job, I need to make stuff often.” She goes on to disclose how she’s felt the need to be involved in every feature of the EP’s creation, referring to herself as a control freak, before adding, “I give myself more work, but I’m always happier for it. There’s a lot of pressure because I’ve never done all those things before, but it’s amazing, I love it.”
Poppy’s belief that this is the defining moment in her career so far is reiterated by admitting that she has plenty of expectations for the EP, but recognizes that she probably shouldn’t expose them all. “I’ve just got such high expectations for myself – it’s crazy,” she reveals, concluding her sentence with a laugh. “It’s good, even though your expectations often aren’t met straight away, that is part of the journey. Being disappointed is part of learning to be who you are, [you have to] deal with it yourself and work harder.”
“I really want [the EP] to launch me as an artist in the direction I’m trying to go in. It’s something that feels really personal, so it feels like a really true and honest depiction of my life. Because it’s so personal you do have high expectations. So much about being an artist is blindly believing in yourself when no one else does.”
Poppy Ajudha will be playing a headline show in collaboration with Gal-Dem at Peckham Liberal Club, November 23rd.