My name is Alicai Harley and for as long as I can remember, I have been submerged with a culture of music. It is getaway, refuge, spirit, and the tool through which I tell my story to the world.
The Red Room Intro (Yard Gyal Inna Britain) is my debut EP and I’m the big inspiration behind it, but what I will definitely say is, it’s driven by my culture. The Jamaican culture, which is where I was born, and definitely the London culture as well. They’re both a big impact, which is why I have two halves to my album name.
The second half of the title being ‘Yard Gyal Inna Britain’, because I guess the inspiration behind it is my sound. At the same time, it’s an ‘intro’ as well. That’s the whole reason ‘The Red Room Intro’ is in the title because it’s an introduction of me; I am this sound. This sound that I’ve worked so hard to make sure that no one boxes in and puts in one genre. So I feel like that’s the inspiration behind the EP.
Some of my creative process was actually done in the ‘Red Room’ of Miloco Studios in Elephant & Castle, and I guess it started there.
There were so many records to pick from over time from 2018 until now, that once the EP was being done and put together, a lot of the songs that we actually created in the ‘Red Room’ were no longer a part of the project, they were from all around, as you can hear from the features on the project. But that’s where it started.
And for me, the colour red was very significant, not just because it’s my mum’s favourite colour, but because of the fact that it is a very universal colour, the different emotions for the good, the bad and the ugly. I felt like it’s Ali’s Red Room, Ali’s truth, because sometimes the truth is not always pretty but, you know, it’s the truth.
As for the collaborations, they’re all very different. All different stories, but very beautiful. With Diztortion, it was the first time I’d ever met him, we clicked straight away. We clicked to the point where we ended up doing other sessions aside from this one and it’s a real connection, it was natural and he is just an amazing person to work with as well.
All the collaborations just kind of came up differently yet naturally. With Diztortion, it was from the Spotify songwriting camp. Seanizzle – that connection came through my manager Omar. Me and Seanizzle connected even before we met to work on the project, because he was in the “Rushing” video, I don’t even know if people realised that.
It was very pure and he is an amazing producer, so we very quickly hit off, and it’s the same thing with Snowcone; the vibes there, he’s real people and his energy is amazing as well. His energy’s real pure. I got to also meet him the year that I went down to do “Rushing”.
In terms of the featured artists, some of them are people that I already knew that I actually go way back with. And in some ways, very fresh as well. And also just different, but they all make sense and all serve their purpose. For example, Moelogo and Nadia Rose.
First of all, Moelogo is absolutely amazing, incredible talent. I didn’t even see that one coming, but I was so happy that God ordained it that way. We were doing our session and he just walked in, and it happened over natural music and just enjoying music.
With Nadia, I’ve known her since I was really, really young, around 14 and she was my older. We went through life and everybody knew I was like her little handbag, I’d just go into shows and stuff with her. And these were open mics that I wasn’t even allowed into because I was young.
Then over the years we had a falling out, like a big old brawl. Nobody ever knew industry wise, you know, because that was my sis but we had real life beef. So I guess it was someone I loved very much, like if you had a problem with your actual family member, but you love them and it’s all tense.
And then the writing camp happened which we were both involved in, and we just went with our energy. Can you imagine creating music and you still haven’t spoken about anything, we haven’t spoken a word to each other. We were just like “are you going to come on the record?” and “are you coming on yeah?“. You know it just happened like that.
It was very beautiful, very real. I just wanted her energy and then we spoke after, and now we keep speaking, and now it’s just like a thing where we can’t stop speaking and it’s all “I love you“, “I love you too“. That’s the beautiful thing with Nadia.
With Tony Matterhorn, oh my gosh, like, that’s bro! I called him whilst he was in the UK and whilst I was working on the first verse and the chorus of “Do That”, I was speaking to my producer Karma and asked her, “Tony Matterhorn?” Then she was like; “Yeah! But how are you going to get him?” And I was like “He’s in the UK now!”
I already had his WhatsApp from a couple of days earlier, and big up Seani B as well, because we did a Maida Vale session, myself and Tony were there. Tony had already said to me that he rates my ting. So I guess I just messaged him on WhatsApp, it was a voice note. And I think within half an hour to an hour, he said he’s going to get somebody to bring him down.
He came down and we did “Do that”. It was very special. It was very pure. He shared with me, his story of how he created “Dutty Wine” and he liked the fact that we were in a home studio at the time; he was saying that type of set up is where the best music is created. So that was really special.
With Kojo Funds, he jumped on the “Rushing” remix. I actually went on the Kojo tour as his support act, and that’s someone else that let me know that he respected my talent and we had a fun time in Jamaica as well! What a lot of people didn’t know is, that we’d actually shot the remix, the same time we shot the original song, so we had that whole time with a mini holiday in Jamaica with his mates and my mates.
With Stefflon Don *clicks fingers, rolls tongue*, I feel like that was another really special one because of the fact that we both wave the Jamaican flag. I feel like this is something a lot of people wanted to see for a very long time and I don’t even know if people thought they were gonna get it. I don’t know if they expected to get it so soon either haha! But it was definitely a beautiful one.
I’d already kind of had conversations with Steff and we’d already been speaking, I’d been to her birthdays and stuff like that, we’d already kind of showed support here and there.
Once I had the record “No Drama”, I actually asked my manager originally to send it out for a collaboration. But I guess me and Steff were already having a conversation about one of my refixes, and she was like, “this is BAD” or something like that.
