To coincide with their new monthly residency on the MDR airwaves, Where Are The Girl Bands? offer us a monthly glimpse into what they’ve been up to and what’s caught their attention over the past 30 days…
This month’s article is features an interview with Mica Sefia. Mica Sefia is a is a Leeds-based and Liverpool-born artist whose influences range from contemporary soul, pop, rock and folk resulting in music that feels deep in its roots and straight from the heart.
As well as being an incredible musician, Mica speaks passionately about her experiences as a Black woman navigating the north west music scene, and is using her lived experiences to create a safer world for others within music spaces through her work as an EDI Project Coordinator at Leeds Conservatoire.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Mica for our ‘Safe Spaces’ podcast in collaboration with Comics Youth, and are excited to share the interview with you in written form below.
Mica: So, my name’s Mica Sefia. I’m originally from Liverpool and then I moved up to Leeds for university and started the band. We’ve been together for like two years now. It’s my own original music and then I’m lucky enough to have like ten people behind me who like fully believe in the music just as much as what I do. We do like rock, soul, like spoken word poetry, we proper try to integrate all different genres together to like create new sound – one of our like strongest influences is probably Alabama Shakes and erm, I’m quite lucky in my job role as well because I’m at Leeds Conservatoire doing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion project coordination. So I’m quite a lucky person with the things that I get to dip my hands into when it comes to work and music.
Ella: Amazing. I think as an artist who’s experienced performing and being a part of so many different music spaces, across different cities but also different settings as well as, you know, you have worked in the Conservatoire but you’re also like a gigging musician, and I think it would be really insightful to hear your perspective on the different music scenes that you’ve been a part of.
Mica: Yeah. So, I think Liverpool, like the indie music scene is so prominent in Liverpool, like from what I’ve seen personally, which has not been much of it because obviously we’ve just come out of Covid as well, it’s not very diverse. Like, I’ve seen like a lot of male-fronted bands, a lot of like, it all feels like it falls into the same genre, which is fine like it’s not an issue because I feel like with Manchester I’m a bit confused on like where fits where. I feel like Manchester’s like very mix and match and like a lot of things come out of it. I’m very involved in the Leeds music scene so we’re quite lucky in the sense that we, like, I get to see it evolve with time, like I’ve seen the Leeds music scene change since even I’ve been there and from what I have seen it is becoming a lot more diverse but obviously like it’s difficult like, I don’t really know many, I know a few, like a handful that I’ve discovered from like your guys’ page on Instagram of like Black female-fronted bands that are like being promoted and like being pushed forward in that sense. So I feel like, it depends where you are, but from what I’ve seen Leeds is, Leeds has been good this far, Leeds is trying.
Ella: Yeah it’s so interesting hearing the different stages that the different stages the scenes are at, and pretty much everyone that we speak to about Liverpool says the same thing. I think, you know, most people’s perception of Liverpool is that it’s very heavily indie focussed and that the issue of diversity is also across genre. Like there’s a lack of diverse genres in the Liverpool music scene. So that’s definitely like a universal experience.
I would be interested to hear what your perspective has been as a musician yourself of if those spaces have felt like safe and inclusive to you, because obviously you can have spaces that are attempting to be diverse but can fall into being tokenistic but can do it in ways that aren’t necessarily safe for the musicians who are a part of those spaces. How has your journey been with progressing as a musician through different venues and different scenes?
Mica: I’m yet to find somewhere that feels completely safe naturally and it doesn’t feel forced and it doesn’t feel as if like it’s just a new thing now that people are choosing to speak about. I think it’s very difficult because obviously you want to take into consideration that everyone is trying and that unfortunately if some people don’t live things, then they’re not going to be able to understand them straight off the bat. So we’re all coming at it from different perspectives and different levels of understanding, but, even from young quite often I’ve always been the only Black person in the room. Like even in college going onto university level there was like certain universities I was told to avoid purely because of the colour of my skin. So from then on I was terrified because I was like, oh well I know that I’m the minority here but is this going to affect like my actual career as a musician because all the greats that I’d looked up to like Whitney Houston, Etta James, Jennifer Hudson, like all those people, I’d seen them as like strong independent Black women so I was like I want, that’s what my goal was.
