BEKA on Cultivating Empathy and Stillness Amid Such Difficult Times
“By listening and taking other’s perspectives and people’s experiences, it produces empathy in you”
If you, like me, have encountered heartbreak (or something that resembles it), you’re familiar with Beka Prance AKA Beka’s soothing—almost healing—vocals on British duo HONNE’s Crying Over You. It was the (unfortunate) anthem of my November, a year ago, when they visited the Philippines and did an unforgettable week-long tour.
Fast-forward to 2020, the year of one worst-case scenario after another, self-isolation has been a catalyst for the singer-songwriter to finally produce her own music, alongside pals James Hatcher and Andy Clutterbuck. Her most recent single More Than Friends captures the nostalgia of a teenage relationship that stretches out to adulthood. BEKA reveals, “I’m so excited about it! This song is quite different [from I’ll Be There]. It’s about, like, a universal feeling we all have—that tension when you meet somebody you want to be more than friends with. We wanted it to capture that feeling of being a teenager and the risk involved when sharing your heart with somebody.”
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Amid such tumultuous times, BEKA shares her take on cultivating empathy and embracing stillness in an exclusive one-on-one.
Wonder: What was it like to finally release a debut single after touring with HONNE for a while? Did it feel empowering to finally “do your own thing,” or did you feel like you weren’t prepared? Was it a mix of everything?
BEKA: Having music out there in the world, [which] has been building for so many years, I think, inside myself without me necessarily having known it—I think there’s such a sense of empowerment. I really [feel] empowered. I think I really want for all my music to be stuff we can talk about, about normal life—whether that is the reality of love, the hardship of mental health, whatever.
[Music] is so intimate in my life; it’s something I’m so passionate about…I love HONNE. We’re a great team, and we’re lovely friends. For them to have been such a big part of helping me to cultivate that sound, it was just really a beautiful thing.
W: What was the process like co-producing and co-writing with HONNE, especially under such strange circumstances?
B: I was so nervous. You get that “impostor syndrome.” Will it be good? Is this idea any good? It was actually having that relationship [with HONNE that] made it so easy…It was really a safe space to learn how I do that kind of stuff, which I don’t think I would have, had it not been for them.
I spent a lot of last year writing this stuff, but having the stillness and space, which came out of difficult circumstances…having the space to stop and be still really facilitated me to [do the work].
W: Your first single I’ll Be There feels like a quarantine anthem, especially when we all can’t really physically be in the same place, with lockdown and all. Was this intentional?
B: Definitely! We had some of the songs that I loved and, maybe, [had the] direction as to where the sound will go…It was like a lightning bolt moment that we just had to put out I’ll Be There. That is where we all are at right now.
For me, I find it difficult to listen to my own music…you feel a bit awkward, but actually, I’ll Be There was something that was very cathartic to me. If it could be that way for other people, then that would be perfect.
W: Who were you thinking of when you were writing this single—a sibling, a best friend?
B: The song started when I just came back from being away on tour. My husband who’s also my best friend, Jordan, had really been struggling with his mental health over the past year. I’d come home, and I knew I needed to start writing for my own project, and I had that in mind. I was struck by just how hard it is to be away from someone you love when you’re touring—doing something you love—and seeing someone you love struggling. You feel… powerless.
It was definitely a song for my best friend, but after that, it became a song for myself that I want other people to hear. It evolved and came from that center—friendship.
W: I remember getting on a media call with HONNE a few months back. When they were talking about their single Smile More, they actually mentioned you, that you have this incredible trait of leaving a place better than you found it. My question being: how do you embrace that joy, that optimism amid such difficult times?
B: You know what, it’s not easy. It’s so kind of HONNE to have said that. When we were traveling the world, I was just so fascinated with these beautiful, kind people, especially Filipinos—they’re so warm. It’s like a part of your skin!
I have this thing where I like to say what I think—in a kind way. If I see somebody and I think [they’ve] got beautiful hair, I want to tell them. It could be awkward, but it’s lovely to receive [a compliment]. It lifts me up! Just trying to get over my internal awkwardness…and get [words] out of my mouth that are empowering or positive or loving or kind, I think really helps me.
For me, I love the morning. I find that the most beautiful part of the day, so I’ve started to go out for really early morning walks. I love lighting candles and having tea so I come back home and light candles and have some tea—and that’s my time for stillness. Trying to get out of my normal flow and do things that give my soul life has really helped me.
We can choose our situation and our environment, even if the circumstances are bad. We can choose our response to it. I think that’s how I’m finding joy at the moment but ask me tomorrow, and I’ll have a different answer.
W: This is actually a very packed question. I know you’ve been outspoken about racial issues especially since the uprising, which happened in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. How do you have these uncomfortable conversations about race with your friends and family? How do you educate them without making them feel “othered?”
B: I think there’s something about empathy that really drives us as human beings. You can feel so mad at your boss and the moment you see them crying in their office, your heart changes towards them because they become human.
I think the starting place for all difficult conversations is to really listen. Recognize that as much as we have emotional responses to things, and as much as we feel like the way we think about things is truth, unless we’ve been through it—and even if we have been through it—we still have our ownness. By listening and taking other’s perspectives and people’s experiences, it produces empathy in you. I think with empathy, there comes a change of heart and being.
Sometimes, [it’s simply] asking people for permission by saying “Can I share something with you?” then you invite them in a vulnerable moment. Expressing “This is something I’ve been thinking about, and I might be saying this wrong; I might not be politically correct, but I wanted to share where I’m at,” you can’t go wrong with that…It’s recognizing you can’t always get it right, and we’ll always have space to learn—it’s a posture of the heart.
Want more? Here’s a Wonder exclusive video featuring BEKA and HONNE performing their latest single More Than Friends.
Art Alexandra Lara