Vibe Magazine described Hilary’s singing as “rich, velvety voice that warms the inside like a spot of tea” and The Boston Globe described her voice as “a beguiling set of pipes with a whiff of Whitney here, a scoop of Chaka there…”
They don’t make them like Hil St. Soul anymore. The Zambian-born, London-raised artist weaves those two worlds into a rich tapestry of sound, feeling and experience – all bound together by an unshakeable sense of soul. Heard once, Hilary Mwelwa’s voice is never forgotten: rich, full-bodied and gilded with melodic instinct, she belongs in the same world as Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and Whitney Houston.
Her 1999 debut album, Soul Organic, became an underground sensation. While the tenets of classic soul are all there, what made Hil St. Soul so striking was how her voice would blend with disco-driven grooves, laid back hip-hop rhythms and gospel harmonies to create something undeniably modern. It was a sound that would define its era and yet remain timeless, still enticing new listeners with its fresh, uplifting spirit more than two decades later. “Until You Come Back to Me (Acoustic)” has amassed over 3.5 million streams on all platforms in the last year alone, her audience expanding sevenfold – a testament to her ongoing appeal. The strength of the song’s success went so far as to earn her a place performing at Glastonbury.
It may come as a surprise, for an artist for whom making music feels so natural, that pursuing her passion was never the plan. As a student at London’s Westminster University, Mwelwa earned a degree in biological sciences and harboured an ambition to begin a career in the field. But after hanging up her lab coat at the end of the day, by moonlight, she started to explore her musical potential. She shared her father’s love of music: growing up, their household was never silent, filled with traditional Zambian sounds and the voices of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Mwelwa is without any formal training, but as a child with a keen ear, she was the student of the artform’s masters.
Taking a year away from her studies, she gave herself the chance to explore the London music scene, which was defined by vibrant, exciting sounds pioneered by Black creatives. It was in these circles that she would meet producer Victor Redwood-Sawyerr and rap trailblazer Blak Twang, her earliest collaborators. After recording her first demo, a reimagining of the Aretha Franklin classic “Until You Come Back to Me” (which has gone on to amass almost nine million Spotify streams), her talent caught the ear of Dome Records – and after that, she has never looked back.
Over the course of her career, Mwelwa has released five records. She followed up on the momentum of her debut album with 2002’s Copasetik and Cool, which saw her perform slow-jam “Pieces” live on Later… with Jools Holland. Her success went on to cross the Atlantic with 2006’s SOULidified, which was played in heavy rotation on the show of renowned radio tastemaker Michael Baisden. But it was with Black Rose of 2008 that she would attain her highest chart position, reaching 21 in the US Billboard Hip-Hop and R&B chart, favoured like its predecessor by VH1. Mwelwa has also collaborated with musical titans such as rapper Pharoahe Monch and vocalist Dwele, who appear on her 2009 compilation album, Release.
Hil St. Soul then made a decision to step back from the spotlight. She wanted to immerse herself in living her own life to tap into newfound sources of inspiration – and wasn’t afraid to take her time. In the intervening decade, she would return to her native Zambia for a year to soak up its musical flavour and collaborate with local artists, curating live shows to highlight their talents. She also lent her vocals to “No Worries”, a duet with soul singer Noel Gourdin, and worked on collaborative EPs with the likes of Tom Glide, Brian Power and the Soulhouse Family in preparation for a new artistic era.
There couldn’t be a better title for her sixth record, Back in Love, which captures how she rekindled her devotion to music. “It represents love,” Mwelwa explains. “My love of life and music. It’s a love letter to my listeners who have been with me on my musical journey.” It’s a golden blend of the old-school sensibilities and vibrant, contemporary production that has become quintessentially Hil St. Soul, drawing six-figure streams.
“One Life”, produced by Regi Myrix, was written just as the pandemic took hold and upended the world around us; she dreams of escapism, getting lost in the music and living for the moment. “It was a crazy time that amplified the importance of enjoying life and making the most of it, because tomorrow isn’t promised,” she reflects. The album fizzes with optimism: “Party On” is an infectious floor-filler produced by Lorenzo Johnson, but also celebrates love in full bloom. “Blessed” is a silken duet she describes as “an ode to your soulmate”, with smooth ballads such as “King” and “A Feeling So Beautiful” leaning into the dizzying thrill of falling in love and the magical moments you share together.
Still, Mwelwa is prone to moments of introspection. “Sweet Heaven” produced by Ofer Shabi is the only acoustic song on the album, stripped down to nothing but her voice and the guitar. “It’s about finding true love which is likened to heaven on earth – the kind you didn’t think existed, especially after past failed relationships,” she shares. The visuals for the track were shot in Zambia by a talented local videographer Jamiel Banda. “Fingerprints” leans into a reflection on the one that got away, a bittersweet groove that acknowledges that even though you’ve moved on, they’ve still left their mark. But Hil St Soul has never lingered on the past – since the beginning, her gaze has been set firmly on the future and the promise of a new horizon.
My Releases To Date
Her debut album created a buzz and was an instant underground hit that launched Hil St Soul’s musical career.
Copasetik & Cool
Garnered a Top 20 slot on the Urban Adult Contemporary (AC) Charts with the song ‘Pieces’ which acclaimed rave reviews and a performance on the Jools Holland television show.
Enjoyed great success at radio, also earning a Top 20 Urban AC hit with its first single ‘Goodbye’, whose video was also in constant rotation on VH1 Soul and BETJ. The second single, ‘Hey Boy’, (also a Top 20 hit) became a semi-theme song on Michael Baisden’s highly popular syndicated radio show.
Attained the highest chart position by reaching 21 in the US Billboard hip-hop and R&B chart. Like it’s predecessor, the video for the US single ‘Sweetest Days’ (which was shot in a dessert in LA outside the church that’s featured on the cover of the movie Kill Bill) was in heavy rotation on VH1 and BETJ.
The single of the same name was produced by a young talented producer called Harmony (who signed a deal with Rodney Jerkin’s production company in LA) and featured iconic legendary Rapper Pharoahe Monch.
Back in Love
With a luminous single, “A Feeling So Beautiful,” leading the way, Hil St. Soul now returns with “Back In Love,” her first album in a decade, out on Shanachie Entertainment. The new album may be Hil St. Soul’s best yet and resonates at a time when neo-soul is resurgent with a new generation of artists ranging from H.E.R. and SZA to Lucky Daye,
Anderson .Paak and SIR.
Send A Request
Got A Question Or
A Partnership In Mind?