My end goal was to be like them and the thought that I was in a space that wasn’t supportive of that was terrifying because, you even get people saying like throw away comments like people say they don’t expect me to talk the way that I do, they expect a London accent to come out of me, purely just because I’m Black, which is ridiculous, like, people have these expectations of who I should be as a musician purely based on the colour of my skin. I’ve had people say like do you make music for white people because we don’t completely adhere to R&B/Soul straight focus, that’s not what we do, we like to take influences from poetry, we like to take influences from folk music, we like to take influences from everywhere to come together because in the group of people that we work in, we’re all from different backgrounds and we very much acknowledge that and I think that sometimes people forget that it’s okay for other people to choose who they want to be. Like I’ve, I’ve chosen to be this person based on the experiences of racism, of tokenism, of life that I’ve been through, I’ve chosen to take all those things and create like an image for myself that I feel comfortable in because, like I said before, I’m yet to find a place where that is there naturally from somebody else.
Ella: For sure. Do you think maybe that having more lived-experience behind the scenes in music spaces might be a way to help them feel safer, because I know that although, like you say, you’re so right that even if you’re invited into a space that are trying, there is only so much people can do from a point of trying, like people often still get things wrong even if the intentions are good and you can’t just guess, you know, what people need to make a space safe. You need to really be listening and handing over opportunities to people who have actual lived-experience and understanding from a personal perspective. So do you think maybe that’s an area that like Liverpool in particular could improve with its music spaces?
Mica: 1000%. I’m going to shout out my Sable family in Leeds which is a Black-owned radio business that’s doing the most for the Leeds scene. I think that there’s a lot of things that Liverpool could benefit from and they could gain from, like, I think it’s a place that loves – I love Liverpool, I always will, it’s my home – but I think it’s a place that loves its way and I do think it is time for a change. Like it is time to create those spaces, but it’s about finding the people to do it because it’s like I’m sat here thinking now trying to wrack my brain for a group of people who could get together with lived-in experience that would actively try and help the Liverpool community and I think that you’d actually have to proper try and look for it in Liverpool. It’s very hidden, but then again it is the same like that everywhere unless you happen to fall into like certain things. I was lucky enough to find Sable when I was in Leeds and I’ve like found a family and a found a place that like I can call home there because it’s people who’ve been through similar things and people who understand. They want to have those conversations, they want to have those talks and like, I think that Liverpool could do with having the same thing but I just don’t know like how we’d find it. I feel like we need to do like a call-out or something on trying to create a safe space that’s actually a safe space and doesn’t just say that it is.
Ella: 100%. I know our page for example was formed out of, like, not knowing where to look, and that’s what we always get from people is like even if you have an intention of setting up spaces again if you don’t know how to find even other people to collaborate with to make those spaces it’s really difficult and like again just asking people to do the work to make spaces in itself is, you know, can feel problematic I guess in like trying to find people and be like we need your lived-experience to make safety because that’s obviously emotional labour in itself, do you know what I mean, like having to do the work. So it’s an incredibly difficult position isn’t it of you shouldn’t have to be in a position as a musician where you feel like you need to be forming spaces. Do you know what I mean? Like you should be able to find them and perform and like share your craft. You shouldn’t be feeling like you have to be reaching out and searching and doing loads of extra work just to facilitate a space that you can exist in.
Mica: Yeah. Yeah I think it’s difficult. It is a proper difficult one because I feel like a lot of people go, especially now like people go through life in saying like, ah I don’t see colour, or, ah I don’t see this, I don’t see that. That’s not what helps us here. What helps us is acknowledging privilege, accepting that there’s certain things that you’re going to have access to that the next person might not have access to because of something that they can’t change, and then helping to facilitate other people,
Like, there’s a lot of give and take I think in the music industry and I think a lot of people just see it from a take side, and that’s where we get stunted because it’s an incredibly hard competitive industry to be in, but if you don’t want the best for your peers then you don’t want the best for yourself because you need healthy competition in order to become a better musician anyway. So everyone needs that even platform to be able to like express their music and express their craft that they’ve spent however many years creating.
