Don’t Touch My Hair: Introducing Erica Cody, The Next Big Thing In Irish Music

Elle Gordon chats with the singer about her debut EP, Leoness.

Photography by Evan Doherty

Erica Cody. You’re going to want to remember that name. Music fans craving a fresh sound, with hints of 90s R&B, a soulful voice with relatable lyrics drenched in depth will fall in love with this seriously talented young Irish gal. As did I when I was lucky enough to sit down to chat with her about her burgeoning career which is undoubtedly set for stratospheric success.

The 21st century soul singer burst on to the Irish music scene last year with Good Intentions. It received an amazing response, propelling Erica to share the stage with the likes of Mahalia, Ellie Ingram, En Vogue and Jessie J. The Dublin native has just unveiled her highly anticipated debut EP Leoness, and trust me, you’ll want to listen.

I wanted to know how this young star who is only 22, first realised a career in music was for her. And as it happens it was a turn of fate that propelled her into pursuing it full-time. She tells me how she had been playing basketball at a high level but sustained an injury which made her completely reassess what her next step would be, saying:

I had been doing both my whole life, juggling music and playing sport – I come from such a sporty background, my dad was a professional basketball player and my mam was an All-Ireland gymnast. Weekends were spent going to stage school and basketball matches but music was always something that I gravitated towards even though I loved sport. It was a place I felt I could totally be myself.

Erica was 18 when she tore her ACL ligament, a serious injury that would have taken a year to recover from in order to be able to play basketball again. She says, “For me it turned into a bit of a blessing in disguise, it was just my body telling me exactly what I needed to do. So I took music up full-time from that.”

I ask her what were the musical influences that shaped who she became as an artist today? She says, “My dad is American, from South Carolina, and then my mam is Irish, so I kind of had the best of both worlds, and was always a person who listened to absolutely everything. My dad showed me a lot of old school R&B, gospel, rap, hip hop, pretty much like everything. I remember he sat me down at the computer one day and was showing me all 80s and 90s R&B so then it was like – that’s the kind of music I want to make but with a modern twist on it.”

And within these genres undoubtedly there must have been those who had a huge impact on who she is as an artist. Who stands out to her, if possible to pick?

I would have listened to a lot of New Edition, SWV, Brandy, Aaliyah… the list is so long we could be here for hours. And I try to pay homage to them, and especially to Stevie Wonder, he would be one of the people that showed me I wanted to be a songwriter and start playing my own original music.

It is Erica’s campaign she has created to inspire and tie in with the announcement of her EP that I find truly admirable. Don’t Touch My Hair (DTMH) sets her apart as a singer yes, but also a social activist. It’s a stance for people to accept who they are and not succumb to the pressures of society of what it is to be ‘perfect’. It is, as Erica points out, a stance that could be applied to anyones personal struggles whatever they might be, but for Erica it’s the fact that she, as a young, Irish black woman would have faced adversity for the way that she looked.

“When I was in primary school I would have been the only mixed race girl in my school, and then another girl joined a few years later. I wouldn’t even say we were a minority – but we did have to work 10 times harder. It was more of a thing that people didn’t really know boundaries and how to respect us. I would come into school with braids in my hair. And I had dark skin, dark hair on my face, I would have a little ronnie, and really bushy eyebrows so it was just kind of a given that I would get a hard time in school – which I did.”

Nowadays Erica says she finds Irish people have become much more aware, but there is still a long way that we have to go because there are still times when she is met with someone saying ‘Awh can I touch your hair?’ She tells me, “By the time they ask me their hand is already in my head. I have had people fly past me on their bikes and touch my hair and randomers coming up to me in the street not even saying hello and touching it. And then there is the ‘Oh where are you from?’ and I’ll tell them Baldoyle, and then it is like, ‘No but where are you really from?’”

From this came the inspiration for her single. She says:

It didn’t just stand for being a young black Irish woman and mixed race girls in Ireland. I wanted it to stand for anyone who had kind of faced adversity and who was given a hard time, no matter what their story is. Whether they were part of the LGBTQ community, it stands for anyone who has anything that I suppose some people can find hard to accept.

I ask her about the importance of using her platform and her voice for important message such as this. “I have only noticed recently how many young impressionable females that I have following me on Instagram and social media. For me, it is really important to share the right message and share something that I am passionate about so that I can educate the next person. And I want to do it in a kind of a way that is not throwing it in people’s faces.”

And she has had a hugely positive reaction from people who were grateful that she used her voice to bring awareness to this. “I noticed when I wrote it I had so many young, beautiful mixed race black females messaging me being like, ‘Oh my god, thank you for doing this for us because for so long we just say yes. Because we’d be worried they would make us out to be the rude ones if we tried to say, ‘No you can’t touch my hair.’

Part of the appeal of Erica’s music is she takes situations we have all experienced, moments from our everyday lives and weaves it into her lyrics and music creating something we can all relate to. She says, “It is a way for me to communicate my feelings. And yeah I love that, I could write a song about getting into a fight with my boyfriend or family and then somebody could interpret it totally differently and put it into one of their own situations in life. at is how I like to write.”

I ask her whether or not she puts herself under huge pressure or does she just take each day as it comes? She says, “I just want to get my new music out there and then just ride the wave and see what happens. Coming from such a sporty and competitive background, I always had it in my head; you’re only as good as your last game. So for me I am only as good as my last performance so I am constantly wanting to grow and wanting to get better at my craft.”

And if she let herself dream of the ultimate goal? “What I love about this industry is that I am constantly growing, and I love seeing how much I have grown in a year and what I have done to grow. I am just excited to see what work is going to come and hopefully I will just keep evolving and become a better artist so that is the main goal.” What a woman.

Leoness is out now

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