THE LA SONGSTRESS STEPPING OUT ON HER OWN
Jamila Akiko Chilombo, a.k.a Mila J, has only been in London for a day but with her charm and energy, she shows no signs of jet-lag. As we sit in the backseat of a black cab headed towards a fun fair, our photo shoot location, we’re soon talking like old friends. Naturally this leads to the inevitable UK versus US words and pronunciation conversation, starting from when I suggest we find some candyfloss. “Is that what y’all call cotton candy? That’s so cute!” She becomes animated, “Do you guys say LOL? In America people say stuff like that, like BRB, LOL, AF, like I’m hungry AF.” This is Mila’s second time in London and she’s clearly still enjoying the difference in culture.
Incongruously for our Spring/Summer issue, we meet with Mila just before Christmas, with our different plans for NYE come up as we approach the fun fair. She admits she’s never been out partying for New Year’s Eve, “We usually just go to my Grandmother’s, get together and eat food.” Mila obviously comes from a close family, and one with a strong musical pedigree. With younger sister Jhene Aiko already a staple in the music world, I can’t help but wonder; is the entire Chilombo clan like a cute biracial Von Trapp family? “My mom isn’t [musical], but my dad is like a self-taught musician so he always had instruments at the house we grew up in. Like he turned the whole garage into a studio, back when people built for real studios, not just on a computer,” she laughs, “he had a whole booth put in and it was state of the art. He sings too and his sisters sing – although none of them were ever official artists.” She then grins and grabs my arm confidentially, “Although I recently found out one of my cousins was one of the original members of Shalamar! But he didn’t want to sign the contract because he was making more money in the medical field, he said what they were offering him a week was a joke. So they replaced him with Howard Hewett – fun fact!”
Speaking about family with Mila naturally leads to her former life as a member of multiple girl groups, as her first band Gyrl was formed with her sister Miyoko and came about through encouragement from her father’s friends. “All of [my dad’s] producer friends would come over to use the studio and they would say about me and my siblings ‘they should be a group’, so we were kind of playing around like that, we always had that outlet.” After spending two years in Gyrl and taking some time out, Mila joined the group Dame Four in 2005, and although there were no family ties in that group there was still obviously a lot of closeness. Does she ever miss being in a group? “I know a lot of people think [of[ girl groups, ‘Oh they never work well,’ but we didn’t break up because we didn’t get along.” she explains. “The last group I was in, everyone was at different ages, people were kind of ready for different things and on different paths, so it was like, ‘This is not going to work’. From the oldest to the youngest, there was probably a 10 year [age] difference, so some were ready to have kids, and some to go to college, so it was more of a mutual thing.” Did she enjoy being part of a group? “I liked it, I think groups are cool because first you’re traveling with people, so it’s just more fun. I think it definitely feels less like work because you’ve got your friends with you. And two, in a group people can pick up, like if someone is sick that day the group can push you.” So does she ever miss it? “Being solo is a pro and a con too – but you don’t have to split the cheque four ways!”