The KAYTRANADA protegée making music on her own terms.
Taken from the Autumn 19 issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.
Shay Lia first fell in love with music aged four. The year was 1997, and Lia — born Shanice Dileita Mohamed — was living in France, just before her family relocated to Djibouti, East Africa. The song was Janet Jackson’s pulsing dance hit “Together Again”, which she recalls whirling around her house to and realising, with clarity she remembers distinctly even now, the decisive impact it would have on the rest of her life.
As a shy child, singing remained a strictly private outlet until Lia moved to Montréal when she was 18, and within two weeks found herself immersed in a community of emerging artists including a Haitian-Canadian producer now known as Kaytranada. Together they worked on tracks including 2014’s “Leave Me Alone”, and while their collaborations spotlighted her vocals, Lia credits these formative studio sessions most for giving her confidence in writing. “I would never have taken myself seriously musically if I couldn’t write songs, because there’s so many talented singers out there,” she explains. “You don’t have to have the best voice in the world if you can write, because you can put all your personality in.” Committed to creating her own artistic identity, she held back from the hype that unfolded around “Leave Me Alone”, choosing to finish her studies and work on music at her own pace, on her own terms.
Left: Corset VIVIENNE WESTWOOD, trousers TOPSHOP, boots HOUSE OF HOLLAND X GRENSON. Right: All clothing VIVIENNE WESTWOOD.
Lia’s debut EP “Dangerous”, released earlier this year in May, serves as testament to her self-assured approach. Layering percussion and funk beats with oozing, R&B-inspired melodies and those airy vocals that first stood out on her earlier collaborations, the seven-track project feels confidently succinct and meticulously put together. Kaytranada’s influence is there – opening track “Dangerous” evokes the producer’s signature electronic groove, and he produced the Kojey Radical collab “Want You”, as well as featuring alongside Toronto group BADBADNOTGOOD on the hazy, pining track “Blue”. Echoes of her long-time favourite artists shine throughout too – from Janet Jackson (also on “Dangerous”) to Stevie Wonder (on “Good Together”). But Lia’s own sound cuts clearly through. “I have to be myself artistically and I think I’m doing a pretty good job, because people have been seeing me differently since the release,” she agrees earnestly, “I think they understand more who I am as an artist.”
This summer the 25-year-old has carved out a space in music that’s entirely her own, but she’s not shy to address the mental obstacles that inevitably arise when navigating such success. “As an independent artist and a girl, it’s frustrating because things take time, especially if you want to do this all your life,” she muses, when I ask about the personal affirmations that decorate both her song lyrics and social media pages. “You have to do it carefully, and sometimes you’re tired of the process so I have to be positive, and to write songs that are positive… I’m very realistic, down to earth. But when you’re too realistic, sometimes you can be a little bit pessimistic and naturally, I could be like that. I’m a Virgo!” She laughs, deciding that ultimately: “The more positive you are and the more affirmations you do, it really works. I believe in the power of the mind so I try and work on that – it’s not just to inspire people. It’s also for me.”
This Autumn Lia’s taking the project on tour, joining fellow rising singer- songwriter Omar Apollo for a selection of European shows, whilst continuing to write music that documents the new glitzy, challenging, unpredictable directions her life is inevitably about to take. “Honestly, I’m discovering myself at the same time people will have discovered me,” she shrugs, with the self- assured air of a woman who’s been biding their time to blow up at just the right moment. “That’s the beauty of this job.”
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