Stratford singer-songwriter hails Newham as creative hub

A picture showing Kima Otung

Kima Otung's debut EP is due for release. - Credit: Kima Otung

A singer-songwriter whose music has featured on Love Island and BBC radio has hailed the return of live performance.

Kima Otung, who lives in Stratford, spent much of the pandemic shielding as a result of sickle-cell anaemia, a blood disorder which meant she was classed as extremely vulnerable.

But being stuck at home in the first lockdown also marked the beginning of a particularly fertile creative period.

The R&B, neo-soul artist who was raised in Wales was also snapped up by Warner Music, signing her first contract with the entertainment industry giant.

"It was really great. I had the space and time to just create," Kima said.

The debut EP Note to Self is due for release at the end of this month.

It includes We Are Not Soldiers, a song stemming from Kima's reflections on recent social movements - including Black Lives Matter - and how black women are portrayed.

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In the track, the artificial intelligence lawyer who studied at the London School of Economics addresses black women's roles in society and challenges the stereotype of invulnerability.

"There's this narrative we are strong, but it's saying we're not soldiers. We're just like anyone else," Kima said.

On the pandemic's influence, she explained how her work had developed even more honesty which she attributed to movements including Black Lives Matter.

Note to Self follows on the heels of Welcome Home, which tells the story of one man's journey to find a place to call his own in the capital.

Kima partnered with homelessness charity Shelter for the project, which aims to shine a light on rough sleeping.

It's an issue which is close to her heart after her own family came close to losing their home when she was growing up.

Much of Kima's focus is on speaking to women, empowering them and considering the "make or break" impact which the choice of a long-term partner can have on life.

She describes her work as R&B and soul music created for women by a woman. Appeals to mass male audiences are less of a priority, but still matter.

"Trying to appeal to men sometimes also has that physical aspect of being sexy. All this stuff I'm not bothered about," she explained.

And it's a message of growing power and confidence which resonates with women right now, Kima suggested.

Social media has been a key part of the artist's efforts to share that sentiment with audiences in spite of Covid-19 curbs on live performance.

But with gigs back on, it's only a matter of time before Kima returns to the stage.

"I've missed it a lot. There's an energy and emotion that live music brings that you can't really replicate.

"I love seeing how people react to my songs. I love interacting with people and coming together through music.

"I'm obsessed with performing, and even though you can still perform to an extent in video form or over social media, there's something magical about being together in person," Kima said.

Under the government's roadmap out of lockdown, indoor live performance is allowed with audience numbers limited to 1,000 or 50 per cent of a venue's capacity.

Outdoor performance is permitted with a cap of 4,000 or 50pc, whichever is lower.​

As for future plans, Kima is looking forward to playing a part in Newham's emergence as a home for new music.

The creation of the BBC Music Studios performance and recording space, Sadler's Wells' arrival and a proposal to build the 21,500 capacity MSG Sphere venue in Stratford is something the 28-year-old is keen to plug into. 

Madison Square Garden (MSG) London - which submitted the bid to build the sphere - has already named Kima an up and coming artist.

"Newham is a really creative place. It's becoming a creative hub and I'm really excited for that. There's a lively rap scene here. Theatre Royal Stratford East. There's a lot going on," she said.

For the latest visit and follow Kima on Instagram @kimaotung.