Toronto’s music scene, it seems, is booming. Now, there exists a shortlist of notable names, ranging from superstars like Drake and The Weeknd to relative newcomers like guitar-strumming darling, Daniel Caesar and the enigmatic Sean Leon. Women are breaking through, too — Jessie Reyez was recently named the Juno’s Best Breakthrough Artist, and Charlotte Day Wilson’s just announced back-to-back, sold-out shows in the heart of the city. The scene, it seems, then, is booming. But still, there exists a glaring omission, apparent in the buzz and acclaim that follows some and not others. Where are the Black women and where are their dues? Especially in R&B, a genre traditionally anchored by their musical innovation?
Faiza, a Torontonian singer-songwriter by way of London, Ontario is one of many Black women strong-arming space in a local and international industry that prefers its Black artists to, well… be anything but. Following what she calls an “intermission,” Faiza returned last week with Audacity, a six-song EP about clear-eyed decision-making and shed skin. On “Won’t Do”, she refuses to lay herself down, plain and sacrificial, in the name of romantic love. “Bands” has Faiza leaving phony niggas lonely, choosing to chase her hustle instead. But it is in her snarl on “Thick & Melanated” that Faiza’s most audacious: “Now its just so cool to be a Black girl/Now you wanna be all up in my world/Now you wanna look like me, talk like me,” she recites, listing off the ways in which they got her fucked up. There is no emulation, she says in so many words. Just the real thing.
“Audacity for the 99's and the 2000's,” she tweeted in promotion of the project, referencing the Cash Money reign of the early 2000s, an era that’s been vital to Faiza’s sound and look, both pre- Audacity and with the EP release. Audacity makes it clear that Faiza is in conversation with more than her contemporaries. Where she draws from and where she goes to, through her music, is greater than her present — that much is for sure. All else is her own for the taking.
Tell me about your start. How did you start singing? Who are your inspirations?
I started singing and writing songs in the second grade. I had a couple of girlfriends that I went to school with who shared the same interest in music so we started a band, which was really just us writing shitty songs at recess and making up dance routines to them. Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, all my friends knew I sang, but my parents didn't find out until they came to see me in a musical in my final year of high school. They were pretty shocked that I successfully kept that part of my life from them for so long, but were ultimately very supportive. After high school, I decided I wanted to try to pursue a career in music, and the rest was history.
[As for my influences,] I'm very influenced by R&B from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Growing up, my mom had a lot of albums by [some of the greatest female singers of all time] in the house like Toni Braxton, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Brandy. I also listened to Boyz II Men, Blackstreet, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, and Stevie Wonder. When I got into high school, I started to discover music for myself. I started listening to a lot of neo-soul from artists like The Roots, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild… the list goes on. I also listened to a lot of rap from [artists like] Biggie, Nas, Tupac, Outkast. There's really so much I am influenced by. I feel like if I've ever heard it and appreciated it, then I've probably been influenced by It.
Where are you from? In the city, and otherwise?
I actually grew up in London, Ontario. I moved to Toronto in 2012, [and] I've lived in the east and the west ends of the city. My parents are of Rwandese and Sudanese descent, but they both grew up in Uganda.
Tell me about this sort of rebrand in your career now, with “Body Babe” and, of course, the EP? What made you change it up?
There are a few different reasons for the change. Honestly, I wouldn't call it a rebrand because the music I was making before is still very much a part of me. That being said, I was kind of on a mission to find my sound. Audacity was a result of one of the phases of that process.
Why did you name the EP Audacity? Does it have something to do with your own audacity to create as an artist?
Yeah, that [sentiment] definitely has something to do with it. I feel like the project itself is different and the subject matter is definitely audacious and brave to me. I'm voicing a lot of opinions, so the title just felt appropriate.
“Won’t Do” is my favourite — it also sounds like a lot of the slinky, Black girl R&B/pop of the late 90s, early 00s. Was that intentional?
My creative process is very fluid. I don't set out to try to achieve a certain sound when I sit down to write; I just write and things come out. That record was originally written to a beat that had a sample of “Do for Love” by Tupac. After the record was done, my producer at the time recreated the production. That's probably where that old school feeling comes from. Like I mentioned, I'm super influenced by ‘90s R&B, so it makes total sense that I created something reminiscent of that time.
Can you tell me about “Thick & Melanated” and why you made a song specifically for Black women? Why did you say what you said in the song’s lyrics?
For so long, Black women have fought and struggled to make people see their value. In so many industries, we are often seen as a liability more than an asset. There's been a rise in [the popularity of] Black culture, but people tend to appreciate it more when it's displayed on [and through] non-Black bodies. Even dating as a Black woman is tough, for a number of problematic reasons. I do feel like the narrative is changing with [things like the] Black Girl Magic movement, and Black women just saying fuck it and allowing themselves to take up space. “Thick & Melanated” is my contribution to that shift in narrative.
What’s next for Faiza? Where do you see yourself, ideally, down the line?
I have a quite a bit of music stacked up that I'm excited to finally release. I'm also going to be getting back on stage very soon. Perhaps a tour in the near future... Right now, I'm just happy to be releasing music again. I'm looking forward to all the opportunities coming my way.
Amani is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.