Words by:

Photography: Udoma Janssen
Styling: All clothing Joviale’s own

Joviale loves to be by the sea. The Londoner is speaking to me over Zoom from a friend’s house in Portsmouth where they’re taking time out to relax. Trading in the relentless bustle of the capital, they’re reveling in the simple pleasure of tranquility.

But even so, Joviale is someone who, by their own admission, “thinks about a hundred things at once”. During the course of our conversation, we trail off numerous times, from mulling over the state of the music industry to navigating friendships throughout the pandemic. When they speak, they’re open and affable, always lacing their remarks with comical self-deprecation: “Every time I come here, I get treated like a bit of a princess because I’m obviously a city boy,” they confide. “It’s hilarious.”

Of all their inviting character traits, it’s this honesty that comes through in their music. This May, the 26-year-old released sophomore EP Hurricane Belle, a collection of songs drawing on folk and alternative rock, efficiently carried by creative touches from Lisbon-based producer Bullion and Joviale’s own delicate guitar work. It’s a four-track project that echoes the airy disposition of Kate Bush or Cocteau Twins in both style and form, at times dense and reverberating with Dreamboat, other times upbeat and spirited like Taste of the Heavens. It’s beautifully matched by the singer’s poetic lyricism that delves into the intricacies of love and relationships: “You’re a type of ring that lives in my ear,” they sing to an unnamed lover on Zero Cool. “​​It’s a song that allows me to feel vulnerable,” they explain. “It’s not cool to let people know what your cards are. I wanted to work back from that, being like, ‘This is what I want, and this is the type of bond I’m striving for.’”

The all-embracing scope of their music is unsurprising if you take into account Joviale’s numerous reference points. The singer’s latest project was partially borne from a YouTube odyssey in which they discovered Peter Shenai’s Hurricane Bells, a sound installation inspired by the devastating events of Hurricane Katrina. “I’m addicted to YouTube and I go down these massive tangents,” they admit. “I was really interested in hurricanes, entranced by how massive they can be and how destructive they are. [Shenai] was explaining how he was able to translate that into sound, then I thought, ‘I wonder if I could do that?’”

This approach is testament to a certain type of creative curiosity. Joviale is, put simply, a polymath: their practices are multi-disciplinary and run alongside their work as a special educational needs teacher and soon-to-be-student (they’re about to begin a Master’s in Art and Science). It’s these wide-roaming interests and influences that fuels their creativity: “It’s not that I don’t take music seriously,” they explain. “It just happens to be one of the channels that I express love through.”

An affinity for art is something Joviale discovered as a child. Born to Congolese parents in north London, Joviale had a strong passion for music but never expected to pursue it as a career. Growing up with their mum, they’d immerse themselves in a mixture of traditional Congolese music and 80s power ballads, as well as the slick R&B superstars of the early noughties like Beyoncé and Rihanna, sourced from MTV binges the artist recounts as “obsessive”.

They sang as well, but only along to a karaoke machine, in private. This spurred them on to teach themselves guitar chord shapes via Google images in order to play along to their favourite songs. Occasionally, they would write poems in journals. “I wasn’t that confident,” they reveal. “I think my voice has always been hard to place, I didn’t have a big belty voice. With my writing, I thought, ‘I’m never going to do this in an open mic, and I’m never going to be able to talk about this.’ So if I put it to music maybe it will sound a little bit better, or one day I might be brave enough to put it out there.”

Then, in their early 20s, an opportunity arose to perform while they were spending time in Amsterdam. A band had dropped out of a university festival, and Joviale stepped in. Something must have clicked – their second time on stage was one year later in New York. “I was running out of money!” they laugh. “I wasn’t out there to meet musicians or whatever. I was like, ‘Oh, like they actually pay quite well here, like $250 a show – I’m gonna do this.’” Their calming live presence combined with a host of recordings serendipitously posted on SoundCloud meant people began to take notice. Things took off: fans enthusiastically shared their tracks online, and as a result, labels started to reach out with deal offers. But Joviale had never anticipated any of it, and found it deeply overwhelming.

“I just didn’t feel in control of what was happening,” they say. “It was like [being] in the abyss; you’re staring at a lot of possibilities, not knowing what the best option is because you don’t know what you want. A lot of this – being the star – doesn’t come naturally to me. As a Black person, I feel like people don’t tend to see your vulnerability first. I shut down for a really long time.”

It’s only now that they’re growing into their role as a performer, with the encouragement and support from the people they choose to surround themselves with. As a result, they’re more emboldened than ever. “I’ve decided, yes, I’m an artist and this is what I’m going to do.”

Now, Joviale’s task is figuring out their place in the music world, and, crucially, their identity as an artist along the way – though they’ve never thought twice about their motivations. “I’m not doing this for the clout,” they assert. “I’m not a star. I see myself as a human being first. I’m just here to create – that’s my instinct.”

Hurricane Belle is out now via Never Seven