Hailing from West London, Ava Zarate is a singer, songwriter and producer who started making waves from a surprisingly young age. Radio plays from Gilles Peterson and playlist support from Gorillaz thrusted her into the spotlight, and after a short hiatus, the multifaceted artist is back on the scene with a new single, “O Girl”. Trading the bossa nova flare of previous projects for a more contemporary hybrid of trap & R&B, the track sees Zarate speaking from a place of vulnerability that isn't replicated by many musicians who share her age.
After experiencing severe writer’s block, which she describes as a powerless experience, Zarate hooked up with Mom Tudie for a successful studio session. Instigating a musical metamorphosis, the collaboration helped her to realise the limitless possibilities she withholds. In our short conversation, Zarate cites Bawo, Erika De Casier and Jim Legxacy as key influences on the sound. Anything else that is “sonically moving” will continue to inspire her, too.
As well as making music, Zarate has begun a noteworthy side hustle managing her own events. Hybridising a range of genres, from disco to funk and garage to house, ‘Karen’s’ provides a platform to DJs in Bristol who want to express themselves and do not fit the city's drum and bass niche. The first event sold out Bristol’s legendary Exchange venue, and with plenty more in the pipeline, ‘Karen’s’ will undoubtedly, permanently, make a stamp on the West Country’s bustling music scene.
To celebrate Ava Zarate’s recent creative endeavours, we sat down to chat about “O Girl”, her love of bossa nova music and some snazzy Vinted pickups. Like every young millennial, she is completely hooked on the platform.
You cite “O Girl” as a change in direction for yourself and your sound. Why did you want to veer in a new direction sonically?
The music I was making was very soul-based and all under 100BPM. I’ve always loved beats. Like, I love trap music. I find it so sonically moving. For me, my music before was all about lyricism but I want to explore other ways to move people. People like Bawo and Feux, I get really moved by what they make. I’m just not in the mood to sit down with my guitar for hours and hours, I wanna hear what I make in a club. It’s maybe not a direction I’ll take forever but I don’t want to make one type of music.
Mom Tudie produced the track, why did you want to let someone in on your creative process?
At the time, for a good two years, I was stuck in a creative block. Once you learn how to produce, I think it can be a very lonely experience because you end up in your room a lot of the time, knowing that you can do all these things but you’re not doing them. It can be incredibly frustrating. I got this session sorted with my manager and she sent over Mom Tudie. I just thought, why not? I can find sessions odd with people I’ve never met before. How am I meant to come to someone’s house and make something really personal? Why should I trust them? I might as well just get the guy from the corner shop in my house and we can write together. But it worked and we really bounced off each other. He had a passion for me singing on beats; trap is very male-dominated and so is the UK rap scene, but I like the sound of a woman’s voice on it. It was nice to let someone in on the process.
Was it just trap that you were listening to when this single was made or was there anything else you were being inspired by?
I’ve got a couple of other songs that I’m happy with at the moment and I would like to form them into an EP early next year but nothing is final. “O Girl” was a single that I really wanted to get out and I knew it was a standout. I think people are gonna be like ‘what’s happened to Ava?’. I really hope that people who are fans of what I’ve done will retain their love for this sound too.
Erika De Casier, she was shown to me, and I thought this girl is magic. She’s hitting some of the hardest beats, that fuse so many genres. Her lyrics are just great. I was fucking with that and then I got opened to Blood Orange who I love now. Then, Jim Legxacy topped it off. There’s something I needed in his music; it’s so emotional and on these emo-inspired beats. I love that kind of music. I wanted to replicate it a bit. General life influenced the music too, which comes out in what I want to sing.
Was there anything going on in your life that was causing such a creative block?
When the lockdown started, that’s when I learnt how to produce. My creativity was thriving. The best present in the world was getting logic. I was like, how is this all on here? I can do whatever I want! Then I made my song ”‘Thinking”, which I was over the moon with. Then I made an EP. But after that, I was wondering where my creativity went. It’s weird because I know I had power but I felt out of control of what I wanted. I don’t know if in retrospect I could have done anything different but I focused on spending time with people, going to galleries, watching more films, and not hurting myself too much by overthinking. I knew I needed to change so what happened, happened for a reason. I needed to ride that block.
So many creative people are coming out of West London. What’s in the air over there?
Drugs, nah just joking. Not for me anyway. Ladbrook Grove is a very special place. It’s vibrant, it’s vivid, it’s musical, it’s carnival, it’s multicultural. I don’t know. It’s not like I walk down the street and everyone’s making music and I want to join in. But being surrounded by different types of people, religions, and sexuality, you walk down the street and go to portobello market, and you can just chat to anyone. It’s bright, it’s colourful, it’s energetic. It’s just exciting. You can’t get bored there.
You’ve said that your Dad was a big influence on you and your music. What does he do?
He’s amazing. He’s a producer, and a DJ and has been in bands. He’s had a lot of influence musically.
In what way? What do you mean by that?
He was in a band called Spacek from the early 2000s, which was a big fusion of sounds.
I know an artist called Steve Spacek.
So, that was his band before he went solo. You should listen to ‘Eve’ by Spacek. The reason my Dad and I get along so well is that he is constantly doing a lot of things and he doesn’t stick to one area. He’s got such an eclectic knowledge of music. He actively seeks and learns. It’s nice that musical passion is in the family.
From following you, I realised you’ve got some famous names supporting your music, including Gorillaz and Gilles Peterson. Are there any stories behind these exchanges?
It’s kinda mad, isn’t it. Gilles played my Dad’s music when he was my age. He’s supportive, aware and constantly finding new stuff. So, he played my music on 6 music and said some really nice words afterwards. With Gorillaz, I was on Noodles playlist and they followed me. I was like, wow you’ve changed my image. That little follow is always there now. Her playlist is all about women’s music and a fusion of genres; I’m glad they thought there was something unique about me.
A big influence on your music previously has been bossa nova. Where did your love of bossa nova and South American music come from?
The first song I ever released was called “Estella”. I made this track and recorded it with my Dad and he said ‘you know this is a bossa nova banger’ and I was like ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about, what’s bossa nova?’. The way that I played the guitar and sang was very bossa nova and he enhanced the sound with some bossa nova drums. I love Bossa Nova. I find it so emotional and moving, with happy-sounding chords and lyricism about abandonment, loss and regret. I got brainwashed by bossa nova, that’s my answer.
In the photo you sent over in the press release you’re lacing up a pair of Air Max. If you had to pick any pair of Air Max ever, what would be your favourites?
My favourite pair are the ones I just found on Vinted, which is my new favourite place to be. I got them for £20. I’d say they’re a bubblegum-coloured Air Max 1. I was so gassed. Vinted is the shit. I only downloaded it this month but I’ve brought too much, and I’ve lost a lot of money.
So, what’s next for you then? Are you going to be focusing more on the music or events? I feel like you’re someone who needs a creative outlet.
I can promise, 100% more music but I can’t promise when. I’m trying to find more artists/producers in Bristol. If anyone looking at this magazine sees this, reach out! Haha.
Hopefully, they will, that would be nice. I’d like to think that would happen.
I’ve got another session with Mom Tudie in December, which I’m looking forward to. I’m very inspired now and I know what I want to make but I just need to orchestrate it. I feel like next year will be my year: videos, gigs, work… I’m meeting a lot more producers. Anything music or art-related, I’m involved and you won’t catch me not being involved with.