In conversation with Emilia Mitiku

Emilia Mitiku

Hello Emilia, so glad we can sit down and have a chat. What are you up to at the moment?

I’m promoting my new album I Belong to You, which I have been working on for two years, so it’s been a long time coming. It’s a special album for me, all the songs are a part of me really. I am looking forward to having my fans listen to it after working on it for soooo long.

You were one of the bigger breakout stars of the 90s. I remember myself and a lot of my classmates at boarding school blasting Big Big World and singing along to it. How would you compare the music industry back then to now?

There is a big difference between the 90s and now. Back then a lot of it was playback was king. The good thing with the talent shows, if anything, is that they brought back the live part of music. I travelled the world and saw a lot of things in the 90s, but for some reason I enjoy myself as a musician more now than when I was 13.

How was that like for you, going from being an ordinary Swedish girl in one minute, to becoming a world-renown popstar?

I’m still that girl from Stockholm who had musical dreams, even though they came true. I think was the hardest part. After Big Big World, when the hype ended, it was hard fall. A hit song is only a hit for so long, and if you don’t work for your art it comes to an end at some point. And it did for me, which was hard. The dream bubble burst. I wouldn’t change it for the world though. I would have loved to have been more reflected about being a popstar at the time but that’s impossible when you are 19.

You new album is a real departure from what you used to make. What transpired in the intervening period to have you produce such music?

The fundamentals of this new album are still pop. But I’ve changed, grown and matured, and carry myself in a different way, which you can hear in the songs. I have more life experience, which I have put into my songs. Also, this is an album where I decided I am not going to compromise, and I am not going to be afraid. I will leave my safety net and just go forth and be creative. I was born with a gift, even though the life went out of it after Big Big World. I asked myself, who I was then kept growing while looking for the answer. Now I’m proud of who I am again.

Emilia Mitiku 2

So what did you do during all those years?

I made love.

You what?

I made love with different men all around the world. (erupts into a fits of laughter). You know, I’m not so proud of that time. I let a lot of years just pass by which I wish I didn’t. But I was young. I lived in Berlin for a while, I lived in Budapest for a while because I wanted to shake my life up for a bit, which I successfully did.

What would you tell a first-time visitor to Berlin to put on their Not to Miss List?

Bring your most comfortable shoes and walk everywhere. Or even get into the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn. If you have three days in the city, I wouldn’t recommend going to the museums first. I would immerse myself fully in the city and experience it from east to west. Take in the different characters of the city, have a coffee or a glühwein in the city if you go there in the colder months. Then do the museums on the second day. I lived there in 2003, back when it wasn’t so expensive so you could easily go out and drink and have fun and it wouldn’t cost much. There is a saying – Berliner Schnauze – that they are rude.

That’s what I found when I was there.

Did you? The thing is cities like London have been tourist attractions for such a long time they have gotten used to it. But it’s a new thing for the Berliners, so I feel that they are a bit tired of it. And that’s why some of them are not that friendly.

How about Budapest?

Budapest is like Berlin was 15-20 years ago. If you combine Berlin and Paris and then make it really really dirty or dusty you have Budapest. But it still has that urban thing going for it. People don’t speak that great English so you need to use your body language a lot, but the food there is great. Generally visiting Budapest is a bit of a time travel. They have super trendy bars and cafes, but also places where you wonder if you’ve been teleported back to the 1980s. But that’s the charm about Budapest.

How about Stockholm, where you grew up? I love that city, but I grew up in Oslo which is quite similar.

Yeah, Oslo and Stockholm are quite similar. You wouldn’t call them big cities, right? They are small big cities.

What would you recommend to someone visiting the city for the first time?

I would rent a bike. Stockholm is so small that you can easily bike around the whole of it in an hour and see it from that perspective. We don’t have a city pulse, so I would say go to Djurgården, which is a green island in the city, in the spring and summer months. Enjoy the lakes and sea surrounding the city, and the forests that are literally within walking distance of the city. That is the wonderful thing about Stockholm.

Emilia Mitiku 3

You changed you artist name from Emilia Rydberg of Big Big World fame, to your current artist name of Emilia Mitiku. What change does this new name represent?

I was never really Emilia Rydberg. I’ve always been a global citizen, I think because of my father being Ethiopian and my mother being Swedish. But I think Emilia Mitiku is more representative of who I am. I’m Emilia the Swede, and also Mitiku the Ethiopian. That’s also part of me coming of age. I have become more authentic and aware of my identity. I went to Ethiopia for the first time when I was 30, which radically changed me.

Was that to Addis Ababa?

Yes! That’s another city to visit. Eat wonderful Ethiopian foods in the city’s restaurants — which by the way all have live bands. You know, the phrase Addis Ababa literally translates into The New Flower. This flower blooms in September in the hills of the city, and that’s when the city is greenest, and also when we celebrate the new year.

So did going to your father’s homeland influence your music in any way?

I think meeting my grandmother grounded me.

What’s your travelling style?

I’m a bit of a bag nerd. I love travelling in style when it comes to  colour combinations. Today, as you can see I’m in all black. But I’m not a snob when it comes to travelling. I’ve done backpacking.

Best hotel you’ve stayed at?

I just came back from Malaysia, where I stayed at the Four Seasons. That was nice. It’s one of the best hotels I’ve stayed. But I also went to Mallorca this summer where a wonderful Swedish woman has a little bed and breakfast, which was also lovely.

Favourite trip?

Zanzibar. I loved Stonetown. They have a a spice market, and since I collect chilli wherever I go, I was in heaven! That was also the good thing about Malaysia, I went to their night markets and said, “I would like to buy some chilli!” They looked at me like I was losing my mind and said, “Well yes, we have ten types of chilli.”

Which one of your songs would you say is the best soundtrack for a long road trip?

Miles Davis.

So not your music?

No! What horror! I would start nitpicking and working all over again. I’d rather listen to music that inspires me.

Emilia Mitiku’s I Belong to You is out now on Itunes and Her single You’re Breaking my Heart is out on the 29th April. Emilia will also be joining Alfie Boe as a special guest on his Storyteller Tour, which runs from the 22nd March to the 14th April.


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