You wouldn’t believe that Alexandra Rita Rosalina had lived in Deptford for only two years if you met her. Every couple of yards we stop and start a new conversation with yet another new person on the high street. She’s a local, for sure. “I’m starting to learn the slang now, like ‘swear down’ and ‘still’,” she says laughing. “People say to me ‘Oh my god Alex! You sound so South London’, ‘cause I pick up accents very quickly. It happens naturally, I don’t even think about it.”
Alex grew up in the Danish countryside, surrounded by lots of greenery and space: “I think nature has shaped me quite a lot as a person – my love for natural things. To be a child in London, you’re not free.” Working as a part-time nanny in New Cross, she’s been awarded the luxury of freedom. As a creative type, who couldn’t wait to get out of school, she felt that taking care of children was the most rewarding, non-academic job she could uphold.
This isn’t to say this decision hasn’t taken a toll on her bank account: “I work 18 hours a week, which is a luxury. I’ve been very broke since the day I got here. Rice and lentils vibe. I’ve not been on holiday for two years, it’s a sacrifice, but it means I’ve got lots of time.” Alex doesn’t see the point in moving to a new city if you’re just working everyday: “I have time to go out and luckily there’s lots of stuff going on that’s very cheap or even free. I reckon I go to three gigs a week – I’ve been described as a ‘human calendar’, I always know what’s going on apparently…”
Alex remembers hearing Prince, Earth Wind & Fire, Bob Marley, James Brown, Eurythmics and Jamiroquai, growing up. Her parents were also in to jazz artists, like Stan Getz and Ray Charles. “A lot of funky, organic music played in my house. I wasn’t allowed to listen to boy bands, I didn’t have posters on all my wall. I thought they were way too cheesy.”
At the tender age of nine, her first CD was Shaggy’s ‘It Wasn’t Me’. “I really liked the chorus, and when we were buying the CD, my mum said ‘Alex, you know Shaggy isn’t the guy who’s singing?’ and I said ‘urgh mum, you don’t know what you’re talking about!’ and then I came home and was like – ‘sh*t, she was right!’”
Danish duo, Okapii (Mads Oustrup, and Alex) formed during their college years. In Alex’s own words, “We met, jammed, vibed and created.” After making ‘Don’t Mind the Rain’, Alex was hooked and wanted to make more music. “Mads was studying and didn’t want to commit because he knew he didn’t have the time but I convinced him.” At the moment, the two are time zones apart, Mads is currently living in Australia so Alex regularly Skypes him. “We have produced almost everything together, I just need to write some more. You can make records in so many ways, the internet allows so much.”
I’ve had a few gigs where I’ve been paid to play and just felt so grateful. Crazy that someone thinks my hobby, or even my taste in music is worth paying for. I’m very privileged.
Rita’s Rhythmic Remedies, Alex’s show on Balamii radio is going well: “Since my first show in January, things have just started taking off.” Alex also doesn’t gloss over the fact that the music broadcast industry is heavily male-dominated, “you’re always going to be ‘the girl’, but I’ve had so much positive feedback and people have reached out to me.”
Currently Alex has lots of time for the following artists, some of which she has included in the guest mix she has recorded for us below: United Vibrations, Yussef Kamaal, Flying Ibex, Nérija, Wu-Lu, Ashley Henry, Theon Cross Trio, Duval Timothy, Via Rosa, Silent Jaye, Jace XL and Mizan.
Alex isn’t necessarily South London-centric, but a lot of the artists she supports are locals, so she doesn’t have to travel too far to see them: “I’m sure there are scenes everywhere, and I can only talk about where I live and who I know, there are lots of talented people here.” Because of the internet era of music, Alex is conscious of the dangers of artists being overseen: “I don’t think there’s talent exclusively in South London, I just think people like to make hype.”
She remembers the first time she went out in London. Eric Lau and Yukari Takanose took her to the basement of a sushi bar, “I think Floating Points was playing, at this point I thought this was musical heaven because there were so many people liking the same music as me.”
In Copenhagen before I moved here, the scene was so small. In London, I felt there was a unified love of music.
London is home. “I was saying to my friend the other day, that I feel like I’ve found my tribe. I’ve always had this feeling being in Denmark, that I didn’t belong there,” she says, ” I was always very drawn to tropical places, the music, the people, the colours. Deep down, I’ve always found Denmark a bit bland.”
Whilst having found a deep-rooted affinity with the cultural landscape London has to offer, Alex is conscious of the gentrification of her neighbourhood, hence engaging in the local community and using the spaces: “Creative people are part of the problem because they make places safe and interesting. Even if we don’t come with money, black, white, anyone – if you’re an artist and you take these ‘rough’ spaces and do something with them, then it becomes popular because people want to move there because it’s ‘edgy’ and ‘cool’.”
When I ask Alex what’s next for her, she laughs. “I wish I knew, I guess that’s the exciting thing and also the very scary thing. I have been feeling very anxious about the Okapii record coming out.” With a TBC release date, four years in the making and just the knowledge that it’s coming soon, “The expectations definitely scare me. I don’t know what’s in store, but hopefully good things. I’m surrounded by extraordinary people so I’m not too worried.”
If you’re in London, you can catch Alex live in action at Sampled: What is World Music? This event will be an audio-visual exploration of the term “world music”. Using words, images and music we are questioning the categorisation that is “world music” put together by Miles Wu-Lu, Kwake Bass, Reiss G and Hector Plimmer.