Toronto and Jamaican raised artist, Safiya Oni, talks about her new album, The Beauty of Loyalty. Influenced by Sade and Bob Marley, Safiya’s new release is about “loyalty,” and combines her very strong song writing and singing talents to this must have album.
The SPITslam Group (Kate G): Your new album, The Beauty of Loyalty, is full of emotion and gentle sass. Is there commonality between the songs when you wrote them, and what drove the lyrics for the songs?
Safiya: Yes, the commonality between the songs is loyalty. I wrote the songs in the summer of 2012. I had been going through life like we all do – people, places, love, loss betrayal, laughter, joy and yearning. The Beauty Of Loyalty title track is about the loyalty an abused child has to the child’s abuser. Ride or Die is about the loyalty a couple has toward each other. You Haven't Lived is about the loyalty you have to yourself when you're single. Fire is about loyalty and honor in life, a code of honor which is sometimes rare these days.
The SPITslam Group: Tell us about your grandmother’s influence on who you are now as an artist.
Safiya: My grandmother's influence on me is very big. After I was born in Toronto, what is now so affectionately called The Six, I went to go live with her in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, what we call "Sainty" for short. She is the first person to introduce me to singing. When I was just 3 1/2 years old, she taught me how to sing and she put me in front of the Town's Christmas Holiday concert. I had no idea it'd be the entire freaking town. I just remember when I finished singing, the crowd was so loud (applauding for an encore). I ran off stage and my grandma nudged me back on stage. It was the greatest feeling.
My grandmother also had all kinds of music always playing in her house. I loved it. It was the happiest time. So from her, I heard so many different genres from country music to of course reggae music. I just remember always seeing Bob Marley on TV dancing with the children and loving the melodies. I remember asking my grandmother, “who is that man?” She was like, "That’s one of our greatest musicians Bob" – In Jamaica they call him Bob. I can go on – there's so many good memories of how I grew into loving music.
The other cool thing is when I went back to Toronto to live with my mom. She had a piano in her living room, and with some randomness, I taught myself how to play it at around 4-5 years old. God bless her heart – dragging me to recitals on the bus in the dead of winter. She's perhaps jaded now becasue of it, I'm sure. But every time I sing today she lights up into this different person. Music is magical.
The SPITslam Group: Fire combines R&B and reggae. Will we see you continue to combine the two in future projects?
Safiya: What's crazy about Fire is that I had that beat since like 2009 . . . trying to figure out the best way to do it justice. I left it for a while. Then I came back to it. I'm glad I did. I love R&B, Hip Hop, R&B Reggae . . . I love Ska music . . . pretty much anything infused with Reggae Love. It's just in me.
The new R&B Reggae song I have releasing soon is called Best Friends. It's on my new album TAO. I think people will be pleasantly surprised. I will continue to merged the two genres together in harmony of course.
The SPITslam Group: Who are some of the artists who have influenced you?
Safiya: I am influenced by a wide variety of artist. Literally hundreds. However, my biggest influences are Bob Marley and Sade. Bob Marley and the Wailers have made some the most gangster tunes in history, and some of the most emotionally moving and empowering music. It's everything to me.
Sade is like . . . euphoric. That's the best way I can describe the band’s impact on me. There's this feeling of pensiveness throughout their entire discography.
With both artists, what has always amazed me at a very young age is when I'd read the liner notes . . . and see that Sade writes all of her own shit, and Bob well . . . he was a genius.
I just was like damn. They created all their own shit. Wrote every last friggin word. Up until when I got a little older, I didn't realize other people could buy songs from other people and sing them as their own. Up until then my definition of a music artist was someone who wrote their own songs. They shared their soul. As a child this was my view because of the large impact Bob Marley and Sade had on me.
The reason I was amazed at this was because I felt like I knew them a little, I felt as if I understood their plights, heartbreaks and struggles. They taught me so much. I was amazed at their bravery and courage to bare their soul.
Other artists who influence me . . . omg, I feel like this answer is tough. So here I go . . . if I forget anyone just know I love you. My influences are: Mary J Blige, Olive (look them up, they're ill), Marcia Griffiths, Patti LaBelle, Celia Cruz, Lauryn Hill, Chaka Kahn, Billie Holiday stays in my car all the time, B-52's, Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan is huge for me, Queen Latifah is like everything, Salt N Pepa, Lil Kim, Jay Z's entire body of work I love, Wu Tang, Janet Jackson is my icon forever, Whitney Houston, Michee Mee, Tara Chase, Esthero, Ivan Santilli, Mariah, Erykah Badu got me through boarding school, Aalyiah got me through catholic school, TLC, Lenny Kravtiz, Wynton Marsalis – I saw him live – he's impeccable, Radiohead – I could write a 10 page essay on them, Selena, of course and JLO whom I affectionately call "JLO inc", Bryan Adams, Sarah McLauchlan, Shania Twain, Madonna, Chris Botti – saw him live a couple times – he's lovely, Lady Saw, Beenie Man, Barrington Levy . . . . I'm going to stop now . . . wait omg Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty album, DMX’ Flesh of My Flesh Blood of my Blood, Q-Tip’s Amplified and anything by Nas, Pac and Big – truly got me through high school. Of course Missy's Supa Dupa Fly forever changed me I had two copies of that album. There's a rapper who lives inside of me; this I'm sure. Lmao
Currently I listen to a lot of 70's R&B music and 70's Reggae. But when I'm driving, I listen to jazz and trap music, like Juicy J, Jeezy, TI and Gucci. I didn’t get into Gucci until late. I met him when I was in Atlanta. He's like the nicest guy. He and Wacka are like regular guys. I didn't realize I was even speaking to Waka when I met him, that’s how cool he is. So different from his persona on record. Music is a dope thing.
Overall, with my musical influences, my thing is melody and motivation. That's what gets me. And that's what I infuse in my own music.
But when it's all said and done if I’m having a really rough day I turn on Sade or Bob Marley.
The SPITslam Group: How did you end up connecting with Chuck?
Safiya: Chuck D and I connected via Twitter. It’s pretty dope. That's like the last person on earth I'd ever expect to notice my music or tweets. He's like the Chairman of the Board for Hip Hop music. Like that shareholder you want to make sure you don't fuck up around.
So at first I was like? Is that his real account? But yeah, I am grateful for his guidance in regards to the business of the industry.
We connected over the unfortunate event of Trayvon Martin (blessings to him and his family). I had a lot to say about that event, the media circus around it and more. Particularly because I have 5 brothers. Plus I'm 5'10 and go jogging in a hoodie all the time. It could've been me like for real. It could've been anyone of us. So I was furious on some Twitter rant. Long story short we connected via that. That and basketball, Lmao. I understand Teach is a loyal Knicks fan... whatevrrrrr. I refer to Chuck D as Teach or Sensei out of respect for him and what he's contributed to Black History. He's got a vast well of knowledge in the music and entertainment industry. So I feel very blessed to be able to call him a mentor.
The SPITslam Group: Anything else you have going on?
Safiya: Yes, my new album TAO is releasing this year and I hope people love it as much as I do.
Kate G is Kate Gammell for Update Reports on The SPITdigital SLAMjamz Recording Label Group