The Inventory: Speech Debelle

Speech Debelle, 29, won the 2009 Mercury prize for her debut album Speech Therapy. Her second album, Freedom of Speech, was released this year.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a teacher.

Public school or state school? University or straight into work?

Harris City Technical College in south London. When I was at secondary school, rapping was a way of impressing people. The reaction I got made me cool. When I left school, I started to write for myself; I’d go through a situation or emotion and that’s how I got it out. I was signed in 2007; I was doing nothing, then I was working full-time until my first album came out.

Who is your mentor?

My mum. The older I get, the more I realise how much of who I am is due to her and how she raised me. Also my gran. She is an artist – she taught me that being an artist was my job.

How physically fit are you?

I smoke, so I hit a wall every time. I have a personal trainer; I’m pretty fit and strong, but my cardio’s not what it should be.

Ambition or talent: which matters more to success?

Ambition. Talent can be perceived in so many different ways. Ambition, working towards something, is constant.

Have you ever taken an IQ test?

Yes, and I performed pretty badly. Our curriculum is set up to teach a child how to relate information. An IQ test is for someone who’s good at that. A lot of musicians I work with, they’d do badly – but when you see what they can do in the studio, they’re genius.

How politically committed are you?

It’s something that I’ve been drawn into – not any particular party, but about social issues.

Do you consider your carbon footprint?

Yes, but it would be easier not to.

Do you have more than one home?

I have lots – the home I live in, my mum’s home, my gran’s, my cousin’s, and four or five friends’ homes where I feel comfortable.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

If this is a gift, give me some money!

What’s your biggest extravagance?

Food. Other things are just one-offs.

In what place are you happiest?

In the studio. It’s a place to be energised, have life fired into you.

What ambitions do you still have?

A few. Doing something else that I love – food, cooking, a restaurant, a TV show, a cookbook.

What drives you on?

I get bored quickly. I do things for a natural high – the buzz I get from doing things I love – and if the buzz starts to fade, I need to do more.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

My first album. The Mercury Prize didn’t even come close. In life we want to do so many things and we do hardly any of them – for me, that was the first thing I wanted to do and managed to complete.

What has been your greatest disappointment?

Not doing what I should have done for loved ones – not being there, not showing them my appreciation.

If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would she think?

I hope that she wouldn’t. At that stage, I was writing but thinking people would never hear my music. It would have made me self-conscious and insecure.

If you lost everything tomorrow, what would you do?

I could still go out and start rapping – someone would be affected by it.

Do you believe in assisted suicide?


Do you believe in an afterlife?


If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?

Right now, pretty high.

Speech Debelle is performing on Wednesday November 14 at the 2012 London Jazz Festival, which runs from November 9-18

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