Alicai Harley on thriving in multiple musical genres: 'I am so many things'

The British singer and rapper is one of the headliners at the Futr World in Manarat Al Saadiyat from December 9 to 11

Alicai Harley is one of the headliners at the three-day Futr World event in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Getty Images

While this weekend's Futr World festival and conference aims to inspire those in the creative industry, musical headliner Alicai Harley is encouraging attendees to seize the moment.

The three-day event at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi is focused on business, entertainment and innovation, with panel discussions, exhibitions and live performances.

Speaking to The National before her Friday night performance, the British rapper and singer, who was born in Jamaica, advises visitors to soak up the knowledge on offer, but urged them to follow their instincts.

“This is something that I am particularly passionate about and wished I had known earlier,” she says. "When I first got into music when I was 12, people in the industry [were] telling me how I need to pick one genre, either rap or sing, and not do both because that would confuse others.

"This was despite me feeling natural doing both when I am on stage. It was only years later that I went on to embrace that.”

It was a case of better late than never with Harley, 25, releasing her debut album The Red Room Intro this year. The vibrant and eclectic collection of club-ready tracks showcases her as equally at ease being a soul singer and fierce rapper.

The production is equally as potent, including the strutting dance-hall rhythms of Naah Done and the ebullient Afro-pop of Put It On You.

Harley says the album’s sounds are not only indicative of growing up in multicultural London, but a statement of intent to a music industry still grasping to some outdated ideas.

“As a young musician or an artist today you really have to walk that line between being confident and humble,” she says. “You need to take control of your work and do act like boss at times.

“I reached a realisation where instead of me trying to accommodate and allow people to put me in a box, I want people to say that I am a singer and rapper who was born in Jamaica and came to London when I was five. I am so many things other than just one genre. I feel I showed that with Red Room Intro.”

While Harley’s Abu Dhabi show is coming on the back of a string of low-key warm up gigs across the UK, Futr World will be the first time the songs will be performed internationally.

“I am just gagging to go out and perform. It’s like a yearning in my belly,” she says. “Of course with the pandemic I had a whole tour planned that was cancelled, so to use that time away to work on project, release and going abroad to perform the songs just feels like a blessing.

“It will be emotional, but I won’t cry because when I come over there we are going to get turned up.”

Alicai Harley performs at Futr World on Friday. Doors open 6.30pm at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi. Futr World concerts take place on Friday and Saturday. Tickets for both days are Dh250 from futrworld.com

Updated: December 9th 2021, 2:13 PM