Many know Lisa Maffia as the First Lady of the iconic UK garage group So Solid Crew. Known for their timeless number one single '21 Seconds', which arguably put garage music onto the UK music scene as a force to be reckoned with. Maffia might not have dreamt of a life in the spotlight but she was definitely made for it.
However, few know Maffia as the independent, go-getter and inspirational businesswoman she also is. Starting her own booking agency because she wanted to "take things" in her own "hands." The songstress has never waited for good things to just happen to her.
Maffia's steadfast belief in going for it, and grinding even harder has seen her sign artists like the Artful Dodger & Chipmunk, release her latest single 'Wah Gwarn' from her upcoming album and as the singer get's ready to launch her EP this November, we catch up with Maffia to let us know how the So Solid Unit is doing now and why she believes garage has come "full circle" once again.
Describe your current state of mind?
Confident, driven, motivated, determined and just happy.
Let's take it right back to the beginning, what was it like growing up in Brixton?
Growing up in Brixton for me it was just normal life, I don't know anything else.
I had a great upbringing. My mum was a really great mum and gave me everything that I wanted and needed in life really and just the structure to my life was pretty great. I think it is better than some people from a lot of places. I can't really express how thankful I am to have the type of mother that I did cause she gave me grounding rules, regulations to stick by and it's helped me throughout my entire life.
What were your dreams growing up?
I came out of school wanting to be an architect and then I went into photography and art & design.
I always wondered why I ended up becoming a singer, I never wanted to grow up to be a pop star, you know, some kids do and it wasn't really what I wanted to do. I think it was actually showing to me, wanting to be a musician, the artistic side was there.
But I never wanted to be a musician at the beginning. I was just fortunate that I was with a group of guys and my hobby was to sing and it was to play music and I just ended up in the right place at the right time, with a bunch of boys that loved music and really wanted me to take part and from the first track to now I have only ever been pushed to that, so I think was in the right place at the right time.
So you got pregnant at 18...
I was almost 18 when I had my daughter, I left school and went to college, and I did my GCSE's in college. I then went on to further education, I did art design and photography. Then I went on to singing school and working part-time in retail and I got pregnant in that time.
When I had Chelsea it didn't interrupt any of my education at all, back then I didn't have a big qualification to go to a university. But I didn't feel like I needed to cause I was on a more artistic flair and lucky for me I got to meet the boys from a very young age and become a musician.
So a lot of the other things that I dreamed to do were worked out by the successful music. I didn't really have any problem with having a child and growing up with Chelsea, I was lucky enough to have a great family support, which supported me through my entire career. Even my friends, they were so great, they were always at all my shows and making sure I had done well so I didn't really have a problem with having a baby so young.
When did you meet the boys from So Solid?
I met all the boys in Battersea and it's funny because I am sitting with the girl that actually introduced me to So Solid because she actually dated my best friend from 13 years old, one of the boys from So Solid. She took me to Battersea for the very first time and I ended up getting left there with 30 odd boys, being a musician, so I should be thankful for my whole career to her really.
Jet-setting around the world, shows don’t stop, where is the hottest place you have been to this year?
Oh my god Dubai, it is the worst, it is sometimes unbearable you literally feel like you are going to fry, the air con in that country is absolutely phenomenal but you need it because it is just desert heat, so hot, I think the last time I was there it was 28 degrees, it's unbearable, completely unbearable.
So what's been the most amazing show you have ever done live?
Boomtown festival last year in 2016 and also Glastonbury this year. Glastonbury absolutely topped it for me, just for the fact that Glastonbury is such a huge name and to be invited to perform there was not only mind-blowing but to have the reception that I did that was really good as well, I loved it, I loved every second of it.
Life is a journey, what is the greatest part of your journey so far?
Oh my god, there is so many, there is so many parts I mean there was a lot of things that I didn't even realize was happening at the time.