And I was like, “do you want to do a back to back?” And she was like “No, let’s do a fresh ting“. Then I was like, “hold on, I’ve actually got something to send over“, and then I sent it and she was just like, “YES“. She was like “This is a banger, I am down!”
I think maybe a couple days later, she said, “Stay on me for that tune, because I’m on it“. And from there, I was like, okay, she’s on it. She’s on it. Because I know when I’m mad busy yeah and I’m thinking; I really want to do something, I want people to know but I’m just busy and I’m just anxious. At that point I was like okay, she’s on it. I didn’t even need to message her again. I think within maybe a couple of days or something, she sent her verse to my WhatsApp. And I was like “Yooo!!!!” It slapped.
So from there, we just kind of went back and forth, I let her know how I was going to work it into the track, because we weren’t actually in a studio. Then when I got in the studio with Diztortion I let him know that how we’re going to balance it out with what place I’m in and stuff like that. And then… yeah! That was an epic one.
Cleveland ‘Clevie’ Browne and Owen ‘Bass Face’ Rennalls produced “Woi”. That’s another thing that my manager connected. I had been sitting on “Woi” for a while, I had actually written it for someone else, and I was really excited about the song but we weren’t sure what was happening with the person’s project and the plans for it, so it didn’t go ahead as planned. All I know is I always loved the song and I knew I needed to get it out there, so I just ended up singing it.
We needed the beat to be created and put together correctly. They only had the vocals to work with and they just kind of made it sound like it was recorded back in the day, like back ah yard, sounding like I performed live, like I was there! But they’re proper talented and that’s what you get when you work with people that actually know their stuff. So this was a special one as well, and they’re people that I admire as well.
The actual contents of the EP as a whole was supposed to be about different things. It really touches on many different things; because it touches on love, it touches on me flexing, I talk about my Lord and Saviour… I guess it’s really just me. But what I want people to feel from it, is vibes.
I wanted to bring music that was vibes. I didn’t want to do no sad record. Even with records that were kind of slightly emotional, I’d say there’s only a couple of records that even touch on an emotion in that way, which is “I Just Wanna Know” and “Woi”. Even with them, I still didn’t want to make them sad. I want them to be VIBES you know, like you still flexing. So for me, that’s what I wanted.
I wanted this EP to fill people’s hearts with joy and that was a word that I had. And that was also what I prayed for when it was coming out. Or them weeks building up to the release. I was just like; joy, joy, joy, JOY! That was the word that was on my mind for the EP.
In regards to the cover, I really always wanted my work to have a statement to it. I’m so happy about this cover. Like, I’m really proud of it. When I first started working on the EP two years ago, I was trying to figure out how I could make a vibey EP but still give it purpose, and still make it reflect me and what I represent, without me making sad songs or being serious. So for this project, the cover fulfilled that.
For me, the cover was taken from the book, Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. The story has a a black girl as the lead character – one of the only story books I saw with a black girl on the cover. I was in Year 2 when I read it, and it stuck with me because it was touching on colourism and touching on sexism.
With Grace wanting to be Peter Pan, she faced opposition from people saying that “you can’t be Peter Pan because he’s a boy and you can’t be Peter Pan because you’re black and Peter Pan ain’t black”. She goes on to be the best Peter Pan when she performed in the play.
It has always been that for similar thing for me, in terms of my music, especially my musical sound. Releasing this EP and deciding, actually, I’m not fitting in this box, and I’m not fitting in that box, I’m going to do what I want to do. That’s my thing. The correlation with Grace, in terms of you can be whatever you want to be.
First of all, I can do whatever I want to do and nobody can tell me nothing; if I believe I can do it, I’m gonna do it. I wanted people to get nostalgic vibes, not even just for young Black girls and Black girls like myself, but for everybody, you know!
Because the book, it didn’t just touch people of my colour, it touched on everybody, and everyone can take something out of that. The main story is about you being able to do whatever; you don’t need to be boxed in and that’s what it was for me in terms of choosing that cover.
In terms of what I want to achieve with this EP… I kind of just said, God let your will be done. I wanted to widen who I am. When this EP was coming out, I took away the ‘want’ that I want for myself and the ‘need’, and it’s not that I don’t have anything on my board anymore as a goal; it’s not that I don’t have goals. It’s that I’m just really strong in putting in my efforts and allowing it to take me wherever it’s supposed to take me.
As opposed to me feeling like if I don’t hit that mark: “oh, I didn’t do that well“. Because sometimes you don’t get time to appreciate the little stuff that’s happening. So the beauty of this EP is that so many great things have happened, so many people connected with it before it even came out. So many positive things happening everyday – it’s very overwhelming, but beautiful.
I’m appreciating whatever is happening on that day, as opposed to saying, “oh, we’re waiting to get this, we’re waiting for this to happen, we are waiting for that to happen“. I feel like a lot of people are going to do that anyway, that’s their job is to make me feel like that. So when it’s on me now I’m just like, “nah, actually, whatever is happening is God’s will and that’s what it is“.
I put out this EP with no expectations. I’ve put it out and that’s what I achieved, and whatever follows after that is God’s will, and that’s beautiful. I’m grateful and I’m ready and I’m accepting and I’m doing all I can. I’m doing all the work necessary in the areas that I feel like I should do.
I’m putting my heart and soul into this stuff and I’m putting it out there. So, whatever comes from it, that’s timing. You know, I always say God’s timing. My thing is God’s timing, God’s timing, God’s timing…
Listen to my EP below!