In Conversation With: Lizzie Berchie
Gifted with golden vocals, Lizzie Berchie is a talented singer-songwriter from East London. She is part of the new wave of artists redefining neo-soul with bold and unapologetic messages. Lizzie tells The Floor Mag that she has always wanted to make “uplifting”, “affirming” and sometimes “spiritual” music. This summer, she delivered a sensational debut EP Under the Sun, which does just that through a series of first-person narratives.
From the UK to Ghana, the artist channels the voices of women at different periods in their lives, calling attention to their experiences. The 5-track project opens with the melodious hit single “Pass Time” featuring Kofi Stone that put Lizzie on the industry’s radar. Her vibrato is reminiscent of Lianne La Havas, the sound is so delicate and yet self-assured at the same time. Layered with saxophonist solos and oral folktales in Twi, Under the Sun is imbued with a certain richness that every neo-soul record should have.
Despite the six year gap, sharing a room with her sister formed a watertight bond and Lizzie’s love for R&B. “She was so militant about us singing because she loved it. She’d say, ‘I’ll take the high harmony and you take the low harmony,’ she didn’t even know it but was teaching me how to sing,” she says. After saving up their dinner money, the sisters bought the three albums at Woolworths on Leytonstone High Road that would set Lizzie on a musical path:
“We bought Usher’s Confessions album, Destiny Child’s Destiny Fulfilled and Justin Timberlake’s Justified. I swear, for three years straight, those albums played over and over to the point that the CDs were scratched and you knew when a glitch was coming.”
Elsewhere, her dad’s highlife records filled her home with West Africa’s finest blend of local rhythms and jazz. The rich rumblings of Ebo Taylor and Fela Kuti were the backdrop of Christmases, carefree dancing and a joyful childhood. Growing up in the London borough of Newham, the birthplace of grime, the MCs spraying bars and recording videos on Lizzie’s street were abundant. Sonically, the neo-soul singer is as far away from 140 BPM as possible, but she says, “grime has always been reflective of people’s real lives and that’s what I’ve always tried to do with my music”. This sense of realness permeated Lizzie’s artistry, so when recounting crippling stories, like that of the enslaved woman in “Nsala”, you’ll notice that she doesn’t flinch.
From their “affirming” lyricism to their willingness to deliver raw vocals, Lizzie predominantly takes inspiration from vocal powerhouses Jazmine Sullivan and Lauryn Hill. Tone, range and vocal agility make up the holy trinity of qualities that Lizzie adores. “Jazmine Sullivan’s voice is just incredible. She's got a beautiful raspy tone and this ability to run through notes. She sings like an instrumentalist plays an instrument,” she says. Between her perfectly-timed riffs and harmonies silkier than shea butter, Lizzie’s own vocal prowess is rising to the fore.
Though, this wasn’t always the case, “I was an extremely shy child,” she says. But her teacher encouraged her to study musical theatre at school, then songwriting at the Leeds Conservatoire (Leeds of College of Music), which gave her a much needed boost. “Some people are born with loads of confidence, but others genuinely have to work for it. I think I had to do that. Forcing myself to be in uncomfortable situations, taking the big roles in school, and being in front of a crowd. I had to unlearn being nervous,” says Lizzie.
In Leeds, doors were opened for her to compose, produce and sing with live bands. There, she met Danny Hilton, co-producer of Under the Sun, “The first day I met him, I knew we were gonna be friends for life. He was just so funny, full of energy and immediately felt like family”. All these connections in her musical journey have seen the blossoming of an artiste, who turns emboldened lyrics into songs like “Pass Time”:
“I don’t want your love forever / it’s a meantime, pass time / I could never fall in love with you forever / I treasure my me time”
Now, the artist has become the “Asaantenin Babe” that Ghanaian singer King Promise serenades in “Bra”, a “sweety” with the right amount of sass. “You can take me out of the country, but I’m still an Asaante girl,” she says with a chuckle. Whether it’s being in your feels or a “baddie revival”, Lizzie tells The Floor Mag that Under the Sun caters to a whole range of emotions:
“The song “Feeling” is about a relationship where one person is being closed and the other wants them to be open and depend on them. It’s the most affirming song, especially with the bridge, ‘You don't have to be alone / You deserve to feel love’. It would really work for someone who's having a down time, but also, if you need a bit of a baddie mood or baddie revival, there’s “Pass Time” – get out of the dumps and start feeling yourself.”
Throughout the EP, Lizzie finds space for her Ghanaian heritage. At the end of “Trying”, her dad tells a traditional Asaante tale of a woodpecker and a duck, “It’s about honouring and giving your elders the highest respect for all that they’ve done, even in death,” she says. The video depicts the freeing movement of dancers and their close-up portraits against luscious green vegetation. When Lizzie sings, “Oh it’s where I come from / Hidden lands under the sun,” she’s not just speaking from Nsala’s point of view, but her own, too.
Lizzie is ecstatic about performing the EP with a full live band at her upcoming headline show. Though she usually forbades loved ones from playing her songs around her as she goes back to being “five-year-old cringe Lizzie,” she says her live shows are something entirely different. “Performing is when I’m more in my element and open to people experiencing my music,” she says, adding that “The time was right”. As such, Lizzie will be bringing her gift of sun-kissed vocals to London’s Servants Jazz Quarters on 20th September.
Tickets for Lizzie’s 20 Nov show in Manchester are on sale here.