Susie Daniels chats to Kawala’s Daniel McCarthy about dancing with ostrich arms…

Their catchy Caribbean afro beat indie vibe has lent them to support some bigs names like George Ezra. Now Kawala, formed by Jim Higson and Daniel McCarthy are set to turn the tables, party and become the big name. Susie Daniels finds out more from Daniel…

Kawala – why the name?

It originates from when we were at uni and our first ever gig. I went to Jim’s room at the Halls two floors below and he was playing some online shooting game and his game tag was kawala123. He’s severely dyslexic and quite comically phonetic and was trying to write Koala!

What’s Play It Right about?

It’s about the difficulty about what to write a song about. A constant stress to make sure people are enjoying your songs. The expectations you have to deliver and keep up a consistency.

What is good and bad about a duo and about a band?

We still have that core of a two piece. We always write as a two piece. We got a bit bored of playing acoustic shows and we wanted to up our game. I’ve been playing with Ben since we were 11 years old. We went to school together.  Dan went to school with Jim.  The good thing about a duo is we always have ideas to bounce off each other if there’s a big decision. There is no bad side. With the band everything’s a lot more expensive but the good is we all have such a good laugh and are all good friends. It’s a lot more fun at gigs with a band.

How do you know each other/what’s your background?

We knew each other growing up. We went to different schools round the corner from each other in north London.

You studied at Leeds College School of Music but dropped out. Why?

We applied to similar colleges and got jammin’ and then dropped out. What happened was we pretty quickly realised the course was more suited help you work out what direction you wanted to go in with music. We’d made the mistake of knowing what we wanted to do before growing up!

We got approached to do YouTube sessions by Mahogany. It was the weirdest connection ever. In our bedroom Halls we did acoustic sessions and one of the guy’s in the Halls were friends with the guy who ran Mahogany. We had a Kawala Official Facebook and he didn’t realise we weren’t official and hadn’t checked. We hadn’t even been checking any messages to the Facebook page for 3 months and he had been messaging us. When we saw it we were like, ‘Please…’

Your pr describes your sound as ‘afrobeat- esque drums’. What is it that you like about that sound and what inspired you?

We are acoustic and we have different sides of music. The origins are slightly folkish and also dancy. We feel we’re in a good position. I think it’s quintessentially pop music.  When we perform live getting a song done it’s the best feeling ever. We want to see people going crazy.

Your music lends itself to dancing. Are you a good dancer?

(laughs) I’m absolutely alright. Jim is picking up a bit of a reputation for his dance moves. I’m singing but playing guitar on stage so I’ve got my safety blanket on. (laughs) Jim once got compared to an ostrich as his arms are all over the place swinging.

What’s the hardest thing you had to go through to get to the point of releasing your first single, ‘Play It Right Now’?

There’s an element of when you first start of getting to know the music industry and interest is often from the ones who come first who aren’t the best ones for you. We had a rough situation with our first management trying to record our first EP. We were mid-negotiations with Mahogany and we had to fire our management. Things got completely out of control. We’re just in it to make songs and our first EP was pushed back 8 months so the love was slightly lost on the EP.

Do you live at home or since the band took over have you moved out?

Me and Jim are the last remaining living at home in a family flat. I’m moving out soon. I have a passionately caring Jewish mother. I live in London so I’d have to live with 200 people to be able to afford to move out!

What’s the best festival or gig you’ve played?

We supported Dodi in March all over the UK and Ireland. The best show was the Barrowlands. It was the maddest venue. The crowd were so up for it.  We played outdoor to 25,000 people supporting George Ezra. I’ll admit I hadn’t listened to much of George Ezra’s back catalogue. The songs are incredible and the way he performs is incredible and so real.

What 3 things would you like to read about Kawala in 2020?

The end of this year is the end of the tour. In 2020 I’d want an album in the pipeline at least. I wanna do Jools Holland. I’ve grown up always watching it. It’s probably the only tv platform where the quality is still there and the diversity’s so exciting. There’s music like huge acts in Africa that you might not have come across and the music works round in a circle. I’d also like to play something low key (laughs) like Glastonbury.

review by Susie Franks

Kawala play Edinburgh Mash House on Thursday October 10th