I think one of my greatest moments has got to be shooting for Vogue magazine UK. That was with a really big photographer called Mario Testino whose actually shot every single model in the world and his still going now, his absolutely amazing, he really is. And that was a massive achievement and now I get to look back at that in the archive of pictures, and it's just like, wow! I think that is probably one of the best photo shoots and then just being with my crew, just like winning the MOBO, the Brits, the Q awards, there is just unlimited things that we have done together. And there's so many achievements we've made and just limited to today we have just been officially announced that we have gone triple platinum, which is 2.6 million copies were sold. Which is absolutely phenomenal for UK artists!
Talking about Mario Testino, is it true you didn't know who he was until after the photo shoot?
I didn't realise who he was, to me he was a photographer and it didn't mean anything when I got told his name to until now years later and appreciating photography. Even though I have always loved photography, but I didn't realise that was the guy that had taken most of the front covers that I absolutely adored so yeah I am quite impressed that I got to be part of that journey!
It must have been amazing.
Yeah, I would have run up to him when I see him and been "hi, hi!" And he would have looked at me like "go away you crazy girl!"
So let's talk about the music, tell us about your latest track 'Wah Gwarn'?
It's a track I created because it is one of those words that everyone uses, it's in my daily dialogue. And I just wanted to give something back to the clubs, introduce miss Mafia again. I really wanted to bring back that feeling, that raving feeling to the club, and all to introduce the guys that made it as well, who are called Four and it's been a fun first track to come back with.
There's going to be a whole album of stuff that I am going to be putting out, between this time and next year and the EP is due to drop in November and the album is next year, so I am really excited to just introduce house & garage and my style back again.
And obviously I am going to get some of my boys to feature as well so you can hear their new So Solid sound because it is absolutely phenomenal, we are actually ready to do it. I think Garage has come full circle, so I just totally want to be part of it again.
It's a good time for young black artists in Britain right now, do you think it’s easier now than it was when you came out?
Oh yeah, most definitely, it's hard because they get an honest opinion immediately but in our days we had to build so much more to release a track. I mean you had to pay out a hell of a lot more money, we had to make a lot more money but nowadays they literally just click on Instagram, Twitter or YouTube, all three platforms to promote your music, and it is instantly in the hands of thousands of fans. Where we would have to wait two to three weeks to build up a momentum of playing in the clubs live to see if they like it and then putting it out on a white label and then testing it with radio, and then seeing if you change it on radio and then send the CD. We had no access to social media when we started out so the guys are getting a bit of the easier ride.
But at the same time now you are competing with a sea of the same sort of sound, so you have to really stick out, so when they are successful like Stormzy or Wretch 32, you can see they are great artists.
You basically just summed it all up; and nowadays everything with music happens so quickly.
Yeah, it's so quick now, there is no breaks in-between, I think it has just flooded, there's no quality music and I don't think much music lasts because there is just so much music put out.
I mean if we can be playing 16 years on the same record in the clubs as artists then we know we have made some really timeless music. I just can't tell you anyone's track from the beginning because they come and go so quick, and they have to release so much to be recognised and to maintain the stardom. But with So Solid we have literally made two albums and we are still around today. So we know we made quality music and I think that's something to be proud of.
Talking about the crew, how is the So Solid unit now?
Everyone's really well, everyone's older now so we have got second careers. Whether that be acting or being a mum or dad, everyone's really busy, everyone's really hectic and everyone's got a lot going on. So it's been really good, but it's been really tough to get everyone together in one room, so we do that once a month.
So actually every month we do something together, whether it's just going for a drink or meet in our offices we always get together at least once a month to catch up and see what's going on in everyone's life and see if there's any new things to bring to the table. We are very much the same brothers and sisters and we really do stick together.
You said you wished you had better guidance when you came out in music. Who is guiding you now, who do you wish you had back then?
I wish I had myself back then, I wish I knew the things I know now, just to be a little wiser, a bit more smart with my money, with my decisions but I think that is the whole learning curve of becoming somebody.
