The Time is Now: Sasha Keable

Photography: Giacomo Lacchini / Interview & Words: Joe Walker

The return of Sasha Keable in 2019 was most welcome. The singer’s soothing EP Man, her first project in four years, was a reminder to anyone that needed it as to why some of us had kept eyes and ears out for more music all this time. But where had she been?

Things were very different around her previous full release, Lemongrass and Limeleaves. The then-teenager, formerly of the famous BRIT School, had caught attention with her appearance on Disclosure’s debut album Settle in 2013, and soon after with her introductory Black Book EP. A multi-album record deal promised much for the South Londoner, but the music industry can be a brutal place for a young artist, not least a young female singer in the UK.

There is a peculiar habit of the British music media and labels to pit new girls against each other, as if only one is able or allowed to kick on and succeed. In Sasha’s case, that meant being made to feel like she was in competition with her class of fellow ‘ones to watch’ and in some cases, friends – the likes of Jess Glynne, Sinead Harnett and Etta Bond. With a history of crippling anxiety attacks growing up, Sasha especially needed her management to shut out that noise with conviction, and reassure her to do what she does best. Unfortunately, hers were soon doing the same, pointing to the next generation of young girls on her own label, such as Raye, as artists she should be more like. This coupled with a difficult atmosphere at home, following the tragic passing of her stepfather, only heightened Sasha’s anxieties and she has since been opened up about her struggles with depression.

It was essential to take herself out of that rat race, and come back to music when she was ready to, on her own terms. Thankfully that time is now, and almost a year on from Man we meet Sasha in great spirits. She is every bit the candid ball of personality that we remember before, making for an insightful conversation and a delightful half-hour’s company.

Beyond music we of course talk football, from Sasha’s split international loyalties as the daughter of a proud Colombian, to her close connections with a Premier League club through her aforementioned stepfather, Nick…

There was a photo of you at Stamford Bridge recently on Instagram. How did you come to support Chelsea?

I used to be a Liverpool supporter when I was young, just because I liked Michael Owen. I thought he was sexy. Not sexy… I was too young to know what sexy meant, but he was my kind of baller. Then my stepdad worked in football – he worked at Birmingham, Blackburn then moved to Chelsea as Head of Sports Science, and he was there for the longest so I started supporting Chelsea. I was going to more games, and it kind of stuck. He was there under Carlo [Ancelotti], then he moved with him to PSG. He died while he was in Paris, and I’ve got a soft spot for PSG as well just because they were so kind when everything happened.

Did that proximity to the game behind the scenes affect your perception of it?

I’ve seen the shitty side of football, I guess because I knew all the ins and outs of what used to happen. I never saw it as glitz and glamour, I always saw it as just work because my stepdad worked f*cking crazy hours. I remember when Carlo got sacked, and the craziness that went on. What’s gonna happen? What are we gonna do? I remember how dramatic that all was, my mum was super stressed. You move your whole family all the time, you just have no choice.  At least once they got PSG it was like wooo, bare money for everyone!

Who were your favourite Chelsea players from that time?

I really loved Drogba. He was just really jokes and quite nice. Lampard was one of my favourites, and he was always really sweet to my stepdad as well, out of all of them. JT… wasn’t.

The way fans treat footballers at stadiums must differ so much to how you would be with your audiences when performing?

When I went to the Chelsea game against Arsenal, every time David Luiz got the ball all the Chelsea fans were booing! Bless him, he played for Chelsea for f*cking how long? Leave the poor guy alone. It made me feel awful, I can’t imagine being screamed at like that. Getting up on a stage and singing, and having people boo me?! Rude!

We’ve spoken a lot about Chelsea but it’s a Colombia shirt you’re wearing today. What’s your connection?

My mum’s Colombian, and I feel very at one with my Colombian heritage. I support Colombia over England – we’re normally doing better! – but I support both. I remember the World Cup, I was in Ibiza at [Stormzy’s] #Merky festival wearing my Colombia top, and the backstage area had the Colombia-England match on. I’m in there… everyone and I mean everyone was telling me to f*ck off. I honestly thought I was about to get my head kicked in. I had two rappers behind me calling me a f*cking bitch! Then it went to penalties, England won and I just shed a little tear, one little pathetic tear down my cheek. Everyone was going ‘hahaha stupid idiot’, I felt attacked!

If it were up to me, for the next World Cup, I’m gonna sew together an England shirt and a Colombia shirt so you lot can absolutely go f*ck yourselves if you try come at me again!

What’s your experience of Colombia?

It’s just a beautiful country. It has such a bad rep over the years, but I would say to anyone to see for themselves and make up their own minds. I’ve had so many friends travel around South America, and every time they come back they tell me they stayed in Colombia for the longest.

Would you like to perform out there at some point?

My mum keeps saying she’ll sort it out, but when the time is right we’ll do it, eventually. It makes sense. I would do my own songs, obviously, but then I’d have to do some of the classic songs I grew up with. I’d have to do some Cumbia songs, which is my favourite and a very quintessentially Colombian genre of music, and a few Vallenato songs too, which is like the ballad side of it, where they cry. If I came into the house growing up and Cumbia was playing it’s party time, but if I came home and Vallenato is playing then get inside and lock your room because mum would be in the kitchen cleaning and crying!

Let’s talk more music then. It was great to have you back with a new EP last year after a while away. What made 2019 the right time to do so?

It all just fell into place. I think I’d been through enough stuff at that point to know when was the right time. It needed that break, that period of four years or whatever it was, to settle and regroup. I could’ve put the EP out earlier – half a year earlier, max – but I wouldn’t have been in the right headspace. Now, because I did it at the right time, I feel like everything since then’s just worked. I know where I’m going, I know what I want to achieve from this, I know what my sound is and I know what I want from myself. I just don’t think I knew any of that before.

Were you still writing during the time away?

I was. I deleted Instagram, I was off the radar, and not really seeing any of my friends who were in the public eye, but writing was the only thing I was still doing. I was ready to give up music, I didn’t think I had thick enough skin for this after the dramas that had happened with my old management, and how upset I was after that. It was through writing… it makes me so happy when it goes the way I want it to go, so I just kept going.

It’s mad that a bad management experience can have such an affect on an artist.

You put so much trust in management. Obviously you’re the artist but it’s difficult to hand over yourself and your career. I’m not a very trusting person in general, and music is the thing that means the most of me, so when you give that over to someone and they make you feel like you’re not good enough… that had such a knock-on effect on my confidence.

How has taking yourself out of that situation changed your approach today?

I don’t like to even think about what other people are doing, because it’s quite triggering for me. This is what I’m doing, this is what makes me happy. As long as me and my management are happy, we’re confident with what we’re doing and my close tight-knit circle love it, we can just move. There’ll always be an audience for it, that’s the beauty of the music industry at the minute. 

I feel like that part of my life I’ve almost blocked out of my mind. That old music means nothing to me anymore, honestly. I still respect the fact it means stuff to other people, but to me it doesn’t. I won’t perform any of it, just because it reminds me of a time that was really not nice for me. I was really not in a good place at that point. When people bring up old EPs though, I’m used to it now. It’s a part of my history and my growth, without that I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be making the stuff that I am now. Everything happens for a reason. In my head, I feel like the EP last year was EP one, even though I know it’s not. I’m working on my ‘second’ EP now, in my head.

It’s almost a year now since that ‘first’ EP. Is that second not far away then?

Soon, very soon. I’m super excited, it’s sounding really good. I can’t wait to have new music out, because last year’s EP was only four tracks, and then I had ‘Loyalty’ later on in the year, so I’m ready!

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