Just when the Nigerian music scene was yearning for a fresh infusion of feminine energy, Suliyat Abdulsalam burst onto the scene in 2020, adopting the moniker Liya. This young songstress found herself entangled with Davido Music Worldwide, thanks to the guiding hand of Davido, who had discovered her earlier that year.
With her debut EP titled “Alari,” Liya’s star potential shone brightly through her unique blend of soul, R&B, and pop. Her storytelling approach, evident in songs like “Olodumare” and “Alari,” drew favorable comparisons to the likes of Angeliqué Kidjo, while her melodious voice and distinctive style marked her as the Aaliyah of our era.
Following a brief hiatus from the limelight, Liya has returned with a mesmerizing two-track single titled “I’m Done” and “Powerful.” Her comeback signifies the inception of her solo career, as she parts ways with her former label, signaling a newfound confidence and a more expressive visual dimension to her artistry.
The fusion of her Yoruba heritage with her music has consistently showcased the profound depth of Liya’s songwriting prowess. Her reentry into the industry comes laden with the weight of her ideas, seamlessly transitioning from ink to melodies. Above all else, her unwavering commitment to her artistry remains at the core of her focus, she emphasizes.
During an interview with one of Africa’s renowned entertainment blogs, Liya delved into her recent departure from Davido Music Worldwide, her exploration of her creative identity as an independent artist, and her aspirations to make an indelible mark in the realms of fashion and lifestyle. Below is an excerpt from the conversation:
How do you feel right now being independent or are you signed on somewhere else?
No, I’m not. It feels really good. Given that there is no huge difference between then and now, it just feels better. We get to do more for ourselves and reach out to people for help; just making things happen, basically. That’s what we are all about.
I am interested in the creative shift behind your music; what motivated this move?
I would say my guys; my amazing team really inspired this move. We just decided to move. We were tired of wishing for things; we felt you only live once. Now, we have dropped these two singles and it’s been really amazing.
Is there going to be any change in your style of music?
I feel like change is constant. As a person, you should want to be different from who you were. And I would really say that change is more of experimenting sounds off my first EP. I think it’s still the same; I’m basically just evolving. And I feel like if you love somebody enough, you will evolve with them.
What type of story is Liya trying to tell right now?
Like I said earlier, if you listen to ‘Alari’ very well, you will actually hear some keys from this new project, in Alari. The sound and rhythm are so powerful. In as much as there was chanting and stuff, I still made sure I infuse that into this new sound. And when I was done, I think it was more about the lyrics. I was trying to be very particular. I was trying to cater to non-speaking Yoruba audience. At least, if you don’t understand Yoruba, you’ll understand pidgin or English.
What’s a typical creative process for Liya?
How do I make music? The music I was listening to back then (6:40), till now, I’m a mix of them all; (7:00), Jorja Smith.
That’s an interesting blend…
I just wanted to hit people deep as it is hitting me. You know, just put in the sound, the vibe, everything.
Do you have a larger project in the works, may be an album or an EP coming up?
I thought I would be dropping one stuff immediately after my first EP in 2021. It was meant to be sometime in September, but due to reasons beyond my control, I couldn’t. So the initial plan was to drop another project after that. And you know, the timeframe between that project then and now was too long. I felt I wasn’t really keeping up with being consistent. I wish I could have done more, but I didn’t want to reintroduce myself, like restarting. I didn’t want to lead people into that project; I wanted people to ease into this new song. That was one of the reasons why I at least did two single packs, instead of doing a single. I have features that are coming, and it’s going to be fun.
What is the inspiration behind the new feminine emphasis in your visual storytelling?
That’s from me, tapping into places and sources that I am not used to tapping into. I’m in a society where it is hard to be a woman. As a woman, when you are expressing yourself, people think that you’re mad. So, when I recorded these two songs, I wanted to really tap into that feminine energy. I wanted to be as vulnerable as possible, as fierce as I voice it, like I don’t care. Aside from the fact that I am trying to experiment with sounds, I wanted to be different from what I’m used to. I wanted something that would stress me out a little bit, put me out of my comfort zone. And I’m done. I was showing vulnerability and it’s good to be vulnerable as a person and as a woman. There is nothing wrong with that. I feel like it makes us powerful and we should just enjoy it.
So, it’s more authentic than what we used to see before?
Yes, more authentic. More feminine, vulnerable; there’s no shame in being vulnerable.
Are those the themes that you’re going to be exploring in your larger project?
I’m going to be experimenting with some sounds from Alari too. I’m still trying to carry everybody along – my old and new fans – into this new phase. I’m not trying to rush anybody or rush myself too. We are just going to enjoy ourselves.
Why and how did you find yourself in music?
I’m from Osun state and we do a lot of music. The drummers, the masquerades, a lot of songs, chants. I’m a Muslim too. I attended a lot of Arabic school growing up. I don’t know if you are familiar with Arabic, but the sound, the language itself, carries a lot of fun sounds that almost seems like you are singing. I tapped into all these while growing up, coupled up with a lot of Muslim friends. I also sneaked to church with my Christian friends just to go dance and choreograph with them on Sundays or some nice week days. And my friends realised I loved it, and they just let me do my thing.
Again, my mum and I will always sing while we do house chores, yet I never really knew I could do music full time as a job or as a career. As time went by, I got admission into the University of Ilorin and I just tapped into the music phase. At a time, I just wanted to be a singer.
How was the acceptance when you just started juggling this?
If I wasn’t going to be a singer, I would have been an athlete because I love sport and I did a lot of that growing up. But I just love music more than anything. It’s something that I have passion for, that I am not scared of doing. I wasn’t always a ery expressive person, but now I do music and I get to express myself.
Tell us some of your hobbies or things you enjoy doing when you are not making music.
When I am not making music, I hit the gym. I like to watch movies and read books just for fun. I’m a fan too. I like being home. I am only outside when I have to be outside or it’s
or it’s work-related.
Where is your favorite place to write music?
Sometimes I write it in the bathroom. You just hear some melody flying left and right.
What is the quickest song you’ve ever written?
I think it was Alari. I didn’t write it; it just came off hand. That day was like they just brought it. It was as if I switched bodies with something when I recorded it. It was at night during the curfew imposed in the wake of COVID-19.
What’s your top two Liya songs?
Years Ago. In fact, Years Ago is a sound that in years to come, I’ll still be chopping money on a steady, and I’ll be working and chilling. I also like Okay. Okay is not out yet, but it’s going to be in my next project.
So, what’s your vision right now for your music?
I want to do a lot of things in Liya; more than music. I want to do fashion. I want to explore makeup. I want to explore so many things. The Liya brand is bigger than just music. It will be interesting, trust me. You guys should be on the lookout.
Finally, if you would define Liya in a single word or a phrase, what would that be?
Fierce. I like ‘fierce.’ Liya is on an I-don’t-give-a-damn level right now. Liya is just expressing herself right now.