When Harry Styles suggests taking you out on the road for a month, only a fool refuses. And Mabel is no fool.
The British-based R&B singer coolly accepted the former One Direction star’s offer to support him on the European leg of his extended Live On Tour world jaunt and they will hit 21 European cities together in March and April. ‘Some big arena shows with Mr Styles,’ breezes the singer, whose single, Finders Keepers, got to number eight in the charts last year.
‘Kid Harpoon, an English producer who we’ve both written songs with, introduced us, and Harry just asked me to come on the tour. Obviously, I said yes. It’ll be a great exercise. Harry’s lovely and what he’s doing is cool, so it’s all really exciting. And I’m a seasoned traveller so I know all the right clothes to bring and the best snacks to get.’
Mabel scoffs at the notion that Styles’s more dedicated fans might take against her, envious that she is enjoying casual snacks backstage with Harry. ‘Let’s hope the music is enough,’ she says.
Mabel on stage in London last October. Musically, Mabel references Nineties R&B, Eighties reggae and Seventies soul
A vocalist, pianist and songwriter, the 21-year-old’s musical pedigree is impeccable. Her dad, veteran producer Cameron McVey, has worked with Massive Attack, Portishead, All Saints and the Sugababes. Mum is singer and style icon Neneh Cherry, who had hits with Buffalo Stance and Manchild in the late Eighties and the international smash Seven Seconds with Youssou N’Dour. Mabel’s step-grandfather was esteemed American jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, who died a few months before she was born in 1996 but she says ‘his spirit hopefully lives on in me’.
A top-ten hit with Finders Keepers, an appearance on Later With Jools Holland and a Brit Awards Critics’ Choice nomination has established Mabel firmly in the musical firmament but, after blasting off with Styles, she is planning to go into orbit with her own tour and debut album in 2018.
Born in Malaga, with Sierra Leonean and Swedish blood, Mabel grew up in Stockholm and now lives in London. You feel entitled to air miles just speaking to her. But being mixed race in Scandinavia had its drawbacks. ‘There wasn’t really a word for it there,’ Mabel explains. ‘The only expression there was “mulatto”, which isn’t the most [politically] correct term. It created confusion for me at times when I was younger, but now I see being mixed race as an incredible asset. I have all these places and histories to draw inspiration from and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s been fantastic for me musically.’
Plus, she has inherited some intriguing looks. ‘I’m doing all right,’ she hoots. ‘The combination is OK!’
Fluent in English and Swedish and nomadic by nature, Mabel is in Johannesburg today shooting a video for her forthcoming single, Fine Line. She cuts a don’t-mess-with-me dash in tracksuit and heels, but there is more to Mabel than a sleek ponytail and whip-smart attitude.
In 2017 she released the impressive EP Bedroom, then an eight-song mix-tape, Ivy To Roses, which set out her stall as an accomplished musician and a feisty, insightful lyricist.
‘You can only see me from the waist down,’ she croons in Bedroom. ‘So I broke your guitar up against your television/And I smashed every glass that you had in your kitchen.’
Musically, Mabel references Nineties R&B, Eighties reggae and Seventies soul. You’ll hear hints of Sade and Destiny’s Child harmonies, even a smidge of Amy Winehouse.
But Mabel is used to being associated with famous names as her family’s ‘hippie household’ was always open to fellow artists. REM’s bohemian front man, Michael Stipe, is her godfather. ‘He’s beautiful,’ Mabel coos. ‘We don’t see each other as much as we should.
‘But being around creative people, watching them turn difficult stories into positive songs, really helped me. My parents encouraged me in that direction because I was this super-sensitive child who needed to express myself.’
Mum is singer and style icon Neneh Cherry, who had hits with Buffalo Stance and Manchild in the late Eighties
Neneh Cherry, something of a funky earth mother, memorably appeared in Lycra on Top Of The Pops while seven months pregnant with Mabel’s older sister Tyson in 1988, and later sang a duet with Stipe about sex education on her Homebrew album in 1992.
You imagine Mabel’s childhood to have been all open-minded, taboo-busting mother-and-daughter chats. ‘I’m not sure about that,’ she says. ‘It was awkward just like it is for everyone – she’s still my mum.’
Birds and bees aside, Mabel was raised on albums such as The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill and Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. Having studied such cleverly constructed records, she is reluctant to rush her own release. ‘I want to make an album that tells a story and has something substantial to say,’ Mabel insists. ‘Not just a bunch of songs that think they’re singles.’
Her own successful single, Finders Keepers, a woman’s take on no-strings sex, came to her in 45 minutes one morning at the piano. ‘I wanted to write something that me and my friends could dance to,’ she says, before returning to her video shoot. ‘But now I want to build a body of work. There’s more to come, I promise you.’
Harry Styles is no fool, either. He has made a shrewd move with Mabel.
Mabel’s new single ‘Fine Line’ is out this month. She tours the UK in April. mabelofficial.com