Mental illness, self-doubt, empowerment and inner strength are just some of the universal themes bolstering and powering the boundary-pushing tunes from Amsterdam-based triple threat Zanillya.
The rapper, producer, artist has been making waves in the industry with her immaculate blend of R&B, body-moving Dancehall, Afrobeats and Hip-Hop. It’s music to be listened to eyes closed winding on a packed dancefloor – but with vulnerable and self-assured lyricism at the heart of it’s messaging.
And “Sacrifices” is her latest offering, a simmering, rhythm-busting track, with a music video that now only showcases the undeniable flow and charisma of the artist, but also takes us on her journey of feeling stuck and out of sorts, but eventually coming to own it. “Sacrifices” is the first single to come from her upcoming EP “Choose Life” which is lined up for January – yes, there’s no doubt about it, 2021 is going to be a big year for Zanillya.
We caught up with the artist below…
Hi Zanillya – how have you been during this uncertain time?
I am tired. It has been non stop work for me. We finished the EP in February and we were getting ready to shoot the visuals but because of COVID and quarantine we had to push that back. I decided to use my time wisely and focussed on getting clear on my goals and my vision. I spent months researching, working on the treatment for the video, the styling, and what I wanted to convey. Once we’re out of quarantine I started rehearsals, looking for the team and went into production for weeks. It was very intense.
How has it impacted your music and creativity?
To be honest I’m a really a homebody and tend to be by myself, spending most of my time with my partner in music and life, Humphrey Dennis. So for me it didn’t really feel like a lockdown, it felt like the world was living at my pace but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel scared, hurt and sad for others and myself. In uncertain times I just tend to dig deep inside and pull a strength to cope. It’s what I do in hard and challenging times. I also did it when my dad passed away. It’s not healthy as after things go back to normal I tend to fall in a deep depression. So I just arrived in Aruba, my home, my happy place, trying to not fall back into that pattern.
How does being based in Amsterdam influence you sonically?
I believe what has really influenced me were my parents and the family I grew up in. My parents are really artistic and I grew listening to so many different styles of music. Coming from an Aruban father and a Macedonian mother, and being raised in a multicultural environment, meant that I was exposed to many different ethnic influences in terms of music. Growing up, we spoke broken english in my household, but also German, Dutch and Papiamento, which is the language they speak in Aruba. All of this has translated into my work and how I came to express myself.
Who are your musical heroes?
I was inspired by Prince at a young age, so he is one of my role models. Also Kanye is in all my work. He has a way to make you feel your own darkness and pain but also makes you feel alive. His sonics are insane and definitely a standard for us. The female artists that had the most impact on me are Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, and Aaliyah. They are all unapologetically themselves. In sharing their stories, in their style and in their performance. Beyoncé inspires me to work harder, to me she is the greatest performer alive and her video content always blows me away. Rihanna inspires me to not be afraid to mix genres and styles, Amy wrote the most honest and raw lyrics and her voice had so much pain. Nina was the same and Aaliyah was so pure and so unique in her sound. She was soft but tough and her style was everything. Alicia is one of the artists that helped me remember my dream when I lost it. They all have a place in my music, style and the way I express myself. There are so many other artists that inspire me and all of them are in my work. To list all of them here would be insane but what all of them have in common is that it moves me, it touches something deep inside.
Your dad was 70s icon Bobby Farrell from Boney M – how did this influence you wanting to go into music?
Watching my dad’s experience in the music industry influenced me both positively and negatively. Growing up, I saw first-hand the beauty and the excitement but also the dark side of it all. I witnessed what fame can do to you, and it isn’t always as glamorous as it comes across. His influence has also definitely pushed me to do more and dream bigger, yet it has caused me to doubt myself at times. My dad was very hard on me but I have come to learn that he was trying to protect me from going into a business that brought him much pleasure but also tremendous pain. If anything, his influence made me cautious and tougher because I am a sensitive person, and you do need to be strong to survive. In this industry, you need a tough skin.
What’s been the best piece of advice he’s given you?
Well, for one, I am really strict with contracts and rights as I saw how that can go wrong. He really tried to instil in me to own my own music and I am proud to say I have never signed away my masters and that I’m doing well as an independent artist. He also told me to really believe in myself and what I can accomplish. He always said never not let the outside world dictate your choices and if you want something see it in your mind. He wasn’t easy but so special. I am grateful to have had a father like him.
How would you describe your genre?
I don’t like to conform to a genre or to what people say you need to do or be. I try to steer away from defining my music as I feel my music is a reflection of where I am in my life and since I am always evolving, I feel my music does the same. However I do think my music will always be honest, empowering, emotional and filled with vibes.
Congratulations on your new single “Sacrifices” – what was it inspired by?
Thank you so much. I am so happy that it’s finally out. It was inspired by pain and frustration but also by self love. I am super sensitive and sometimes feel like I’m being pulled in different directions by the expectations of the people around me. I sometimes feel like I need to please everyone and manage their emotions but then feel like no one sees me and my pain. The song is about that, choosing yourself and making the sacrifices needed to accomplish your dreams no matter what people think.
The music video is so sick and empowering – what did you want to convey and what story did you want to tell with it?
Thank you, that really means a lot. I wanted to portray the journey I went on from feeling stuck, caged in, depressed to finding myself and owning that. I wanted to portray the dynamic of dark and light and the duality that’s present in my life. In the first scene where I perform I’m in an empty room with just my dad’s plaques on the wall. For me this stands for my upbringing, his journey, accomplishment, his pain, the emptiness, but on the other side my dreams, my pain, my hopes. Here I wanted to show my vulnerability but paired with a dark room where I’m strong. It stands for my contradiction as well as my masks. When I am in the car everyone is fighting around me in slow motion and I am just focused on my performance. It’s where I choose me and ignore the noise around me. In the last scene you see me celebrating as that stands for me letting go and choosing life. I hope this is what also comes across when people see the video.
And it’s taken from your new EP “Choose Life” coming up – which explores mental illness, self-doubt, empowerment and strength – what is the project trying to say and what ties it together as a body of work?
This project is made for healing. It was captured where I was when going down the abyss. It’s about my life and stems from my deepest emotions. They were all born from me going behind the mic and freestyling so it’s my subconscious talking to me I guess. At the same time it’s for people who are broken and need to go to that place where it hurts, to find peace with it, to let it go and grow.
What’s the most unusual place you pull inspiration from?
From my subconscious as I am mostly not aware of where it comes from and it just hits me.
What do you want fans to take from your music?
I want people to feel like they’re not alone. I want to inspire them to not be afraid to go through the process of recovery and feel.
What’s next for you?
Aruba for now, indefinite. Self exploring, making a lot of music and finding my joy again. It was a very intense couple months for me but I am so excited to make new music and to share it in a consistent flow.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
My EP which is coming out in January, Humphrey Dennis’s EP and a bunch of new music from the two of us, but also that the world gets back to normal and finds healing.