For a year, Eliza Shaddad felt as though she was trying to escape from herself. Newly married, the Scottish-Sudanese musician spent 2020 writing her new record, and recording it in Cornwall with her husband, producer Ben Jackson [BJ Jackson - Childcare, To Kill a King]. “I was getting to know myself in quite a profound and new way, I guess,” she says. The previous few years had been fun but hectic – full of packed out tours in the UK and Europe with the likes of Lucy Rose, Kae Tempest and Turin Brakes and her first shows in the US. Shaddad has since found time to come to terms with new facets of her identity, as well as further delve into the fascinating heritage and traditions of her family. All of this is explored in her dazzling new album, The Woman You Want.
The daughter of a Sudanese astrophysicist father and a Scottish mother who worked internationally with the British Council, Shaddad obtained a philosophy degree before studying jazz at London’s prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Her debut EP was self-produced, and followed by a further two EPs and her debut album, 2018’s critically acclaimed Future. Along the way she has garnered praise from publications including The Times, The Independent, MOJO Magazine, Rolling Stone and The Fader, as well as radio play on the BBC (with high praise from the likes of Lauren Laverne and Huw Stephens), Apple Music 1 and Triple J. Now Shaddad is preparing to release this startling new album, the culmination of a year’s work and a moving portrait of a unique artist.
“That album title, and the title song, are both specifically about who I wanted to be” Shaddad explains. “I was wrestling with the idea of wanting to be a better human, a better woman, a better wife, better friend, better daughter… and not really feeling capable of it… But the title’s not submissive it's assertive - it's a direct challenge.” More than anything, The Woman You Want is Shaddad’s melding of the myriad, kaleidoscopic influences that make this such a vivid listening experience. It’s a reconciliation of culture, of identity, of the traditional and the brand new. Even compared to Future, this record is a phenomenally assured and lovingly created work of art.
Shaddad didn’t always plan on getting married – quite the opposite. In doing so she found herself trying to work out what that meant for her independence, but also its relevance to the traditional side of her family. They play a big part in this record “In the Morning (Grandmother Song)” – on which the sense of loss is palpable – was written after a long period of mourning for both Shaddad’s Sudanese and Scottish grandmothers, and in the wake of stays in hospital for both her parents. “Everything was happening at once and I felt really far away from everybody,” she says. At Jackson’s suggestion, she allowed the emotional intensity of the lyrics to be amplified not by crashing drums or cinematic synths, but by the dignity of stark piano notes and achingly beautiful strings that are full of yearning.
By the album’s close, the listener will be reassured that Shaddad emerged from the recording process with a heightened sense of self-possession. As a student of philosophy, she struggles to believe that music is her only calling. “There have been many times where I've felt like an imposter, or I didn't fit in or measure up,” she says. “The one time that disappears, where I know I’m in the right place at the right time, is when I’m singing. I’m connecting with myself.” There’s no doubt that The Woman You Want will connect audiences around the world, too. Shaddad’s album is a burst of sunlight breaking through the clouds.