A gifted vocalist whose instrument is both strong and sensual, British jazz singer Malia was born into a family of mixed African and English heritage in the small East African country of Malawi, which borders Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia. Malia had limited exposure to music growing up — her neighborhood could only pull in two radio stations (one in the native language of Chewa, the other in English), and her father's record collection was dominated by the Beatles. That changed when political unrest forced her family to flee Malawi and relocate to London when Malia was 14 years old. Malia took great interest in the rich musical landscape that surrounded her, immersing herself in the dance-oriented new wave sounds dominating the English music scene. The music of Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday soon came into her life and transformed her worldview, as she was introduced to influential black artists for the first time.
Malia soon set her sights on a career in music. After finishing school, Malia took work as a waitress while she organized a band to accompany her, singing ballads and jazz standards in bars and clubs around London. She experienced a breakthrough during a visit to New York City; at a New York café she heard a pop-jazz track sung in French by vocalist Liane Foly that had been produced by Berklee School of Music graduate Andre Manoukian. Malia was entranced by the enticing mix of pop and jazz sensibilities, and she contacted Manoukian to solicit his help. The pair admired each other's musical ideas and potential, and they set to work on Malia's debut album, Yellow Daffodils, released in 2002. Though the release featured English lyrics, Malia gained enormous recognition in France and Germany. Her subsequent releases, Echoes of Dreams (2004) and Young Bones (2007), found favor among jazz fans across Europe thanks to Malia's unique smoky vocal timbre and sensitive interpretations.
In 2012, Malia released Black Orchid, in which she interpreted 13 songs associated with the great jazz musician and activist Nina Simone. Malia took a creative detour with her 2014 album, Convergence, a collaboration with Boris Blank from the long-running electronic pop group Yello. For 2017's Malawi Blues/Njira, Malia composed most of the songs in tandem with keyboardist Alex Wilson. Malia has become an international star, often appearing on the soul and jazz charts in Europe and the U.K., as she maintains a busy touring schedule, appearing on some of the Continent's most important stages. ~ Evan C. Gutierrez