Amaria - What it takes


Text by Dave Swindells
First published in ILCR magazine issue 6, 2017

Amaria Braithwaite is just 13, but she has already won a TV talent show, appeared on the same bill as Leona Lewis, performed at Radio 1’s Big Weekend and represented Hackney on stage in New York. So how does this Chats Festival headliner combine singing, playing football, DJing, acting, and school? 

Amaria Braithwaite, who lives near Chatsworth Road, would be the ideal choice if you wanted a lesson in seizing an opportunity. She was just eight years old when she took on the challenge of performing at the world-famous Apollo Theater in New York. So how did she do that?

“I started singing Etta James’ ‘At Last’ and I think the audience thought, ‘Ah, she’s singing a classic so it’s going to take time,’” she recalls. “But it was a mash-up, so after the first verse of ‘At Last’ I went into Nicki Minaj’s ‘Moment for Life.’ There was a live band as well so the tempo changed and the crowd began cheering and whooping. Then there was a little break for me to dance and it seemed as though they were like: ‘No way! She didn’t just dance?’ And then there was a rapping bit too, and it was mad – they really, really loved it.”

Amaria wowed the crowd in New York and later won the under-16 age group in a Hackney vs Harlem talent competition at the Hackney Empire (Amaria “has an incredible voice and stage presence,” wrote Flavourmag). Along the way she became friends with fellow Hackney singing star Jermain Jackman, who went on to win The Voice in 2014. 

“Just to perform at the Hackney Empire made a huge impact,” says Amaria. “So for me, going to America and to the Apollo where so many famous, famous people have performed was like ‘Wow!’ It makes you think, anyone can do this, if you put your mind to it.”

Portrait of Amaria Braithwaite that appeared on the cover of I Love Chatsworth Road mag issue 5

That was back in 2012, and readers might reasonably expect that she would have suffered from nerves beforehand. “No, I don’t get nerves,” she laughs. “Well, except for my first ever show, Clapton’s Got Talent, at the Nye Bevan [Lower Community] Hall when I was about six. Everyone is nervous at their firstshow, but as soon as I sang the opening line [of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’] the crowd were applauding, and I just forgot about nerves.”

TV talent shows are often described as ‘glorified karaoke’ or ‘the death of music’ (by people who’d probably insist that you listen to death metal instead), but they have kickstarted the careers of a host of stars, from One Direction and Jennifer Hudson to local heroes like Leona Lewis and Jermain Jackman. Amaria Braithwaite may well follow a similar trajectory, having already won CBBC’s ‘Got What It Takes?’ earlier this year.

‘Got What It Takes?’ was unusual, in that parents were also taking part in challenges as part of a team with their child. Amaria’s mum, Jasmine, is most definitely there for her daughter, having given up her job to support Amaria in becoming who she wants to be. ‘That’s why I don’t try to dress her or tell her not to sing particular songs,” Jasmine says. “Unless it’s crazy, like ‘Kill someone!’ Or music like Marilyn Manson that has a dangerous message in it.”

Jasmine describes herself as quite a liberal parent, but stresses the importance of manners and respecting everybody, whatever their background or circumstances. “I don’t want her to be shallow – I don’t want her to think that you have to have something to be something.”

During the filming of ‘Got What It Takes?’, the children were given many different challenges, from make-up and clothes competitions to dancing and songwriting, but ultimately it was judged on their live performances. Amaria was given pop songs by Taylor Swift, James Bay and Adele to perform, and yet she made them feel like her own, as you can see if you search for them on YouTube.

Did she get a special reaction from her friends when she won ‘Got What It Takes?’ “Oh yeah, because I didn’t tell anyone that I’d won. It was very hard to keep it a secret, but when they came around to our house for the final episode they assumed that someone else had won, so when they heard my name they were so surprised and shocked. Then the next day I had school and that was crazy, as even the teachers had been watching it.”

In the long run though, when it comes to developing into an artist, writing and performing her own songs could be what sets Amaria apart. So it’s exciting that she has already done just that, singing ‘Thinking About’ on the Community Stage at Chats Festival just shortly after writing her first song. “Everyone from around here came to hear that song, because usually she sings ballads and covers,” says Jasmine. “But what she wrote was more of a grime-scene song.”

It reflects the wider range of music that Amaria plays when she DJs. “She’s very good,” says Jasmine about her daughter’s turntable skills, pointing out that Amaria gets paid to DJ at parties, “and one guy wanted her to co-host a radio show, but that would be overdoing it right now.”

Hardly surprising, as Amaria also has to fit in auditions, singing classes and music practice around attending Clapton Girls School. She already had to choose between football training and attending The BRIT School on Saturday mornings – she, of course, chose the latter. Although she doesn’t appear physically imposing, it comes as no surprise to hear that when she plays football she’s a striker. She was the only girl in the football team at Rushmore Primary School, so sometimes there were comments, especially at away games. “But then when I scored, it would be ‘How can you get ripped by that girl?!’” she laughs.

I ask Amaria what is the most fun she’d had on stage, and am quite surprised by her reply. “It was actually at Chats’ Festival when I got everyone involved with ‘Use Somebody’ by Kings of Leon,” she says. “I knew that everyone may not know the lyrics so I sang the chorus a couple of times and when everyone got the hang of the chorus I’d just hold the mic out to the crowd… and they were singing along even though it was raining. It was great because the people were there supporting me that have been around and known me since I was knee-high, and the other people there, who don’t even know me, were being supportive too.”

And the best thing about living around Clapton? “Everybody knows each other. If you’re in need of something, you can ask without it being an issue.”

So, what about the future? Well, we’d love to tell you about the opportunities that await her, but some things have to stay secret because they’re unconfirmed or we just aren’t allowed to spoil the surprise. But don’t forget the name Amaria, because you’re going to hear plenty more from her.

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