In Conversation with Speech Debelle

Published: Sunday 14th August 2016 8:26AM

Updated: Sunday 14th August 2016 8:28AM

Back with new music, and her characteristic social consciousness, Speech Debelle talks about how she sees herself and the world around her…

Speech Debelle, whose given name is Corynne Elliot, came onto our radar in 2009 when she met great critical acclaim having won the Mercury music award for her debut album, Speech Therapy - an impressive feat without considering she was the first female to do so in seven years.



After a spot of time away she came back to grace us with the brilliant EP, titled breathe.’, comprising four aural tour de force tracks you’ll be reciting endlessly. Starting with ‘The Work’, Speech’s growth of sound and self are evident, whilst her signature matter-of-fact expression remains. The EP ends on ‘No War No Peace’ with a call to battle that demands a response, the bass-line of which lets you know it had better be an affirmative one.

Laying jazzy, yet soulful, melodies over a heavy samba-style beat – think Lianne La Havas’ husky yet easy tones over a Notting Hill Carnival rhythm and you’re on the right track – Speech Debelle lyrically ushers us gently through the truths of our day-to-day lives. Having strived, without much success, throughout my teen years to get into hip-hop, it really wasn’t until I listened to “Better Days” on Speech Therapy that I felt I understood the genre as a fan. Something about the grind involved in self-work spoke to my 19-year-old self in a way that nothing musical had quite managed to achieve until that point. So it seems fitting then, that the quality that first drew me in to Speech Debelle’s style and music, her relatability, won out when we met; what transpired was an only slightly anxiously-charged lesson in life, perspective, and personal growth.

Speech Debelle by Felix Von Nida -

Speech Debelle by Felix Von Nida –


On friendship and queerplatonic relationships

We’re not so attached… with friendships. We allow for a lot more – we can have a friendship with somebody and there are huge parts of them that we don’t like, like it really bothers us, but it’s like it’s okay because I love you”.

“…that’s how I see all of my friendships, naturally. I fell in love with all of my friends the first time I met them; all of my closest friends, I can remember the first time meeting them. It was love. It was love at first sight.

On narratives and their utility for collective liberation

If I could change the narrative to suit and hide pieces of myself, I can also do it to shine light on other bits of myself – like the fact that we’re so forgiving. Maybe it’s not about being oppressed, maybe it’s about being superheroes. Maybe that’s the new narrative. In the same way you’d watch a cartoon or X-Men, in the same way there are superheroes, there are people who can’t deal with your super-powers, and we’re gonna do something about it.”


Speech Debelle at Alton Stirling, Philando Castile, Black Lives Matter March -

Speech Debelle at the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Memorial Black Lives Matter March - @speechdebelle on Twitter

On activism

“I think the most important thing I can do as a creative is give words to the expression of it. And I think [it’s] important for me to kind of know my own lane. But in terms of a collective consciousness, I’m not a fan of peaceful protest. In terms of history, what’s it really achieved? There might be a sense of comradery, there probably is a sense of comradery, but in terms of actual political action and progress, it doesn’t really make a difference.”

“It feels like it’s not enough, it’s not enough for the same cause – something that seems to be moving so slowly. I feel like we just need to all go on strike.

On teaching humanity

“…I think it falls on people of colours’ lap to teach humanity. It really does, no one else is gonna do it… it falls on our lap and I think that’s something so huge for us to acknowledge – that it falls on our lap.” 

On microaggressions and clapbacks

“*laughs* I tell you what, I was at a ‘dinner party’ – we call it barbecue but whatever *laughs* and we started to have a conversation about race… and there’s this white guy there – cis, white, male. I’m tryna say something and he’s jumping in – keeps jumping in – and I don’t have a problem with debate, at all, but, I think at that point I just literally said, ‘I don’t think this is a debate, I think this is a learning experience for you – if you decide to accept it. Because at the end of the day, if you’re sitting down across the table from an Olympic swimmer and you’re talking about Olympic swimming, y’know what I’m saying? I can teach you something here, I can teach you something here and I know what it is I can teach you. And if you let me, it will be a beautiful experience – for everybody – because some more work has been done, in my opinion, when it comes to this.’

So I guess that was a bit of a clap-back. But I can’t think of any others ‘cause I just feel like a lot of things are just a Twitter response – even if it’s said out loud. It’s – I’m getting a bit too old… personally, my ‘whatever you say’ spirit is strong.”

On the professional impacts of gender and race

“I really don’t know… it’s like – if it’s not one it’s the other – it’s too hard – I dunno, it’s like, which pain is worse? I don’t even know how to approach that one.”

Speech Debelle by Ty Faruki -

Speech Debelle by Ty Faruki –


On her name and herself

“…around the time of the first album – it did really well in France, and the way [the name - Speech Debelle is] translated in France is beautiful, it’s like, basically, ‘beautiful voice’ or ‘voice of the beautiful one’, d’you know what I mean? There’s another one, like, ‘to arrive at great force’, and every other interpretation, every time I hear it in another language it’s always been something that’s like, ‘voice’ and ‘powerful’ and I’m just like yeah, that’s dope… I think that’s exactly who I am. I think I have a powerful voice, it’s what it was meant for. That’s all of this, all of these small things that come into play that have made it so, like the name… because this is what I’m supposed to embody.

Speech Debelle’s current EP, “breathe.”, is available on SoundCloud, YouTube, iTunes, Spotify and Bandcamp, and the artist herself is on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Look out for this and her upcoming album “Tantil Before I Breathe”,  with the accompanying cookbook, in Autumn 2016.

Editor's Letter: Black Ballad 2.0

Sign up

For the latest updates and articles from Black Ballad, as well as exclusive previews, sign up to the weekly newsletter