Alicai Harley has a personality as colourful as her dress sense. Bright and full of life, the Jamaican-born artist helps to fly the dancehall flag on British shores but despite her Thornton Heath upbringing, Alicai hasn’t forgotten her Jamaican culture. She doesn’t shy away from it either.
Appearing humble and friendly for her GRM debut interview, Alicai talked about her plans for 2021, her acting aspirations, building her relationship with her fans and more.
Just days after the 21st of June was cancelled as England’s official “Freedom Day”, Alicai talked about her lockdown experience and offered some introspection.
“It’s been a rollercoaster. It’s made me appreciate life a lot more and the people around me – my friends and my family. I guess that’s the plus side out of it. It’s definitely having a hard effect on us all, our mental health, stuff like that.”
With concerts cancelled and festivals postponed, there was little to do outside but Alicai reflected on how she has been spending her time.
“Trying to focus on bettering oneself, focusing on myself. I’ve always been the kind of person that’s always looking out for everybody else. My brain is always running on my problems and other people’s as well. For me, this time around, I’ve been really trying to focus on me. Focusing on me is so hard, it’s not as easy as people think it is.
“Being someone that is an empath, it’s hard to focus on yourself. It’s been challenging but at the same time, it’s rewarding and it will be rewarding in the end, that’s how I’ve been getting through lockdown.”
Alicai has been making music too and she says that going through the process as an individual has allowed her growth.
“I’ve had my own studio set up. I’m not great at recording my own vocals and making them sound cute but you know what? From where I was at the beginning of last year when Covid really hit to where I am now in terms of my recording myself at home, it’s a big growth.
“In terms of the music industry, it really hit us very hard as musicians, creatives and people that are working in the music industry in general.
“I feel like we found different ways to adapt like Zoom. Zoom is doing my head in though. It’s been doing my head in.”
Alicai Harley beams with excitement when she talks about her billing at London’s City Splash festival which will take place on the 12th of September. The live music sector has been hit hard by Covid and Alicai is eager to get back out there.
“I am excited,” she says, “I think so many people are excited as well. This one is for the culture as well, reggae music. I just want to hurry up and get out there, I just want to feel people’s energies, I just want to see how people are reacting. I just want to see the smiles on people’s faces.
“Lila Iké is going to be there, I’m so excited. I even messaged her. I’m so excited to see her, she’s just a pure spirit, I just want to hold a vibes with her.”
Born in Jamaica and moving to the UK aged five, Alicai Harley’s music meshes together her nationality with her current home and the result is a vibrant cultural fusion.
In her videos and social media posts, Alicai is as colourful as can be, allowing Jamaica’s bold fashion reputation to be her muse.
“One of my biggest inspirations is just my culture. Dancehall, the dancehall culture in the 90s. Stuff like Dancehall Queen and that dress sense, I feel like that’s really where it’s from in terms of hair colours and just the bright dressing. It wouldn’t necessarily be a person, it’s more so Jamaica, that’s where my inspiration comes from. I really like to analyse that era and what they were looking like.”
To Alicai, British culture is diversity: “There’s another side of it, British culture, fish and chips, stuff like that, but in Jamaica for example, it’s an ‘out of many, one people’ sort of situation, that’s our motto.
“In a way, in Britain it’s kind of similar to a certain extent. You’re going to get people from different walks of life in one friendship group that are very different but they are somehow all best friends. That’s the beauty of Britain and British culture for me.”
The artist’s earliest memory of Jamaica is spending time with her Dad driving around in his red pickup truck and travelling to eat jerk chicken in a background surrounded by ambience and loud music.
Her musical inspirations? Buju Banton and Lady Saw – two of Jamaica’s most influential artists.
“I grew up on Buju Banton, Lady Saw, all of that music. They’re definitely dream collabs.
“With Lady Saw she is Christian now, glory be to God so it’s actually Marion Hall now but even saying that, my dream is to collaborate with Marion Hall. I am up for that, that’s my dream.
“Buju is someone that I really watched. I watched the way he created music in terms of breaking down his musical sound and the pockets he fits in and how he rides the riddim and how he controls his voice on stage.
“All of those little detailed things, it’s the same thing with Lady Saw. Growing up I really pulled their art apart and funnily enough, a lot of Buju Banton’s style is actually in my music. Buju is the base of how I create music, a lot of my songs that are already out there, the earlier songs like “Gold” like “Naah Done”, they are Buju Banton and Lady Saw. They are the base for me and then I just add on extra stuff on top of it. It’s those specific two people and it’s been like that for many years.