Ella: Definitely, and I think honestly you’re performance that I saw at the Bloom Birthday Event, I don’t know really, it felt very inspiring for me of like the community that came across with yourself and your band because obviously you are such a big band and like you said, especially in small scenes and across the industry generally it is so competitive and there is a lot of people being in it for themselves, so seeing yourself with your band who, like you said, have so much belief in your music and like delivering the message of your music was like a very touching thing to witness. I think you know it felt like obviously like musically you were completely in harmony with each other but also like on an emotional level and on the intention that you were bringing to the space.
So, it’d just be nice really to maybe talk a bit about that really and how it feels for yourself to have your truth and the music that you’ve written sort of delivered and supported by a band of musicians who really do care about, you know, what you make and what you put out.
Mica: I am, like I am eternally grateful for the community that has been built within my band like I absolutely adore them all to bits like we, I’m lucky enough that I get to call them friends, and then the fact that they’re like my musicians who put time and effort into my music as well is like ridiculous.
Like we’ve got Tom Wright whose on the drums, he is also the producer, he takes his time to like think about ideas before we go into a band setting. Like that’s where Walking Wonder came from is like it started off with just me and Tom, and it started out through me accepting myself just through music and then we’ve got Theo who’s the bassist – he’s also the MD, like he, he’s so on it and he has so much faith and belief in the music, and everybody in the band is always so willing to change things that need changing.
Like, we do a spoken word piece called Walking Wonder and it was a conversation I had to have with those who haven’t been through those type of things because our band, everyone is from like different backgrounds and stuff. We had a conversation and I said I want to feel comfortable to speak this in front of you guys before I speak it out loud because obviously as my friends they know situations that I’ve been through where I’ve felt like racially uncomfortable and what-not. So it was really, it’s really beautiful to know that they support my journey 100% and they see the struggles that could even come about but they still have 110% faith. Like it’s so hard as a Black woman to make it in the music industry, it’s known because you’re going to be stereotyped or you’re going to be put down a lane that you don’t want to go in and the fact that they know this, like these are conversations that we have on the daily and they’re still like no we have faith that you can do whatever you want to do. Like that is just so beautiful to me that they, they give me 125million%. They’re all just incredible people.
We’ve recently just added horns to the band. So we’ve just added saxophone and trumpet, and Stu the saxophonist has been organising like all the horn arrangements for all the songs and even that addition has like elevated the music so much further, and that love has been carried across to them, like they’re just as involved, they’ve literally been with us like three months and it literally feels like we’ve all known each other for like years and like I’m just very privileged that I get to be a part of that dynamic and that’s like how it works and I feel like for our band like, if you ask any of them, we always walk away from rehearsals feeling uplifted and feeling like we’ve, not completed a task, but we’ve gotten somewhere. Like we’re giving progression to this music that we all have so much faith and love in which is really nice.
Ella: Yeah I feel like that 100% came across when you performed. Like obviously musically you fill the space in such a gorgeous way but it did just feel like, a wholeness is the only way I can describe it. Like it just felt full in like a really really gorgeous way and it was a lovely thing to witness, and I was going to mention your spoken word piece as well because I felt it was incredibly impactful. You were very much being listened to at the event as was, like all the feedback we got from the event was that everyone was blown away by your performance, but I felt like it really centred everyone in the room into like properly listening to what you were saying because obviously you can passively listen to music and maybe people were getting a drink or people were having sort of background conversations but I felt like in that moment there was a real like zoning in, mainly I think because of the clarity with which you spoke.
You spoke with so much intention in how the space was held and it was obviously very powerful and important to hear. Like you said that you had that conversation with your band but also as the audience who were engaging in your music and like enjoying your music to understand the context from where those stories come from and your specific experiences as a Black woman for anyone who was engaging in the music and the stories that were being told in the music. In a way, to me it really felt like a call to action for everyone to properly listen. For people to not just engage on a passive level to like think critically about what they were hearing and about the experience that you’ve had to come to the position where these are the stories that you tell.
Do you find that spoken word is a helpful vehicle to tell truths that you feel need to be heard and articulated in that very precise way?
