Excitingly, Toronto R&B songstress, Aqyila, released her debut EP, 'For The Better' on May 19th. Her latest release, “Hello” has resonated heavily amongst listeners hungry for positive music overflowing with messages of self-affirmation. With this EP release, Aqyila looks to build on the success of her viral debut release, “Vibe for Me (Bob for Me),” which racked up over 10 million streams worldwide and landed her first JUNO Award nomination for ‘Contemporary R&B Recording of the Year.’ Since then, Aqyila has only seen more growth and success. She was tapped as an ambassador for TikTok’s #RnB month in November 2022 and has opened for other talented artists like Kimbra. We had the opportunity of sitting with Aqylia and getting to her a bit better.
First and foremost, thank you Aqyila for accepting this conversation with Deeds magazine. If you could tell our readers; Who is Aqyila?
That’s a tough question [laughs] Aqyila is or I am multifaceted. I feel like I do a lot of different things. Of course, I love making music and then, filming and vlogging my daily life. Also, there’s a little bit of cooking (on the side). Especially music, I’m into all types of genres. I love music that makes me feel, music that can pull my emotions when needed, you know? If I’m happy and in a party mood, I want to listen to some turn-up music. If I’m sad and I want to cry, then I’d listen to some Jhené Aiko. So yeah, I feel like I tend to enjoy a lot of different things… And I’m a hermit, I like to stay home! [laughs].
Tell us a little about your upbringing; where are you from?
I live in the Great Toronto area and as a kid, my mom would always play some Whitney Houston, Fantasia or gospel music. Whereas my dad would play a lot of 50 Cent, Reggae artists such as Bob Marley since both of my parents are from Jamaica. It was really nice and a very musical childhood. My mom would often tell me that while she was pregnant with me and in the car, I would kick to the beat of the song. She said; “I always knew you were going to be musical!”, “I didn’t know whether you were going to sing or not, but I always knew you were going to do something in music”.
As I got older, I started songwriting around 10. I would write poems, sing them out loud and then, realised after a while that they were actually lyrics. After I began writing about my feelings, it became an outlet for me to express myself. Once I place my feelings on paper, I feel like I am letting them go. Music is a form of therapy for me and it helps me to heal and reflect.
You spoke about what your parents enjoyed listening to. Who did you grow up listening to during your teenage years?
I’m not going to lie, I used to listen to a lot of Miley Cyrus. Who else? Temia, she’s a Canadian singer-songwriter. My mom played her constantly and my brother knew her music from top to bottom because that was all she would play throughout the house. I was a huge Usher fan growing up.
When was the moment you could see yourself doing music as a career?
It definitely was when I started writing and putting things on SoundCloud. Just for fun, I would take some beats on YouTube and I would write to them, upload them and share them on my instagram. It’s all still there and I haven’t deleted anything because that’s a part of me, you know.
Afterwards, I transitioned to YouTube, did a lot of covers and then, there was a time I would also sing on Vine. Eventually, in 2020, this is when I moved to Tik-Tok and thought to myself; “let me see what Tik-Tok is about”. I tried the dancing thing there and it did not work. I did one dance challenge and I packed it up [laugh]. I tried to do the makeup thing and it didn’t work either and so, I thought; “Let me sing!'' and singing was actually my last resort. At the time, I didn’t know if I wanted to become viral for singing, but that’s what most people gravitate to. People say that they felt connected to me when I was singing on the app. I was like; “Ok, I’m going to give it another chance” and I did.
Even though I sang about a wig and that’s what kicked off, I was still grateful that in that moment, people stuck around to hear me write a full song about loving yourself and embracing all that you are, knowing that your skin, the way you walk, the way you talk is beautiful in every aspect. I’m so grateful that people sat and let that resonate with them. And then, that took off as well.
Walk us through ‘Vibe For Me’; what was the process like? What made you release the single independently?
When the bop version went viral, I sat down in my room for a couple of days, if not, a day after Christmas and I rolled out the full song. I recorded it on my MacBook holding up the mic to my mouth while using my brother’s gaming headset and plugged it into the Garageband and just recorded it this way. I did my whole harmonies, added some monster vocals and then, I mixed and mastered it on Bandlab, which is basically uploading it and re-uploading it as a MP3.
I was shocked how many people were listening to me in one sitting. I logged in for Spotify Artist and I saw over 500 people listening to me right now. That’s insane! That’s when I realised music has the biggest impact on people. When somebody really loves your song and connects to it, they will replay it however many times they want. That’s the same thing I do. When I find a song I love, I can literally replay it all day, everyday, I won’t get tired of it because I’m obsessed with the way it makes me feel.
People would DM me and tweet, telling me how much my song ‘Vibe For Me’ had made them feel empowered in their own skin. For example, the line when I sing; “It’s your hijab for me”, people were saying like; “Wow! I never heard somebody say that in a song. This is something I feel like is needed because it reminds me that I’m beautiful with or without my hijab”. I’m like; “Yes!”. This is what I want! I want people to feel confident no matter who you are. It made me happy!
Your latest single ‘Hello’, quite a contrast from your biggest song ‘Vibe For Me’. Why did you choose this particular song as your first single of the year?
The EP was already done in a sense, but we needed one more song. I told them I want to make an inspirational track, but it needs to come at the right time because all of the other times when in the session and trying to make it, I felt like it wasn’t really clicking. This session, I was with Evan and Alle. we were like; “let’s sit down and make a beat that feels like moving”. Evan started playing these chords on the keys and I thought like; “I like those chords, let’s add some strings!” And then, me and Alle just got to making a lot of melodies and in the studio, I would just voice record myself. Normally, when I think of a melody and I know I won’t remember it at the studio, I just take my phone out and do my thing.
After a while, when we had some words down, we’re like; “Ok, we want this song to have meaning, inspire people and make them reflect”, and I feel like it is such a reflecting song because we wanted it to resonate with people. And so, me and her were like; “Let’s just say affirmation and things that people will resonate with”, like some things really happen for the better. Sometimes you fall down and you don’t know when you’re going to get back up again, but you have to remind yourself that you will overcome whatever it is that you’re going through and one closed door means that another opportunity is right at the corner. It’s encouraging and I think that’s what people want to hear.
If you could be with any artist in the studio right now, who would you collaborate with?
Right now, I would say Jhené Aiko. She’s so sweet and I feel like her aura and everything is so peaceful about her. Also, I feel like we would make very good music.
Is there any reason you have not dropped a project yet?
My EP ‘For The Better’ would be out by the time this is made public. I hope to go to Los Angeles soon and record new music with incredible songwriters.
Any future plans you would like to share with our readers?
What’s on my bucket list is to feature on an Afrobeat song. I love Afrobeat music and I feel like my voice suits it. Yes, I would totally do that! And I love the UK and I would come down there anytime.