Although “Sing to the Moon” reached the Top 10 in Britain, and one of its singles, “Green garden,” entered the UK Top 40, accolades and awards have not matched more success. Months before “The Dreaming Room” won the Ivor Novello Award, a top UK songwriting award, Sony Music informed Mvula in a brief email that she was being removed from the list. “I was not used to the reality of the commercial music industry,” she said. “It was so short. It was like, ‘Here is your value to us.’ “
Mvula was already reassessing her handwriting. “There was this pressure that was put on me, and that I put on myself, to do something new,” she said. “I had all these tags in my head. You know, ‘Made his own kind of music, made his own way.’ But then I was like, ‘So what does that mean? Where do I go next? ‘ “
Between recording contracts, Mvula toured David Byrne as an opening act in Britain. Her stripped-down shows garnered new attention from Briony Turner of Atlantic Records UK, who is now co-president of the company. Turner had wanted to sign Mvula before his contract with Sony. Now Turner has said from London: “She had moved into this unexpected new kingdom and I was blown away. I signed her because I think she’s a genius. I love what she represents culturally and musically.
Mvula told Turner that she thought about 1980s R&B and wanted to experiment with collaborators. Her ideas, she now admits, were nebulous. “I was bragging about making a record I wanted to dance to, but it was an outright lie,” Mvula said. “I didn’t have any real plans. I didn’t have a sketch, I didn’t have anything. I was just trying to turn it into reality.
With Atlantic’s help, Mvula tried songwriting sessions that were “like speed dating,” she said. None succeeded until Turner suggested Dann Hume, a New Zealand producer who ended up co-writing and co-producing the entire album with Mvula. “I had no idea my life was going to change,” Hume said by phone from South Wales.