I think anybody that has had money once will not keep that same money. I signed for a quarter of a million pounds when I was only 23 years old so I had money in an abundance and so did the boys, they signed for a lot more than me, and I think between the two we had probably two million pounds. At that time we didn't realise the sort of power that kind of money had. I mean you had adults around us back then but nobody told us what to do, no one really guided us or spent time with us and told us what to do, and I think a lot of things did go wrong.
But what we did have is a lot of money, a lot of fame and no guidance. So I prefer myself cause I have learnt so much stuff along the way that unfortunately I didn't know back then and had I known it I think a lot more would have happened, a lot more would have been secured but it is what it is, I don't dwell on who I am without the hard grind on the first lap.
You have obviously grown a lot since you have been in music, what are some of your favourite life lessons?
Just to keep going, never to give up on yourself and never to really let anybody else get you down or to make anybody else make you feel like you can't or it won't happen.
I am glad I didn't have to go through much of that, my boys were brave, they were determined and we literally just bounced off each other for many years and I am glad that we did. I think that's the most important thing as a musician is just to believe in yourself, and if anybody dare to tell you no, you take criticism on but you don't let it dictate your future and I am glad I had my boys to help me through with that. I think a lot of the nicer times have come from us being as one, as a So Solid unit.
So what advice would you give to any bands or crews out there?
Just don't quit, like I said, never quit, never really give up and let other people dictate what you want, if you believe it on a Monday morning and by Friday you've quit, you never believed it in the first place, so it's probably the best idea that you didn't even start.
But if you believe in what you are doing, and no one else does, it means you should continue cause you have to have heart in what you are doing, more than anyone else. Nobody else really matters when it comes down to it, it's going to be your decision that brings it to reality.
You started your own agency UC Bookings with your sister, how is the agency now?
So UC Bookings, that was always the lifeline, so when things came down and management didn't really want to help as much cause we weren't making them as much money I decided to take things in my own hands and get myself the odd booking here and there, and it literally just built from that. It built from me not having work and me determined to continue having a mortgage, and continue having nice things in my life. When things were not as great as they are now.
So I just decided to open up UC Booking and from there I just continued to work, and I started to get other people work, I got Chipmunk and Heartless, Luck & Neat, Artful Dodger, Romeo, they were all my first clients and that's when I realised "oh, this is what I can do." I can take a little bit off there and make sure they get their bookings, make their money, and then if I get them more bookings then I am going to make more money so I became a businesswoman and from that, I have continued.
You live by the motto - "Take each day as it comes..."
I do and I don't, I mean I do say take each day as it comes but I also say that you must prepare for the bad days as well, there's no harm to have a bit of planning you know, and to knuckle down and think of some really good things to do because I think if you just live by "yeah it's going to happen, I will wait for it", nothing is ever going to happen, you have to go for it you have to grind for it and work for it hard.
Going off that, you also followed up with another motto "love what you do" - so what do you most love about what you do now?
Everything! I love that I am independent, I love that I pay my own bills now, I can do it myself and I don't need no one to really rely on and I love that I am enjoying it and I want to do it, rather than having to do it. I think if you have got a career that you have to do rather than you don't want to do I think that's the worst thing you can do in life because working is the most major part of your life you know. So I think you should love what you are doing, and I think that's what I am enjoying most, I am actually loving what I am doing now, where I didn't like it before. I didn't like being a musician before, there was a lot of pressure, I didn't really know the game of how it worked in business, and I was taught to become a musician so I think I am enjoying it more cause I am loving what I am doing.
What would you fill a swimming pool with if it could be anything?
So if you could change something in the world what would it be?
I would like to be done with anybody of negative mind because I don't see any point of it, so negative minded people hash them out!
What’s the most magical thing that’s ever happened to you?
So what else can we look forward to?
Next for me is to keep working towards this album to be complete, even though it is complete, 30 tracks deep, there will only be 12 tracks on the album, I am still working on it and I just want to keep recreating until I get the perfect album. And House Maffia will be launching next February 2018 on fashion week, that's going to be fun, I can't wait to do that and that's it at the moment I think, that is really it.
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