At 22 years old, Hawa has lived many lives over. Born in Berlin, a nomadic childhood saw her move between Guinea, France, and the United States. As a 10-year-old living in New York City, she was offered a place in a highly selective young musicians program at Lincoln Center. Over the following few years, she had her music played at Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic, and traveled with them to see it performed around the globe. Then, at 15, she gave it all up—well, classical music, anyway.
And so began phase two of Hawa, the artist. (Born to a Muslim family, she was named after the Qu’ran’s equivalent of Eve.) After quietly beginning to post music online—frank expressions of sexuality laid over silky R&B synths and skittering, trap-inflected beats—she was signed by the cult British alternative label 4AD at 17. In 2020, she had arguably her first breakout moment after performing during Telfar’s critically acclaimed Pitti Uomo fashion show. With a hefty bank of songs behind her, she was poised to release her first album later that year—an album that, she explains, bears little resemblance to the debut record she released last week, titled Hadja Bangoura.
“I feel like all the stuff that I was making before, I just personally wasn’t impressed by it,” she says matter-of-factly over a video call from her home in Brooklyn. “It was very, very soft, and it didn’t feel real to me. There was so much chaos happening around me, and I wanted the music to reflect that.” Hawa is such a perfectionist, it turns out, that the record went through three entirely different iterations before it reached the form you can hear today. “I can be very hard on myself and I can obsess over things,” she says in something of an understatement. “It got to a point where it became more of an obsession, and not an obsession in a good way—it was fucking me over. I had to find that perfect balance, which I describe as a structured mess.” She breaks into a hearty laugh: “Also, I just get bored very easily.”