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IntroducingRising Somali-Canadian artist Amaal

by Mayillah Ezekiel

Amaal’s story is very much a story about freedom, owning her narrative, and finding the strength in vulnerability.

A story all women can relate to, and a journey all of us go through, giving her music the unique quality of being relatable. We caught up with the Somali-Canadian R&B artist to discuss the release of her debut EP ‘Black Dove’, the new chapter in her career, and womanhood.

As the city wakes up, you can already feel the unique energy and vibrancy that has been inspiring a new wave of music. We met with Amaal in Toronto’s Kimpton Saint George Hotel, a location reminiscent of her inspirations and nature through its compelling mix of grit, sophistication, muted colours, moody tones, and rich textures. Being so prevalent in her visuals, she describes nature as the main place she’s drawn to, finding parallels between women and mother nature, saying, “We are so similar, staying strong through the exploitation and oppression, but still our beauty remains resilient”. Her music video for Not What I Thought, which was shot in Iceland, is an excellent representation of her admiration for the great outdoors. “It was a dream of mine”, she says. “The concept was something I had in my head for over a year. I wanted to be in a place where I could reclaim my power in a beautiful background. I’m still standing. I’m still resilient. That video had to be in Iceland”.

‘Black Dove’ is a collection of songs Amaal has been working on for the last two years. “I’m really excited and nervous”, she says about the release. Prior to this, her music was centered around conscious themes [world and social issues], heavily inspired by the singer’s cultural upbringing and personal experiences. Born in Somalia amid a civil war, her family moved to Toronto when she was young. “Being Somali, having the background that I have, and seeing my family go through such anguish, that already naturally puts something within you. So many things inspire me from my family, who have gone through a lot and have escaped a war to come to this country and start all over again with the very little resources they had”, she shares. “Their struggle runs through me”.

Somali is a language of poetry, it inspired her to start writing during a yearlong trip to Somalia after high school. “Honestly, that trip, wherever my life was going, it completely 360 looped me back into this direction. It was a pivotal moment. If I didn’t go there, I don’t think I would be doing this”, Amaal explains. Following that trip, she came across another breakthrough in Uganda, where she travelled to do community development work. She recalls, “We lived in a village with no water, no electricity. Completely cut-off of the world. It was there that I fell back in love with music because the people there didn’t sing without a purpose. They sing for rain, celebration, weddings, etc. I feel our ticket to this earth should be of service. We need to have that in some form or capacity.”

Her source of inspiration is nurtured through her environment and the people in her life. She shares, “Being from Toronto; it’s such a multi-cultured city. All the people that I’ve met in life that are from so many different backgrounds. It’s mostly people and their stories that inspire me. And, of course, the music as well. Artists like Alicia Keys, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, but at the core of it, human beings inspire me.”

The transition from conscious to heartfelt came when she realised she was holding back from fully expressing herself. “I felt like there was a part of me that was screaming inside because I wasn’t fully tapping into myself. I was so focused on looking outward. Once I started paying attention to the things I was going through in my life, the music started coming out more because it was about my womanhood, being more comfortable in my sexuality, feeling more empowered, and my relationships”, Amaal says.

“There’s no shame in it, so I wanted to share those stories. I didn’t want to hide it anymore.”

Opening up about some of the things she went through is how she found the strength to be vulnerable, sharing, “I’m the strong person in my group. I’m the one that everyone comes to, for advice. I can be vulnerable, but I don’t like to share too much because I feel like their suffering is enough and I don’t want to add on to it”. Amaal says “I realised that the “strong facade” that I was giving out was actually damaging and unhealthy. Now, I believe strength is being able to break down and rebuild. By finding strength in vulnerability and sharing, I can do my own therapy and continue to check myself. Sharing those little details is the hardest, but I want to continue on that path as a human and as an artist.”

For all projects, the creative process is an integral part of the execution, but for Amaal, it was also a learning process of self-growth. Talking about coming into herself, she says, “I’m getting better at owning my voice and saying what it is that I want. Especially in a business context [in a male-dominated industry], when someone is trying to overpower you, I’m more assertive and I speak up a lot more. I’m owning myself, and love where I’m at.”

The project offers an intimate look into Amaal’s own stories, tapping into personal experiences with newfound freedom and ease. She describes her creative process as carefree, saying, “I like to create where I’m letting my subconscious do the creating, so if I actually think too deep about it, it won’t turn out great.”

“I really like the beats to be minimalist and a little airy with pockets for vocals and moments to say whatever comes to mind. As long as the foundation of the song is like that, get me on the mic right away from the first expression of the beat, have the lights turned off, give me 20 minutes and I’ll freestyle the song. I also love collaborating with other artists who are also songwriters. Women songwriters. One of them, Hayley Gene Penner that I absolutely love. We create great music together”, she explains.

After doing music independently for 6-7 years, her poetic lyrics and angelic vocals have attracted her a loyal group of people who’ve been there every step of the way. She shares, “They have been there for the entire journey, and those are the people I want to meet and connect with. I want to do meet-and-greets and have those moments with them. I’m excited for the music to be out, but I’m mostly excited to meet the people!”

Photographer: Donat
Creative Production: The Golden Edition
Stylist: Felicia Ann Ryan at Judy Inc
Makeup Artist: Mayillah using Dior Makeup
Hairstylist: Helen Kenny using Oribe
Location: Kimpton Saint George Hotel

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