Over the Years: The artists that are (and were) important to me as a musician

From childhood to adulthood, Sumaya takes us on a musical journey to the centre of her heart

The bricks forming the foundation of my music taste were placed predominantly by my mumma. One of the go-to tunes she sang to help me sleep as a child was Mariah Carey’s ‘Always Be My Baby.’ Hearing it on the radio for the first time, I lowkey lost my shit thinking she’d stolen my mum’s song. I’ll forever find empowerment, encouragement, company and comfort through the artists she introduced me to. They, along with all the other amazing and talented musicians I’ve discovered since, have really guided and inspired me both personally and musically. Though I’m yet to pour my heart into an EP or album, creating music is something that serves as therapy to me that’s equal to listening to it. I am thoroughly in love all the different definitions of what music can be, and for that reason alone, I hope it’s something I never stop experimenting with or investing in (lol check out my song ‘Stitched Into Me’). Here, I shall be shining a light on the treasures of my childhood, as well as the blessings of my adulthood.

Corinne Bailey Rae

I’m sure everyone’s heard Corinne’s timeless track, ‘Put Your Records On.’ What you may not realise however, is that she has an abundance of beautiful, fun, soulful and powerful tunes that frickin’ slap. Hidden under boisterous beats and vibrant chords, she touches on issues that accumulated life experience allows me to recognise as heavier than I initially perceived as a kid. Peppered throughout her music are running themes of a fear of intimacy, trusting others, and being wholeheartedly open to love (though I may just be projecting lmao [working on it though!]). I am flooded with nostalgia every time I listen to one of her songs – Corinne’s 2006 album offered me safety, joy and was a mega part of my childhood.

Christina Aguilera

Christina’s 2002 album ‘Stripped,’ was one of the first I bought on my own dime, played endlessly on my shitty £12 ASDA CD player along with her 2006 album, ‘Back to Basics.’ Something that meant a lot to me within her work was that she sang of her struggles with familial relationships and self-acceptance – not just romance or sex. When she did sing of the latter, her songs had more dimension than the average. They promoted sex and body positivity, and questioned many of the double standards women face. Her music eluded to a rocky relationship with her father, and a close connection with her mother – something that continues to resonate with me. Christina managed to capture and help me better understand emotions I was feeling at the time but couldn’t hope to articulate as a wee young ‘un, relaying invaluable advice to me through her genuine, heartfelt lyrics. I really found strength in the resilience she encouraged and demonstrated through her music (honestly just listen to both of these albums in full, it’ll take you on a sick emotional power journey).

Amy Winehouse (R.I.P)

Amy didn’t fit the mould of what a woman is told she should be – especially for her time. Her attitude towards sex resembled that of the stereotypical alpha male, she drank a lot, swore a lot, and she exhibited this throughout her work unapologetically (lol maybe shouldn’t’ve been listening to her music as a kiddo – no regrets). I found her lack of censorship refreshing. She wrote and sang about what she wanted to without compromise, even if the topic was a little whack. Her music reminds me to not get too caught up in worrying about expectations – especially my own – and to generally not take anything too seriously. Whilst she has a bunch of fun, silly tunes, she also has a ton of meaningful, soulful tracks that should be heard by all (go get lost in her albums ‘Frank’ and ‘Back to Black’).


Moving onto the presents of my present, we have the Queen, the Empress, the Goddess: Lizzo. Though she’s only recently become more well-known through her banger of a track, ‘Truth Hurts,’ she’s been releasing music since 2013 (all absolute fire). As an active advocate for body positivity, inclusion and self-love, her songs cover themes ranging from race (‘My Skin’), sexuality (‘Boys’), feminism (‘Like A Girl’ and ‘Good As Hell’), body image (‘Soulmate,’ ‘Juice’ and ‘Fitness’), and more. As a mixed-race fat gal who struggles consistently with body issues and identity, I feel both represented and empowered by Lizzo. I feel inspired to explore and flaunt my favourite versions of myself, in both a personal and creative capacity. Her music’s laced heavily with her personality and humour, something which further encourages me to embrace and share my authentic self unapologetically – mind, body and soul. Lizzo’s tracks will have you dancing, chuckling, crying (or maybe I’m just vibing too hard), falling in love with her, and maybe even yourself a lil’ bit.


