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With breathy, haunting vocals and an experimental electronic sound, AGAAMA, the alter-ego of Cassandra Gurling, has evolved since we last saw them on the stage of Next Track as part of the Birmingham Festival 2023. But the Birmingham composer, singer and producer’s roots remain in the city.

“It’s experimental electronic pop,” AGAAMA says, when asked to describe their music and sound. “I’m saying pop because it’s rooted in songs. But the production is influenced by artists like Björk, Arca, Sevdaliza. I really like that industrial sound. You know, being from an industrial city like Birmingham, I think that plays a part in the sound I make.”

“When I was growing up here, I spent a lot of time in the Custard Factory,” AGAAMA reminisces, citing the music scene as one of their earliest influences when carving out their specific sound. “I used to go raving there quite a lot and that was my first entry point into electronic music. I used to just think, ‘Oh my God, how do I make this music?’ And I just had to figure it out and teach myself how to produce. But I've always loved singing and been interested in songwriting.”

B:Music's mission is to inspire a love of live music, through performance, participation and learning across Birmingham and beyond. The charity runs a variety of projects from Summer Schools to opportunities that inspire a love of live music. This journey into music is apparent in AGAAMA’s earliest memories and the very moment they decided that music was something they wanted to dedicate their life to.

“I went to a Stage School in Birmingham called Betty Fox when I was growing up. One of the first shows they ever did was at The Rep it was Pinocchio. I was maybe about 7 years old. I just remember being on stage in the chorus. Singing, loving the lights, loving this environment of being in this area of Birmingham around Centenary Square. And I think from that point it all clicked for me. I continued to look to be on stage at any point, any opportunity and just engage with whatever musical learning was available to me at the time.”

AGAAMA’s love for the Birmingham music scene shines during our interview when asked who their favourite artist is. “I've got so many. Up there, number one, is probably Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne. Metal was a huge part of me growing up. I love Black Sabbath. I love Ozzy’s vocals. I love his delivery. I love his chaos. I love everything about Black Sabbath. I also love Beverley Knight. Amazing singer. I think one of the best singers that's alive today, you know, and also Black Voices. Their harmonies. The way they perform. I could go on for ages. There's so much talent that comes from Birmingham. Laura Mvula as well. Her record Sing to the Moon’ was— it was like nothing I’ve ever heard but it felt so familiar. It felt like something I knew, but I never heard it before. Does that make sense? That was a really important record for me to hear. Combining that amazing production with amazing songwriting. And that to me is what awesome music is, what awesome pop music is. I could go on for ages.”

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Once I was on the stage singing, I just didn't want to get off.

This whole experience came full circle when, in 2022, AGAAMA was invited by Black Voices to take part in a celebration of Birmingham’s music and poetry scene.

Beyond the Bricks of Brum was like a dream to me. The ultimate high point in my career. Performing at the concert venue in the place where I'm from with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. It was— still feels like a dream now to be honest and to hear my music played by 90 musicians and also to share the stage with Black Voices…” At this, AGAAMA sounds breathless as she recalls. “When I was growing up, that was one of the first shows I went to see with my dad at Symphony Hall. I remember seeing [Black Voices] and thinking what an amazing group of singers, you know? And to then be on a stage with them? It was just a whole full circle moment. I would say that it was their ensemble that really drew me to singing. That was a big moment. And then being part of the team of Bricks of Brum. Meeting incredible artists like Jasmine Gardosi, who I continue to collaborate with and Casey Bailey and TrueMendous and John Bernard. They're so talented.”

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I think it's so important to have projects like that, that bring creatives together so that you continue to, you know, grow and collaborate. It was a very pivotal moment in my career for sure.

One year later, AGAAMA joins the Beyond the Bricks of Brum team to bring the Birmingham Festival 2023 to a close. This stage was called Next Track.

