The nicest person in music? Quite possibly. The soulful singer, songwriter and ukulelist wears
her heart on her sleeve
at Afropunk Fest London
Think ukulele think tattooed and pierced, soulful beauty? Well, no, but that’s the special joy of Purple Ferdinand. The singer-songwriter (real name Vanessa) loves this little lute so much she has one inked on her arm. Meanwhile the words ‘Love’ and ‘Life’ grace her fingers and clowns, hearts and diamonds dance across her limbs. But that’s not where the intrigue ends. Ferdinand’s music lives in a dreamy hinterland infused with R&B, jazz, folk and pop and takes us on an honest journey into her deepest hopes and fears. It’s as if she has opened up her heart and let every raw emotion flood right out.
Born and bred in Stratford, east London, she’s received props from the likes of Radio 1, Hunger and Dazed since starting out. She follows last year’s Lovebound EP with the forthcoming Rain Or Shine EP (Columbia) in November, the first fruits of which is the uplifting song Courage. Nataal found her backstage at Afropunk London having just wooed the crowd with her short, sweet set…
So how was the show for you?
My performance was great – I was in awe watching people dancing and being moved by my music. It felt like a homecoming experience because my first ever show outside of London – and only my third or forth show ever - was at Afropunk Brooklyn in 2012. Having them understand what I am about and give me a platform to represent my art was inspiring. So now it’s arrived in London it feels like I’ve come full circle. This is a hand on heart moment for me. To not be involved would have been crazy.
What does ‘Afropunk’ mean to you?
It is an awareness of self and freeness of self. Because of the subculture and the messages of inclusivity they represent, everyone comes here to explore and be open.
How does your music relate to the Afropunk philosophy?
My new EP is about believing in yourself even if you feel like you’re different or don’t fit in. The songs are about life and the general roller coaster of experiences you have in relationships. I performed them at Afropunk because I thought this audience would understand me.
Tell us about Courage?
I was feeling defeated and out of my element and I needed to almost say it aloud to release the thoughts I had. My perception was leading me to believe I didn't have it in me to do what I already was capable of. I started writing it to vent and it ended up feeling empowering to just put it out there.
How did you start out in music?
It sounds so cliché but I went through a break up and wrote a song. I also paint, write, play ukulele – different ways to express myself and have a message. I put everything on Tumblr, and then Facebook. I found a manager that way, and then Afropunk got in contact and it rolled out pretty naturally. The opportunity appeared and I took it but I’d never dreamt of having a career in music. I didn’t think it was believable for someone like me. I was expecting side eyes – what’s she wearing and why does she have those tattoos? So when I found that people were interested in me and how I looked I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Here I am!’
How would you describe your sound?
I love classic songs - ballads and heart wrenching stuff. I don’t mean to have the intention of love in my music but somehow I’ve got into this way of making slow jams, of making folky soul with live instrumentation.
What have been some career highs so far?
It’s got to be meeting people who I look up to who are so level headed. I met Pharrell Williams, Mos Def and Solange at Afropunk Brooklyn. And Robert Glasper told me that he likes my music and I own all of his. Those are highlights to me.
What are your future plans?
I want to sing my songs to as many people in as many places as possible. Because of the internet you’re more aware of the people who identify with you around the world so I want to get out there, experience, live and share.
Visit Purple Ferdinand