If ever there were an anti- X-Factor story- here it is. Hailing from Walsall, in the Midwest of England, 20-year-old Jorja Smith has grown up surrounded by music. Born to a jeweller mother, and a musician father, Jorja’s very raw talents were encouraged and nurtured in her creative household. Her father, who’d been part of a Neo-soul band, encouraged his prodigiously talented daughter to learn the piano from a young age. At eight years old she was already performing and by 11 she had penned her first song.
In year 7 she got into secondary school on a music scholarship and trained as a classical singer, singing in French German and Italian (despite her untameable, wandering vocals, you can hear that refined control in her voice). Then, like all good, modern Cinderella stories, the internet stepped in and changed the teenager’s life forever. Like most breaks Jorja’s so happened to take place on YouTube when a pal of hers uploaded a video of the then 15-year-old Jorja singing Alex Clare’s “Too Close”.
Her now current management got hold of the clip, but encouraged her to finish school before doing anything about it. That’s not to say she wasn’t busy honing her skills when not in the classroom though, in fact, she’d commute to London during her school holidays to write and record. The hard work paid off. Come 2016, and the singer had released her first single “Blue Lights”. The track is a perfect example of how Jorja’s classical training and contemporary tastes- notably grime- collide with magical impact. The track, a soulful, earnest look at police brutality is exemplary of Jorja’s preferred positioning- as concerned onlooker. The track’s bruised sympathy, which samples Dizzee Rascal’s “Sirens”, rang true, hit a nerve and started to circulate. 'Blue Lights' was nominated in the Best Song category at the MOBO Awards that same year and come 2016, she was shortlisted for BBC’s Sound of 2017. Stormzy and Skrillex are out and proud fans. No biggie. Jorja's first EP, Project 11 meant any doubters were silenced.
It’s quite hard to squish into a sentence just how much Jorja has achieved in those eighteen months but the most notable cherry on top off the cake has to be her inimitable vocals- that so closely resemble her idol, Amy Winehouse- appearing on Drake’s album More Life, no less than twice. There’s even a track called “Jorja’s Interlude”. In fact, Drizzy invited Jorja to perform ‘Blue Lights” on the Birmingham leg of his album tour (where Walsall got a cheeky shout out) and later again at his London show.
You might think, what with the headline shows and the A-list endorsements already under her belt, that Jorja might take a moment to sit back and enjoy the view, but she’s working harder than ever. When we ask about dream collaborators she’s quick off the mark: "Damien Marley, Sade, Yasiin Bey." If Jorja’s current CV is anything to go by we can’t imagine any of those names are too big an ask for the UK’s most exciting voice in decades. Despite the accolades, awards and fan-boys, Jorja manages to be a rare thing- hugely successful and wondrously humble.