For Sydney, Australia-born vocalist and songwriter Mali-Koa, art can be found in anything. There is art in poetry and art in song and art in both small and big acts of revolution. The artist — who is no stranger to the world of creating and entertaining — has spent the past several years working hard to articulately express and capture how it feels to realize those moments of art exist. While doing so, Mali-Koa found that there is more than one avenue, face, and feeling to explore love and life. Her most vulnerable, captivating, and glittering moments of artistry and music tell that exact story on her brand-new debut album, Hunger.
Mali-Koa left Sydney seven years ago and moved to London. Now, after years of self-discovery, battling to let go of the past, and the unending search for inspiration, the artist is ready to share with the world what her journey has been like. With mature pop soundscapes and introspective, poetic storytelling, Hunger is a 12-track story that serves as a reminder of how finding oneself is still possible, no matter what kind of obstacle is thrown onto your path. From writing songs in Stockholm to recording in Nashville to the artist filming music videos from her own iPhone in her flat in London during lockdown, Mali-Koa is telling a moving story of human discovery more honest than music audiences have seen in years.
Unafraid to acknowledge human flaws and faults, Mali-Koa explores through the album’s title track how desire and disappointment can both play a role in dreaming, in love, and in life. Through rhythmic beats, she captures the feeling of sacrificing parts of yourself and of others in order to achieve the thing you’ve been longing for. With a gorgeous string arrangement that serves as the backdrop to her soulful vocals, “Hunger” is the driving force and foundation that propels listeners to follow the artist’s musical journey.
“You always know when you write a special song,” Mali-Koa explains of the title track in a press release. “‘Hunger’ was that song for me. It was born from a place of love and ambition, with equal parts disappointment and longing. The lyrics were sharp but honest and the message no matter how daunting, just as hopeful. It was the ugly truth, but as I’d always known it — real and optimistic. I realised after we’d written it just how much this particular story above all others meant to me. It was about all the obstacles, my successes and my shortcomings I’d faced. It’s a nod to the impossible and all-consuming dream, and the lives we build around them and manifest for ourselves. The day I wrote ‘Hunger’ in Nashville I remember thinking, ‘This is it, this is what I want to say.’ It’s the title track of the album because without ‘Hunger,’ I’m almost certain there would be no record at all.”
One listen to a Mali-Koa song and you’ll soon discover the fearlessness of a songstress who isn’t scared to be vulnerable. “All I’ve got is the breath left in my lungs,” she sings on the album’s second track “Get It Wrong,” where she tells the story of feeling absolutely lost … and that it’s perfectly okay to be. In the record’s most heartfelt track, “Sorry,” the artist openly apologizes for the people and things she’s left behind while on her path to finding herself. “I had to let you go / I had to learn to live alone,” she sings, and while the track touches upon saying sorry to leaving a past lover behind, the song’s music video reveals that for Mali-Koa, her songs go deeper than what’s on the surface. Shown through a touching moment with her mother, the artist’s visual mindset and skill for writing lyrics is evident through every sincere, vulnerable, and profound written phrase.
Perhaps it’s her affinity for reading poetry combined with her natural storytelling talent that makes a song like “Shoebox” feel so down to earth in the midst of being heartbroken or feeling left behind. Mourning the loss of a past relationship, Mali-Koa acknowledges the distress and grief that comes with losing and leaving, especially through the fan-favorite ballad, “Some Things.” Yet, the artist hints through moments of perky pop melody and hopeful phrases on “Me Before You” and “The Art of Letting Go,” that regardless of the pain, the moving on that your body and mind go through during the grieving process can end up healing and nurturing you to become a new person, a new face, in your letting go — someone better than you were before.
More than just being a songwriter and performer, Mali-Koa also uses her platform to raise awareness on social issues like inequality, the climate crisis, and race relations from the UK to the US. Inviting activists to speak on her Instagram live to encouraging her fans to completely embrace who they are, Mali-Koa is an inspiring voice for many. Her riveting single, “Revolution,” whose music video features real-life footage of moments of stirring activism and change happening in real-time, proves that for Mali-Koa, music must also be about “unity and community, about being the change you want to see in the world.”
With moving harmonies and a talent for inventing her own version of lyrical vulnerability, it’s no surprise that Mali-Koa’s loyal fan base also finds hope and inspiration through the artist’s music. On singles like “Dancer,” made solely for the purpose of instilling self-confidence in its listeners, Mali-Koa leads by example and truth when it comes to being herself and encouraging others to do the same. Her example and truth are evident on Hunger, an album that tired souls will easily find solace in, perfect for the end of a trying year.
“Hunger is an ode to all the people I’ve been over the last ten years and the ever-changing face of ambition, love and hope. It’s the notes I never got as a young person, as well as an encouragement letter to me as an adult,” Mali-Koa revealed in a press release about making the record. “It’s raw and emotional like I am and it doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. Life is about duality and balance and I wrote Hunger just the same. I wanted to create something timeless, I know in ten or twenty years I’ll look back and be proud of the story Hunger told.”