What drew UK artist B-ahwe to the life of a musician was the ability to tell a story and paint a picture with the instruments she adds and the notes she sings. A modern-day bard, B-ahwe utilises her vocals to create her own fantasy world whilst also distracting from the realism of our day-to-day lives.
“That’s been a massive part of storytelling and music. You have this ability to make something that’s otherworldly… and music is just magical,” she tells Audiofemme. “You don’t get to escape very often – life is often very grey.”
Growing up as the second youngest of seven children in the city of Nottingham, B-ahwe’s stage name is an anglicised version of the Polish word for blank canvas, connoting new beginning, in a move that pays homage to the influence of her Polish grandmother. Because the language uses a different alphabet, the appearance of the word in Polish is very different from the phonetic pronunciation most listeners would be familiar with, B-ahwe explains. “I’ve kind of reconfigured it. It’s funny because I did it to make it easier to pronounce… and the things I’ve had people say to me is just hilarious. I can see the fear in their eyes before they say the word!” (For the record, it’s pronounced Bee-ah-wee.)
Heavily influenced by her background as a singer in her local church choir, it was no surprise that the life of a musician would be in her line of sight when she left home to go to university. Drawn to the ethereal possibilities within music, B-ahwe’s sound encompasses a strong element of fantasy. “I’ve always been a very metaphorical, ‘pretty words’ kind of writer,” B-ahwe says. “It feeds into [my] whole kind of ethereal thing as well. But I think it was also me being really scared of saying what I feel in black and white.”
With her latest EP Motions, out September 17, the singer-songwriter uses fantastical sonic elements to face her reality as she unpacks at what’s been left unspoken in her experiences so far. Leaving her inhibitions behind and laying out her thoughts and feelings, Motions serves as an ode to the fluidity of who we are as people who, for the most part, have attempted to fit into neat, compact identity boxes.
Opening with the delicate “Sakura,” B-ahwe combines the clear notes of the piano with her soft vocals. “Bewitched” follows with a slow, jittery beat tethering the track, a variety of elements coming into play that create an ambient soundscape that sustains the listener with each note. Within the soundscape, B-ahwe’s lyrics tell a solemn tale of a relationship turned sour and what that taught her, though she wasn’t aware of the lessons learned until she sat down to write it. This is demonstrated in lyrics such as “His cruelty makes the love burn bright/I don’t want to know what it is like without” and “I miss the me I was before.”
“’Bewitched’ is the first song I’ve ever written about all of the stuff that happened to me… it’s laced with a lot of the personal trauma and emotional abuse that I went through in a relationship,” says B-ahwe. “I didn’t really realise until we were doing the press release for that single how difficult it was.”
“Drifting” and “Fall Into” serve as the second and third acts to the story told by “Bewitched;” with a romantic acoustic guitar in “Drifting” serving as the backdrop to the musician’s experience of a love that limits, “Fall Into” examines the power of new love and the willingness on her part to find love again.
While the lyrical themes of the EP center on personal evolution and growth, no other track on Motions represents B-ahwe’s sonic evolution and growth this more than “Circles.” Produced by TAMBALA, the fifth track on the EP incorporates dreamy R&B and hip hop elements and signifies the musician’s experimentation with sound. It’s for this reason that B-ahwe feels that the track represents her the most in this moment.
“I used themes of time and the changing of seasons to address issues surrounding mental health,” she says. “I was talking about the situation of being stuck and moving forward… whilst your mind is holding you back all the time. You get to those points in life where you feel like you’ve really moved forward and then something triggers you, some past trauma, the mind takes hold of you and you start feeling like you’ve regressed when you haven’t – you’re just having a bad day.”
Motions closes with the aptly named track “Ready.” Bursting with an energy that isn’t felt in the previous songs, it’s something of a milemarker for B-ahwe, both lyrically and sonically. She details enjoying a new feeling of confidence, playing with elements of hip-hop and jazz in a more grounded composition to communicate a sense of fearlessness. She says it was inspired by “those moments where you’re like, fuck it – I’m gonna do this for me, despite everything. I’m going to rise past this, I’m just gonna take charge of the situation and move forward the best way I can.”
Motions follows B-ahwe’s 2020 LP Nuance, which hinged on her vocal lilt and jazz-influenced melodies with all the softness and subtly implied in its title. Motions feels more candid, building on the artist’s personal storytelling and willingness to experiment. This modest evolution is in part a result of the pandemic lockdowns in the UK, which forced B-ahwe to delve deep into her psyche. It’s no surprise that “Ready” closes out the EP; after months of emotional and spiritual exploration, B-ahwe finds herself with the confidence and drive to ask for more from her experiences.
“It’s a coming together of years of experiences, and years of bits of writing and developing and recording,” B-ahwe says of the EP. “Some of [the songs] are really tied into certain emotions and experiences… some of the other ones relate to moving through life.” Life doesn’t stop as we move through it, but with Motions, B-ahwe makes the most out of pausing to reflect, presenting listeners with their own blank canvas to consider.