Mica: I think that spoken word is a good way to get a message across because, we always put Walking Wonder in the middle of the set because it’s a time of when, okay we’ve got everyone listening with a few songs, we’ve asked people to listen before we start the song, and if people aren’t willing to listen then we won’t play it because it doesn’t deserve to be spoken upon deaf ears. We’ve been having empty conversations for the longest time and it is a piece of music that needs to be listened to, and it can only be understood and listened to if it’s done in silence, otherwise people are just passively listening. That’s where I think that spoken word is a fantastic way to get a message across because I can put forward enough emotion as I think is necessary for the time or place. Like, there’s certain situations where we’re performing Walking Wonder and we proper like, it’s like really pushed forward, and then there’s other situations where we perform it more relaxed and more laid back because that’s the mood and that’s the energy of the room and it’s like catering to each, it’s catering to each audience but also making sure that they’re able to listen because if someone’s shouting at you and you’re not in the mood to be shouted at you’re not going to listen. So if we whisper to people and they’re in the mood to listen to whispers, it means that we’re getting the message across to all those different people in different ways. That’s why I love Walking Wonder so much because it can be told in all different ways all the time.
Ella: Often with gig spaces I feel like there’s almost a film between the stage and the audience of like when you’re up on the stage you’re sort of removed and there’s a sense of separation and it felt like you absolutely like broke through that film and it was like such a direct addressing of each person in the space which was really powerful and really it was like nothing that I’ve experienced before, even from spoken word events like, there was about, like you said, having eased everyone into the space and like had people engaging and listening with the music and then once everyone was settled delivering that very important message through those precisely articulated words and yeah, thank you for bringing that to the space and for being vulnerable and delivering that message because I can imagine that, you know, it must be quite an intense thing for you to have to bring to the stage yourself and communicate to the audience.
Mica: I feel like it’s just so necessary. Thank you for like giving us the space to do it, but I do feel like it is just so necessary like my story and everybody else who’s been through a similar situation or everybody that has been through a story worth, like, that they believe is worth telling is so necessary to be listened to by whoever is in that environment to listen to it. Like I, when I first started doing Walking Wonder I used to get really, really like emotional and I used to be able to like not speak or not finish it and then I was like no because this is the time now. Like if I’m not doing this now, when am I going to be able to do it? When am I going to be able to have that conversation? And I’m very, very grateful that I’ve given myself the emotional capacity to be able to have that conversation with complete strangers and just lay it all out there because it’s just so important to do.
Ella: Yeah it’s amazing and I think, you know, you’re doing a service to so many other people as well by having taken it upon yourself which I’m sure for a lot of people almost feels an impossible one to have, especially like you said if you’re met with a room of people who have resistance or are just listening in a very passive way to like hold attention and hold space is like a really difficult thing to do a lot of the time; and going off of that I’d love to hear a bit about the work that you’re doing at Leeds Conservatoire on a similar vein almost to hold space for people and to make room for conversations about diversity and inclusion.
Mica: Yeah. So, when I was a student at the conservatoire I was the Equalities Officer which is like Student Rep level, basically you’re like the student voice and I was like the student voice of equalities. We had a few like different run-ins throughout the year where things weren’t just like being handled properly I felt and then when it came towards the end of term I was asked to interview for the Education Diversity Inclusion Coordinator and my first thought was like I am not qualified for this job like I’ve not even got my degree results yet like what if I fail my degree like what am I supposed to do! But I did the interview and really enjoyed, it was a really enjoyable process, and now I’m the EDI Project Coordinator at the Leeds Conservatoire which is completely mental to me because when you look at statistics and stuff I’m not really the type of person who should have made it all the way through university, let alone have not graduated and be in like the EDI sector of education.
I focus on like celebration days and awareness days throughout the calendar, make sure that all the teachers are up to date on their EDI training because when you mention EDI to a lot of people they just don’t know what it is, and it’s so important to be spoken about because there’s so many protected characteristics under the umbrella. So you’ve just got to make sure that everybody especially in higher education is like clued up on it.
