GET FAMILIAR: COSIMA
We sat down with Cosima, a singer from South London who has featured in our Air Jordan 7 VII campaign back in 2019. She discusses a sense of fear, courage and freedom as an artist who is under her own label called South Of Heaven Records, which she started early last year. As well as her unique influences and her getaway to Germany to take singing lessons from a retired Opera singer.
How did your relationship with music begin?
I remember hearing this a capella song by Tracy Chapman called ‘Behind The Wall’. I think it was the first time I had paid full attention to a voice and the words being sung. It blew my mind. I used to listen to the radio all the time and I would always write down the time when I heard a song I liked and then look it up on the radio website; I was obsessed I wanted to hear as much music as I could!
Where did you grow up and how did that influence your life?
I grew up in Peckham, South London, surrounded by a lot of different people who lived in very close proximity to each other. I think this influenced my approach to music a lot; when you live on an estate you experience other people relationship with music in a very intimate way. You can hear someone clean to Dancehall on a Sunday morning, and you can hear the woman who cries to 80’s power ballads downstairs at 2am when she thinks nobody can hear her. My mum is German, and we spent a lot of time in Germany too; my childhood was full of contradictions which made me open minded about a lot of things.
How did your career start and where?
I’m a very focused person so when I decided that I wanted to make music I told myself: ‘I’m going to learn how to sing, I’m going to learn how to write songs, and I’m going to learn how to do it properly.’ I moved to Germany and took singing lessons there, it’s where I found my voice and learnt how to control it. I wanted a voice I could build a career on.
Who were your main influences growing up, whether that’s in life or in music?
I have so many influences! I love Barbra Streisand’s voice but I also love how in control she was of her career; she’s been a big influence. Women who manage to build their own worlds within one that always tries to dominate them inspire me. Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr, Nancy Wilson, Bruce Springsteen and characters in musicals are a few people who have inspired me; sometimes people say that like my influences are strange for someone who comes from where I come from, but I don’t care. I have an imagination and I like what I like.
What’s your creative process?
Music is tied with my emotions; it’s personal. I keep diaries for long periods of time and then once I’m writing I go through those diaries and find lines and try to remember why I wrote them; and then I use those feelings to write the songs. I do a similar thing with visuals, I hoard things that inspire me and gather them on hard drives.
What artists or albums have you been listening to recently?
I love voices that communicate in a way that goes beyond words; that’s the highest level of singing to me. It’s the level I’m trying to reach. I don’t speak Spanish or Turkish but I’ve been playing a lot of La Lupe and Sezen Aksu, two of my all time favourite singers. I wanted to hear stuff that really moves me during lockdown.
What’s the biggest highlight of your career so far?
The biggest highlight of my career so far was starting my own record label and feeling completely free within my art. I think that will always be the most special step I’ve taken because it takes a lot of courage, strength and trust in yourself and people around you. Finding a female manager who supports that is like a bonus, because there is an understanding between women that makes it easier to navigate certain situations.
What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far?
I’ve overcome many problems in my time in the music industry but I think a lot of the time the biggest things that I’ve had to overcome are the limitations I’ve unknowingly placed on myself; once I found a way of lifting those, any problems that came from outside were much easier to deal with!
If you could change one thing about the industry what it be and why?
I would change the pressure that is put on artists in regards to releasing music, hits are great but songs that quietly make people feel things are important and sometimes the pursuit of hits drowns the artist’s voice and confidence. I would change that; artists should be allowed to make art for the sake of making art. When art is made from a place of freedom and honesty, it has to connect with other people. You can’t manufacture truth and truth is what lasts. I’d also change the colluding and covering up teams do that makes it possible for women to walk into situations/rooms that are not safe for them to be in on their own. But that’s a bigger conversation.
What advice would you give to young artists trying to find their voice?
Know your value and know what you are willing and not willing to do. Know the difference between compromise and being compromised. Know your worth, contracts last longer than the immediate need for money!
What is your dream project or goal?
I don’t really have a dream project because I think sometimes having that dream project or the idea of what the perfect thing is can freeze you. Harbouring ideals is the enemy of progress; I’m a free artist that’s enough of a dream for me :)
Are you exploring any other avenues besides of making music?
I direct my own videos and do all my own creative direction, which I love doing; I would love to do that for other people too! I’ve always been very creative so I just love making art in as many different ways as I can.
How would you describe your personal style?
I think my personal style moves around a lot. I grew up in London so I’ve always been surrounded by a lot of streetwear which moulded a more masculine, boyish style. BUT! I also grew up watching musicals and being obsessed with glamour. So now I enjoy being a chameleon and mixing it up. Glamour but never without grit. There are a lot of brands that I love, but I’m not a logo-maniac so for me, it’s about whether I like a piece. I’m not going to put something on my body just because it’s expensive. Status symbols aren’t part of my personal style.
You’ve been featured in Patta’s Jordan collaboration campaign last year, how did this come about and how did you get linked with Patta?
My best friend Mila, is very good friends with Violette; I met Violette through her and then we became friends. Later, I met people like Gee. It’s kind of like a friendship circle that opened up organically. I loved wearing Patta and then I did the campaign. It was really fun we were in Paris for 2 days. It’s just something about the energy and the way the guys were, it just felt very familiar. In January, I was in New York missing Europe and a few people from Patta were there for Dana Lixenberg’s show and it felt like home, away from home if you know what I mean.