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Vincent Darby on ‘We Could Be’: “I knew it was meant to be"

A British-Jamaican superstar in-waiting ever since stepping out on stage at nine years old to support Flo Rida, Vincent Darby is one of the UK’s most exciting music prospects right now. He’s just dropped We Could Be, a soulful banger that stands up to any of 2023’s biggest choruses so far, and is about to hit half a million streams on Spotify…

Darby descends from Jamaican grandparents, who came to the United Kingdom as part of the Windrush Generation, working as a nurse and a bus conductor, respectively. Besides this physically placing him and his music career in the UK (although he has been making moves in Canada and Jamaica), he also grew up hearing his granddad’s extensive music collection. A hospital radio DJ and a big vinyl collector, the elder Darby surrounded his grandson with the sounds of Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Issac Hayes and Barry White.

With his musical ear being shaped by these legends, Darby would take the stage at nine years old to support Flo Rida at O2 Academy Birmingham, thanks to the success of an Alicia Keys cover on YouTube. He then honed his music and performance skills at the renowned Birmingham Ormiston Academy.

I’m excited for everyone to watch the journey with me; it feels like a great time to be alive right now.

“Thank you for having me,” Darby says very politely and genuinely in an unmistakable Brummie accent. You very quickly get the sense of what an open and positive character he is. “It’s nice to be back in Birmingham after being in North America for a bit. I like the fact it never changes, it’s just always Birmingham!”

He vividly remembers his first singing experience: “We were on holiday in Tenerife and my sister was reading out the karaoke lyrics to me, and I was just singing and singing. After that, I just never stopped! Music’s always been a huge part of the weaving of my family, and I was entranced by it from a young age. When I was eight I started putting videos of me singing on YouTube, which eventually got spotted by a producer down in London, and he was the one who asked if I wanted to support Flo Rida.”

It is difficult to overstate just how important and influential the Windrush immigration has been and continues to be for UK music, an industry which brings in around four billion pounds per year to the economy. This year saw the 75th anniversary of the HMT Empire Windrush arriving in Essex in 1948, with 492 Caribbean passengers to fill much-needed post-war jobs. 

As the sounds of Jamaica gradually extended beyond these new communities, it wouldn’t be long before the UK’s biggest acts like Madness, The Specials, UB40, and The Clash utilised the sounds of ska and reggae to enormous international success.

That influence is still heard in recent years: the worldwide explosion of EDM music began in the underground clubs of Croydon and Bristol, with Jamaican dub music being deeply important for the creation of dubstep, drum and bass and grime. And, of course, Caribbean roots can be heard in the modern pop-soul sound of Darby himself.

“I remember the first time I went to Jamaica when I was 16,” Darby says. “I went to a studio called Big Yard, which is where the BBC does Radio 1Xtra Jamaica. It was the first time I’d been in a proper studio, so I was just in awe of everything. I think it belonged to Shaggy at one point. Some of my team are Jamaican, and they told me if I could record there, I could record at any studio in the world — you have to be on your top game there. 

"At one point I saw my manager talking to this guy dressed all in white with dreadlocks, and I thought I recognised him — then my manager walked over and asked if I wanted to take a picture with him as it turned out he was Beenie Man. It was just too crazy.”

Music’s always been a huge part of the weaving of my family, and I was entranced by it from a young age.

After dropping his 2021 EP Still Here We Are (which was richly supported by BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra), Darby is back this year with his highly impressive new single We Could Be. Besides showcasing the strength and range of his vocal ability, it boasts some seductive production with its drum machine beat, sultry synths and tasteful touches of reggae and dub sounds. And the chorus is one of the best you’ll hear this year.

It’s safe to say Darby is enjoying the reaction to the song: “My reaction has just been ‘whoa’. It’s nearly at 100k on Spotify, and over 100k on YouTube, and it’s not even been out a month. I’m just so grateful for it. The thing about my manager, I also think he’s my mentor, and we write a lot of songs together. 

"When he played me what he’d made for We Could Be, which he’d had for years and years, I knew it was meant to be. It was during lockdown and I was listening to a lot more electronic-heavy music, so I just knew we had to put this song out together.”

It really is such an exciting time to discover Vincent Darby, as he concludes by revealing that, “I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, and we just finished my album. But there’s an EP to come out before that! Then I was in New York for a show, it snowed that day, but we still hit capacity, I couldn’t believe it. The programme director for iHeartRADIO was there, and afterwards he told me to come to their studios as he wanted me to give a private performance. I’m excited for everyone to watch the journey with me; it feels like a great time to be alive right now.”