‘My mind is at 100 miles an hour’ – how ADHD shaped a Cardiff singer’s new music

BBC Radio Cymru regular Mali Hâf talks finishing songs, impatient teachers and the speed of the creative process ahead of her debut EP

Musician Mali Hâf, dressed in a multicoloured patchwork hoodie, is sat in front of a dark wooden chest of drawers with her right hand on her chin. To the left: a pink guitar leant against a white wall.
Mali Hâf, a Cardiff-based neurodivergent singer-songwriter, is already looking ahead to new music

Mali Hâf’s new EP nearly never existed.

The self-titled EP is the singer-songwriter’s first after a succession of bilingual singles.

These singles have been heard live at Cardiff’s Tafwyl festival and this year’s Maes B in Ceredigion, as well as frequently playing on BBC Radio Cymru.

Mali described her upcoming release to her record label, JigCal, as “Bilingual witchy trip hop realness.” In Fern Hill, lyrics yn Gymraeg a Saesneg are underpinned by ethereal synth keys and a punchy kick drum. In Pedair Deilen, the EP’s closing track, a funky, octave-hopping bass accompanies Mali’s rhythmic clipped vocals.

In 2022 alone, the Canton creative has released five singles, with the EP still to come.

Mali’s astounding artistic pace comes with its drawbacks, however.

“I was known in music university for being so bored of my songs very quickly,” Mali said, “but I do wonder a lot of the time: how much does my ADHD play a part in it?”

Mali, 25, was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 16 after telling her parents that studying A-levels felt impossible.

“If there’s some magic pill,” Mali told them, “or something that would make me sit down, listen, remember what people said, maybe I would do it.”

Long before her diagnosis, Mali’s ADHD was affecting her life. She was constantly being told she had more potential.

I can’t do the ‘take your time’ thing in music. I’m just ready to make new stuff

In primary school, she was well-known for forgetting things. “Miss Pitman would have a spare book for me because I’d forget,” Mali said. “She knew I would every time.”

Not all teachers were so patient. “One teacher actually rang my dad and said ‘I just don’t understand her’”, Mali recalled.

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Nearly 10 years on from her diagnosis, Mali understands how ADHD affects her work.

Colourfully dressed in a harlequinesque jumper, with multi-denim jeans to match, Mali embodies the technicolour nature of her music. Mali experiences synaesthesia: she finds it easier to express feelings in colour over words.

She is a calming, grounded presence, but internally, Mali’s mind is whirring.

“It’s a blessing and a curse that I want to work really fast,” she said. “The songs have been around for ages. I was going to leave them, completely leave them.”

An industry mentor convinced Mali to finish the EP despite already focusing on writing new music.

“I can’t do the ‘take your time’ thing in music,” she said, “I’m just ready to make new stuff and it’s a weird thing to balance.”

Mali writes in both Welsh and English, often switching between the two mid-song

The Pedair Deilen singer regularly takes medication to improve her focus: a common issue among those with ADHD. 

“My mind is more at 100 miles an hour [without medication],” she said, “and when it is the ideas come like out like crazy.”

Mali finds it hard to hone these ideas without ADHD medication. “I wouldn’t be able to finish any of my creative projects if I wasn’t on them,” Mali added.

Mali’s focus is now firmly on finishing her first full-length album.

“My aim really”, Mali said, “is to make a set of songs that I’m like ‘yes!’ I haven’t got there yet. And I hope I can get there.”

Her self-titled EP is out now. Fern Hill, the first single from the collection, is also available as a standalone release. Listen to the first play of the single on BBC Radio Cymru on Mirian Iwerydd’s show.

Mali’s new single Fern Hill is available now