I’ve been listening to a lot of Contemporary and Alternative R&B recently, levitating towards anything with electronic influences since lockdown began, for some random reason. It started with lots of Frank Ocean, for nostalgia, and has gracefully been guided by the cultural zeitgeists at PAUSE Her to include; Lil Halima, Crystal Murray, Herizen Guardiola—with Shay Lia now added to the playlist.
“Even when the sky is falling…you can fly” is a line from her much anticipated (and enormously appreciated) latest single, ‘All Up To You‘, released today. Inspired to “create something positive for people to dance to in these crazy times” the track is definitely a ray of summer sunshine to sway you through rockier days.
And Shay, very much an ‘effortlessly versatile talent’, has been cultivating a strong following since her critically acclaimed debut EP ‘Dangerous’ in 2019.
We sent through 5 questions for Shay and loved reading every word she wrote back— and also think she needs a biopic A$AP! ‘All Up To You’ her single, out now, delivers that dose of beat-driven R&B that we at PAUSE Her want to play!
Hey Shay! I’m really happy to have been introduced to your music through this interview. They made me feel positive, inspired, and escapist-y. Could you tell us a little more about ‘the power of words and music’ for you?
The way we speak about ourselves and the words we choose to talk about our goals tell a lot about who we are and how we perceive ourselves and our lives. To me, words and thoughts have physical power – they can shift our mind positively or negatively which can affect our life completely over time.
As a songwriter I get to be intentional with words that I want to sing on repeat. It’s so powerful! When I feel down I always make sure to create an inspirational song to keep me going and feed my spirit with positive thoughts and I’m so happy to receive positive feedback from people telling me that my latest single (All Up To You) is creating this joyful, hopeful effect on them because it’s contagious!
2020 is affecting most of us in an uncomfortable way that’s why I felt the need to release my version of a big, positive affirmation in a time of global strife. To me, it sounds and feels like a summer vacation by the beach with your loved ones… this is the power of both words and music! They can take you somewhere else. It’s a visceral experience.
Your childhood sounds very exciting and adventurous. What was being born in France and growing up in Djibouti like?
To me it was just my life, my reality. It was my “normal” but now that I look back at it, it was incredibly special and unique. I was born in Toulouse, France to parents that are in an interracial relationship which helped me avoid a lot of ignorance. We moved when I was young and I was raised in Djibouti. I had to affirm my identity my own way, while being raised in a soul-stirring environment that inspired so much curiosity and ultimately, what people refer to as authenticity.
My school field trips were to the parts of the Horn of Africa that rarely get represented in mainstream media. I have memories of being a child and playing in the Southern Red Sea where underwater life is vibrant and rich. I would hear my father speak Afar which is a language very few people speak. Djibouti was so safe and it felt like a small city full of colors, culture and beauty. A place that didn’t have time to be too influenced by western countries culturally.
I would go back to France every summer for years to visit the other part of my family so I grew up in constant duality, loving everything and accepting myself along the way. I think you can hear it in my music. I just let my soul go and create. I don’t try to copy trends or put myself in a box. Today I’m proud to be different and I cherish my childhood. I feel like I have something enriching to bring to the table.
Montreal is equally cool and so unique in North America—having lived in 3 French speaking countries now, how have they compared? Did you find any commonalities?
I’ve been able to feel a certain level of comfort in all the places I’ve lived through the language but all 3 of them are drastically different from each other. French Canadian people are closer to North Americans culturally. In Montreal, many people are bilingual and mix French and English all the time! People from France don’t have the same accent as the French Canadians (Quebecois) and they have their own expressions and way of saying things which was so surprising to me at first.
Djibouti used to be a French colony so many people there speak French there and many people speak multiple languages such as Arabic, Somali, Afar, French etc. I studied in a private French school there which was similar to the schooling you could find in France. In the city, you can feel the cultural mix that is Djibouti through all these languages, dialects and cultures.
How are you finding the experience of making music?
Making music is a spiritual experience for me. There can’t be ego – I have to focus on the art. After selecting the beat I want, I always start freestyling to it, it’s my fave part of the process, exploring with my voice and getting lost in the music, finding the tone, the main emotion, trying all kinds of things until I get butterflies in my stomach. When the butterflies come, that’s when I know I have a good melody, a potential verse, or hook. Then I listen to what I’ve recorded and try to select the best part then I structure everything into a song. Then I usually work on the lyrics after that.
Writing the lyrics is a much more cerebral experience for me. Once the lyrics are done, I like to go into the studio. I like the studio empty so that the energetic exchange is just between me and the engineer or other producers. This is when the magic happens for me and I love the experience every single time.
Listening to your songs, I definitely felt that relaxed-vacay-vibe music can give—who do you personally listen to for some sunshine?
Oh so many things! Bob Marley is essential and comforting. Listening to him reminds me of my family because my father loves Bob’s music; we play his music when we see each other. Living far away from my family is hard so Bob Marley is always helpful with that and he reminds me of what is truly important in life.
I also love playing some old soulful songs such as ‘Everybody loves the sunshine’ by Roy Ayers or some Motown classics that have such a positive infectious vibe like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross. Sometimes I’ll go back to the 90s too with Mariah Carey, I love the song ‘Honey’ for example and I always play it a lot during the summer when my feminine energy wants to come through! Other times I’ll play bossa nova music and cuban music its the Buena Vista social club! Lately I’ve been also listening to a lot of Afrobeats. I love Rema, I love Adekunle Gold, Wizkid, Tekno, Emi Alade, Stonebwoy etc. It really depends on my mood and on how I want feel but I always go for strong vibes the type that will make you smile and dance even when you feel down. Good music is supposed to take you somewhere else or bring you closer to yourself!