Yana Toma is an artist who refuses to be pinned down – in music, in lyrics and in life. “I don’t ever want to exist in just one category,” the fast-rising Londoner says of her steamy, shape-shifting sound, full of unshakable pop hooks, hypnotising rhythms and rhymes about empowerment, independence and relationships where men who don’t show respect are shown the door. “I listen to everything from trap to jazz to soul. Your style becomes everything you listen to, old and new,” she smiles. “So I wouldn’t say I’m one sound or feel. Whatever I feel like making – that’s what I make, so long as it’s upbeat, uptempo and exciting.” Her upcoming debut singles, Drunk Texts and Next To Me, certainly tick all those boxes. Showcasing the star’s flawless vocal talents and irrepressible love for the dancefloor, both tracks are defiant, emotive anthems that seem destined to put her name on the UK music map.
“I try to make my songs inspiring for women,” says Toma, explaining the fierce message of Drunk Texts. “It’s something every girl can relate to, a song about when you don’t want someone wasting any more of your time. You take yourself seriously and you expect others to treat you the same. I want people to hear it to realise they can be the woman it’s in their power to be, that they can keep the flame going. Don’t let anyone take you for granted, cos you’re superior.” Set to a backdrop of staccato guitars and slinking bass, it’s an Afrobeat-tinted summer breeze of a song whose lyrics leave you in no mistake who’s in charge: “I don’t wanna see no drunk texts, 115 missed calls on my phone, boy just leave me alone,” sings the star-in-the-making.
Next To You is “a little more vulnerable,” says Toma, about “the feminine experience of needing someone more than you’d like to admit.” Produced by South London’s Da Beatfreakz, who’ve crafted smashes for everyone from Giggs and Ellie Goulding to Sean Paul and Usher, it’s more proof of the singer’s unique versatility – something she’s been fostering since she was young. “I fell in love with music when I was eight. I was singing karaoke six hours a day at home and in every single assembly at school,” she laughs. “I was just doing music non-stop.” The music she grew up surrounded by was eclectic, to say the least. “My mum was an opera singer. And I was listening to Tina Turner, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Nina Simone… a bit of everything.”
Then came the reward for all those hours in front of the karaoke machine at home. “I won a competition out of 200 people, singing Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” Toma remembers. “That’s when people started to tell me I had a gift.” She knew she had the talent for a career as an artist – but it wasn’t going to be an easy ride to success. “It took a long while to get to this point, where my music’s now starting to reach people. You know when you push for something but it doesn’t work, and all you can do is keep pushing? I did that a lot,” she says.
For the rest of 2020, Toma plans to keep putting out singles and “seeing what catches fire. I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment and everything is finally aligned. So I’m really excited.” She’s already thinking ahead, though, with plans for EPs and albums just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her ambitions. “I’m here to make timeless music. That’s the goal,” she says, adding that she wants to add something new to the culture. On Next To You, she asks a question: “Who else gonna take it this far?”
Yana Toma is, that’s who.