Ren’s music is raw, honest, experimental and quite frankly, vital. Like many, he uses his music as a means of channelling the pain of his hardships into something positive. With tracks like ‘Blind Eyed,’ ‘Depression,’ ‘Hold On,’ ‘Insomnia,’ and ‘Crutch,’ Ren plays a huge part in de-stigmatisation of conversation surrounding men’s mental health. Whilst I feel a deep connection to the words he shares and the emotions they harbour, it’s my hope that my brothers, guy friends – and generally the entirety of the male population – find refuge in his work. Through his display of vulnerability, I hope they too feel they can express themselves liberally. In addition to utilising his own personal struggles as fuel for his music, Ren also uses the medium as a form of storytelling – done particularly and impressively well in his tracks ‘Jenny’s Tale’ and ‘Dominoes’ – all the while elucidating important social issues. He is a truly strong, beautiful, talented soul – please please please check him out.

Miette Hope

It didn’t take much for me to establish that Miette’s queer as heck. While the matter of her sexual orientation isn’t by any means the sole reason behind my admiration for her, it is simply something that makes me feel that bit more comfortable in my own sexuality and expressing that part of me proudly – through the medium of music if I so wish. Something this artist does that I was excited to recognise is write androgynously. In her songs relating to love, (‘Spring’ and ‘My Love’ are absolute tunesss), the sex of the singer and love interest are interchangeable. Having lyrics that are applicable to everyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender is something that I exercise in my own song-writing and consider important. While it may go unnoticed or seem trivial to straight, cis-gendered listeners, I personally feel it’s an effortless but effective method in promoting inclusivity and celebration of the LGBT+ community. On a more practical note (pun intended because puns are great), Miette’s a talented vocalist, guitarist, beatboxer, and loop-pedalist (who makes my broke ass wish I could afford a loop station, rip me). What her material lacks in quantity, it goes above and beyond in quality, and I wholeheartedly love all the various energies of each song she’s released this far (check out ‘Over’ to be led down a more chill/trap route).


Interweaving indie and pop, EDEN sings openly about his turbulent mental well-being and drug use, and offers a neglected version of the male perspective within relationships. He does so through tracks such as ‘drugs,’ ‘Circles,’ ‘crash,’ ‘Gravity,’ ‘XO’ and many more (strongly recommend lending your ears to this playlist). As a person of colour, I think EDEN’s willingness to cover mental health as a theme is all the more important. Though it may not be the case for him, often mental illnesses are viewed more as concepts than conditions to non-white or Western cultures. Whilst I’m not too sure what his process is now he’s generating an assumed decent income, initially EDEN began producing his music himself in his bedroom. Though money’s a valid obstacle, this DIY approach inspires me to really consider what’s available to me and to stop making excuses when it comes to taking those first steps in actively being creative.

Writing this has honestly been the most stressful because my indecisive but passionate ass stans a lot of brilliant artists. I could lit-er-al-ly talk about this forever, so here are a few (hundred, lol jk) honourable mentions: Daniela Andrade – this woman’s voice is smoother than… something really smooth. As someone who has a pretty quiet singing voice themselves, it gives me hope that there’s potential for people to like my voice even if it’s weak as shit. YEBBA – the pure emotion this artist can encapsulate with her soulful voice simply blows me away. Lewis Capaldi – I actually met this guy back in 2017 when he was still performing in places like Thekla, Crofter’s Rights and SWX. We had a lovely little chat, reassuring me that he’s also a pure, genuine lil’ gem, as well as a top-notch entertainer and musician. Ed Sheeran – Ed’s earlier work in particular played a very significant part during my adolescent years (big ups yet again to my mum for somehow managing to arrange a meet and greet for my sixteenth [super excited to see that Ed and YEBBA have a collaboration coming up on his new album])! Lastly, because I’ve definitely ignored word count restrictions, Bishop Briggs is a genre-bending Queen that you’d be doing yourself a disservice to not check out. Happy listening!

Me lookin’ rachet w/ the one and only ginger Jesus. Divine colour coordination though.

Me, again looking rachet, w/ this ‘God amongst men.’ Whose hair’s more whack? You decide.

Who are some artists that mean a lot to you? Let us know in the comments…

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.