“I felt really privileged to be in the position to bring through somebody else who I thought also had a really interesting sound. PleasePrettyLea—she’s got an amazing voice. But alongside having an amazing voice, she's an amazing producer. And she's also got that interesting, alternative electronic sound. She's very much doing her own thing, and as soon as I heard her music, I was like, ‘Oh my God, we have to collaborate. We have to do shows together.’ And then when the opportunity came to invite somebody, I thought, this is who I have to invite. I know they're going to be doing big things. It was really great to perform alongside and share the stage with them.”

AGAAMA’s signature experimental sound and vocal harmonies are ever-present in their second EP. “The last record I released was called Wandering Worlds’. That was the music that I performed for Beyond the Bricks of Brum.” The inspiration behind the record is interesting to hear. “I'm really interested in field recordings and found-sounds so a lot of the production on the record is me wandering around the green spaces of Birmingham and London and collecting sounds that I found interesting and feeding them into the production. I wrote during COVID. I felt like a lot of people were going through the same thing at the same time, but also very cut off from one another. It's about that really… the world inside your own mind, connecting to the world inside everybody else's mind and then how these internal worlds connect to the wider world around us, so that meta experience of worlds within worlds within worlds.”

AGAAMA’s working on a new project now and with it comes a different approach to music-making. “At the moment I've just finished another record. I've got a new single coming out towards the end of March. I'm really excited for new fresh music and to share that with everyone. Wandering Worlds’ was focusing on developing my production, developing a sound as well as songs and concepts, but this record, I feel, is really about honing in on my songwriting. The production is on a similar vibe, but I've really focused on songs. I'm really inspired by writers like Kate Bush, you know, Stevie Nicks. I love a great song. A great ballad. And that is what this is about. It's just me attempting to write the songs that I always wish I could have written. I don't know if I've pulled that off on this record, but I've tried to.”

When asked about their process when it comes to songwriting and composition, AGAAMA becomes animated. “I'm delving more into this composition world at the moment. With songwriting, I listen to songs that I love, that blow my mind and make me feel something, and I try to figure out: Why does that make me feel that? What is it about that pre-chorus that was just perfect?”

AGAAMA takes Video Games’ by Lana Del Rey as an example. “That pre-chorus. It’s you, it's you.” AGAAMA sings with their distinct breathy vocals. It's so perfect. I'll sit down. I'll be like ‘What was it about that phrase, that word that was so good?’ I like to study songs in that way and take things and then use them. Then, with production it's just a lot of time on my own in a room with synthesisers and a computer and sometimes collaborating with another producer. With composition— I started to work with this organisation called the Alternative Conservatoire. It's a training programme for composers from non-traditional classical backgrounds who want to write for ensembles and delve more into that. I'm really excited to see where that goes and where that takes me.”

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I think in this game, the most important thing is.. if you have a voice and I don't mean a literal voice, but you've got a sound. You've got a vibe. You've got something that you like and you know you like it. If you've got that, that's all you need. Because that will make you create work that's unique, unique to you and that resonates with other people.

But there’s more that AGAAMA wants to experiment with. “I think that a lot of my music thus far has been quite full in terms of the sound. There's a lot of sound in there. There's a there's a lot of emotion in there, there's lots of production, lots of instruments, lots of singing. I would quite like to bring it back to basics in the not-too-distant future. Just a voice and just one instrument. And see what that would be like.”

Don’t miss AGAAMA alongside Black Voices and Emily Saunders on Sat 9 March at Symphony Hall in celebration of International Women’s Day.

“You can look forward to women coming together and singing songs that greatly impacted them and presenting them in in a new way,” says AGAAMA. “We all kind of make quite different music. But there's a synergy in it. And I think it's just going to be a really special show, you know. If you're into soul, or if you're into more electronic music, or if you're into pop, there'll be something for you at the show.”

Interview by Lerah Barcenilla, Marketing & Communications Officer

Photography and Filming by Ibi Keita, Digital Marketing Assistant

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