Throughout her career, Mahalia Cummins has walked the unpaved path. But the lead singer of popular local band, 2 Mile Hill is paving the way for the future artistes of Barbados.
Her annual show, Mahalia’s Corner, has become a cornerstone event on the Barbadian entertainment calendar, with greats such as Cultural Ambassadors Dr Anthony Gabby Carter and Stetson Red Plastic Bag Wiltshire gracing the stage, as well as regional acts like Patrice Roberts and Kerwin DuBois.
The month-long season of Mahalia’s Corner gives locals the opportunity to be introduced to undiscovered talents like Theres May, rising performers like Ch’An and well-known artistes like Damian Marvay. It’s an eclectic night of performances with varying genres, from jazz to new soul to soca, which caters to a cross-section of society and also gives poets and spoken word artistes the chance to share the stage with professionals.
The popularity of the event has grown, resulting in a September season and a Christmas special.
In the event’s sixth year, Mahalia shared with Barbados TODAY that she and 2 Mile Hill band mate, André brainstormed the idea after she expressed that there were few artistic showcases for creatives, especially poets and singers, in Barbados.
“Before the band, I used to go to a lot of open mic poetry shows and I would go and sing and be the only person that sings a cappella. I loved to sing but I was always too apprehensive about being on stage. I needed to do it and be more comfortable with it.
“I felt like there wasn’t anything like that [open mic] anymore for people who just wanted to come and sing or just come and get stronger and feel more comfortable and confident,” she explained, adding that the scene has changed since the inception of Mahalia’s Corner.
Despite the progress made, with events such as Poetry Lime coming to fruition, Mahalia argued that there still needs to be greater recognition and support for local artistes who are either semi-professional or novices. She called for artistes to unite and strive to move forward as a collective.
“It is now to raise awareness of artistes and for more established artistes to patronize and support them to show the younger artistes that you got to collaborate, you have to form a force and support each other so it just keeps growing and growing and kind of forms a community,” she suggested.
“We are tiny and we need to be formidable so that people can’t deny us any longer if we come together and be strong together. We do need to support our own because it shows the world that we got our back and then it draws their attention. It becomes something you can’t overlook and when their eyes turn to us, they will see the wealth of talent that we have here . . . . If we can support our artistes here and make them big here then people will look here.”
The 33-year-old songbird started her journey in music while completing her Bachelors in Computer Science at the University of the West Indies. Her band mates, Chad, Kris, André and Richard, were also students. It was through prompting from Chris that she sang at an open mic session in the Students Guild at the Cave Hill Campus. Although she had plans to pursue a career in computer science, Mahalia went on to become the lead vocalist of NexCyx, the precursor to 2 Mile Hill.
The band was given the opportunity to perform across the United States college circuit, and share the stage with recording artistes such as Wyclef Jean with whom they co-headlined the Cognac Blues Passion Festival. Famous artistes such as Erykah Badu were also on that festival’s ticket.
The band has also featured at the Billboard Lounge.
Mahalia noted there was a wealth of undiscovered talent in Barbados and people needed to pass it on when they saw it.
“If you think that someone’s music is good, share it. Tell somebody else so it keeps getting more recognition and somebody overseas might pick it up,” she said.
The singer also cautioned that female artistes should remain true to themselves and never give into the idea that to succeed, a certain image is required.
“It starts from who you are and who you want to be as an artiste and that dictates what your image will be. You have to decide who you are, from knowing yourself,” she insisted.