At the moment we’re in talks about like doing an EDI talk to the students in their induction because we’ve realised that we don’t have anything like that, like we’ve never had any like anti-racism, microaggressions, like we’ve never been taught anything. Anything that I’ve learned about anything culturally or anything in the world that’s going on around me, it’s through like social media or the news or like looking things up myself, and I think in higher education we have a duty of care to make sure that each child has a basic level understanding.
So I’m very excited about my job. It’s the first time that it’s been a job at the Conservatoire which is mental. So I’m kind of like making the job as I go along which is perfect for me because I don’t like being told what to do. So I’m really enjoying it. I’m really, really enjoying it and it’s nice that they’re actually giving me a space to like make a difference and like make a change. There’s like active changes that I’m seeing like happening now which is really nice.
I think education moves really slowly and it took me ages to realise that. That like people need time to go through things. But my thing was you can’t have conversations with me that happened in 2020 that you’ve still not done, and be expecting me to review policies for 2024. Like, that’s where people get lost because it takes so long for something to pass through, they’re always trying to push for the future and never focussing on what’s going on right now. So I think it’s really nice to just get grounding for the time being and so then we can actually like make active change now for what’s going on at the moment.
Ella: Definitely. It was something I was really aware of in uni because I did an arts degree, and it’s interesting because like you say I think there’s rarely in university like direct conversations that happen with students and people come from such different environments and cultures and spaces and for me when I went to university it was a culture shock in a sense of there were a lot of people I met there who just had no cultural awareness of other people and on an arts course it’s wild because there’s so many complex nuanced conversations that people are having through their work and if there are people in like crit spaces with you or like discussion spaces who have like zero awareness of the topics that you’re handling in your work it’s quite dangerous for everyone in the room really to be entering that with like, not even a surface level conversation at the start of like basic respect or even just an understanding of lived-experience and that people have different lived-experiences like there was just no awareness from some people and obviously everyone has a duty of care to educate themselves but also like it’s important for universities as educational bodies to ensure the safety of their students by having that blanket conversation with everyone at the start.
So, that sounds incredible that that’s something that you’re putting in place and so important and hopefully will protect a lot of people from a lot of adverse experiences in university, especially if you’ve come from somewhere where you’ve had community around you and then you go to uni and suddenly you’re met with people who are just disrespectful, if you know what I mean, without even knowing that that they’re being incredibly disrespectful and harmful towards people so, that sounds amazing so I’ll be making sure to check in on anything that you share about that because it’s something that’s really interesting to me like in my work I work with young people around, you know, topics of marginalisation and lived-experience and stuff and when people in big institutions try and work with like equity and diversity, if they’re not coming from lived-experience perspectives they don’t know the things they need to teach.
There’s been so many conversations that we’ve had as an organisation with like training providers, with funders, with these big bodies which have huge objectives around diversity to hit but they have no one involved who has lived experience or has been through the processes that they’re working with. Like for yourself to have been a student as well, I’m sure that brings its own knowledge and experience as well of what the course was like and what it was like to be a student in the space so that just sounds amazing and so important.
Mica: Thank you. Thank you. I think that one of the sway points for them hiring me was probably the fact that I was a student because they were like, we’ve been ignoring students, and I think honestly like I’ve loved my time at university, don’t get me wrong there’s been some questionable situations happen, but, I’m really enjoying looking at it from the other side and seeing that people do actually care because I think as a student it’s so easy to think that people aren’t bothered and think that people don’t care about what’s going on and that they are ignoring what you’re saying. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to make a difference and make like active change and be working with like my tutors and stuff and seeing that they’re fully, like fully invested which is really nice.
Ella: Yeah, that’s amazing and I feel like that’s a really hopeful point to like close the interview on. So, my last question for you is where people can find you and if there’s anything that you want to like advertise or promote.
Mica: So you can find me on Instagram micasefia_ we don’t have any music out yet, but alls I’m going to say is keep your eyes peeled for the next few months because there’s some interesting things happening in the works. We’ve got some announcements coming soon, some really exciting things. So yeah, just keep your eyes peeled because we’re going to be everywhere soon.
Ella: Amazing. Thank you so much for coming on and talking with us.
Mica: Thank you. thank you for having me.
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