On her favourite songs:
“If Him Lef” by Lady Saw. I know the words. It’s a good bounce. That song makes you feel empowered in a very different way. With Buju it’s “Too Bad” that one, I feel like it knocks as well. Those two back-to-back, it’s pure vibes.”
Joining Buju Banton and Lady Saw on Alicai’s list on inspirations is Beyoncé.
“When I was younger, I would look at the way Beyoncé created a song, I watched all of the documentaries. I’d look at her writing skills, how she started it, the intros of the songs and the top line.
“Beyoncé is a big inspiration of mine because of her work rate and just her power that she holds as a black woman, it’s phenomenal. That just makes me feel really empowered.”
Female empowerment is something that echoes in everything that Alicai does and she reveals that it is often intentional but also natural to her too.
“My Mum grew me up to love the world, not to just love the world but people and treat people how you want to be treated. She did it in her own yardie way.
“When I entered the industry and was getting so much of this female against each other energy, naturally what my body does, naturally what my brain does is fight back and my way of fighting back is actually saying no, what do you mean? And wanting unity and pushing for unity.
“When I say unity I mean love, I mean spreading love as opposed to this energy of one going against the other so I’m naturally going to fight against the stigma of females being separated because that’s just what comes to me naturally.
“Intentionally I do make sure I’m putting it out there because I feel like, not just for other artists to see as well but other people to see. People that are watching my music. What’s the point in holding it in? I have to make it clear what I stand for. You stand for nothing, you will fall for everything.
“I know I have to put it out there. Even just the little stuff even now or earlier on in my career, it’s just making sure that if you like someone’s stuff, I make sure that if I realise that I’m really into an artist, I am naturally going to post them. It’s going that extra mile.
“It’s not by force don’t get it twisted because you’re not living for nobody but if I have got the energy, I’m gonna make sure I post that person. I’m going out of my way to comment and just also for the fans to see that as well and so they know that energy of positivity and love is there.
“Fans love to see that, fans love unity. I know that a lot of people say that fans put people against each other but realistically, fans just like to protect their artist and they’re just very protective of the artist that they love.
“I feel like as an artist, I hold the power to make it clear that ‘oh don’t worry, me and her are cool’.
Affectionately called the Hot Shots, Alicai has one of the most interactive relationships with her fans in the UK. The artist-fan relationship appears close here and the star only wants it to improve.
“I feel like I’ve been really battling with my nerves. Not even on stage by the way, but just communication and just turning on a camera by myself.
“It’s probably a bit crazy because my fans know me to be very flamboyant, very crazy, very who I am and I am that person when you see me but I feel like there’s so much of me that’s really nervous and dealing with anxiety.
“Anxiety is big and a strong thing on me as well because obviously I know that so many people are suffering and a lot of people don’t understand it. I’ve been having this battle with anxiety for so long and there’s different levels to it as well and it’s much deeper than anyone could even imagine.
“I wish to have a much closer relationship with my fans and I’m working around how to do that because I haven’t even done a lot of lives recently and they’ve mentioned that.
“I wish I could be closer but I am grateful to have people that love me for me and if I come out and I do up crazy and I act up, it’s like nothing, they don’t even care, they love it.
“2021, we’re going to be communicating more. At one point we had a WhatsApp group and stuff, I’ve just been missing.
“I think that was my biggest fear, coming out and speaking about anxiety – some people will see one thing and then that’s all they label you for.
“This is bigger than me. I’m sometime-ish with when I want to speak about it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t and I think that’s a lot of people, catch me in the right mood.”
Looking to the future, as well as continuing to build on her relationship with her fans, Alicai wants to try new ventures as well as continuing her output of music.
Alicai told GRM: “I’m in a beautiful space right now but a scary space. An unstable space but a very trusting, a space where I’m very much trusting the process of God’s purpose and everything for me. Not finding myself but almost not hiding myself anymore.
“I’ve always been me but the truest me in its truest form is really unleashing and because of that, I feel like I don’t necessarily know what’s coming but I know this is the process of what is to come.
“I’m such an indecisive person and for how long I took with (The Red Room Intro (Yard Gyal Inna Britain) EP, it’s not even about being able to create the music, it’s just being happy with everything that is there.
“I’m working on music, I wanna do stuff separately from music but still using my platform and using my influence for my own brand. There’s a charity that I want to start and I’m working on that now. It’s for the people and it’s as much on the level as the EP, the importance of it to me.
“I feel like I’ve done the music, I’ve shown what I can do and now I’m ready to put my hands in all of these pots that I know I can do.
“I might look to see if there are any acting classes. I was checking online for different things. I want to do it, it’s something that I really want to do. What am I waiting for?”