Laura Mvula (birth name Laura Douglas) grew up in the Birmingham suburbs of Selly Park and Kings Heath. Her mother is from Saint Kitts and her father is from Jamaica. She told Beats 1 Music's Julie Adenuga about her introduction to music.
"My daddy, he can sing, play guitar and piano, and we had a piano in the house, and it was kinda mash up but it didn't matter 'cos it was the biggest thing in the room. And as a kid of course you just gravitate towards it. When I saw my friends play violin they had the private lessons. We couldn't afford that so I had to wait until a certain age to be able to play violin. I thought it was most unjust .When I was of age, I got the Abracadabra book, swam through it, I was playing all the parts, I loved it. I was obsessed with anything musical."
Laura and her younger siblings James and Dionne sang in the church choir, and then formed a band, the Douglas String Trio playing at weddings and birthday parties in the greater Birmingham area. "I'm sure we were awful in the beginning," she laughed to The Independent, "but we did improve, slowly. The constant practice was hard, though, especially because we were dealing with puberty, and stuff. But then my dad always said that music was a discipline before it became a pleasure. He was right about that."
Mvula started working with some local amateur choir projects such as the Lichfield Community Gospel Choir and the Alvechurch Community Choir. She recalled to Songfacts
"I remember we used to work with one choir every Monday afternoon in the English countryside. In the winter months, sometimes it felt like a bit of a slog to go from the city out into the country - especially when it was raining. But I noticed that in the core of those sessions, there would be always a moment where all of that dullness would dissipate, and the music takes over. The joy of singing together is such a powerful and mysterious thing."
She graduated from the Birmingham Conservatoire at the Birmingham City University with a degree in composition, but had little idea what to do with her qualification. While Mvula was working as a supply teacher and receptionist, she started writing songs on her laptop. "She
" the title track of her debut EP was the first tune she ever wrote.
Mvula posted her songs on the music-streaming website SoundCloud, requesting advice and feedback. One producer, Steve Brown responded enthusiastically, and she landed herself a manager and a record contract with Sony/RCA.
Her debut album Sing to the Moon reached #9 on the UK Albums Chart and the top 100 in seven other countries. In October 2013, Mvula won awards for Best Female Act and Best R&B or Soul Artist at the 2013 MOBO Awards.
Though Laura Mvula's second album The Dreaming Room received critical acclaim from music critics, the sales were disappointing. She was dropped by her record label, getting the shock news in a forwarded email. "I didn't see anyone, I didn't hear anybody's voice. I just read words. It felt so cold and cruel," Mvula told BBC Radio 4's Rebecca Jones. "First I was confused, I didn't understand. I was always told I was such a valued part of what Sony had become today. I was an artist who was taking risks and doing things that are fresh and genuinely new. I believed them. To be treated like that doesn't feel quite just."