Following the release of her debut EP, we caught up with the DMW starlet on the journey so far and what's next for her.
On Wednesday, August 25th, Liya is possibly the happiest person in the world. Sporting a wide grin, she’s bursting at the seams with an unexplainable excitement. It could be because she finally released her debut project a week ago. Or maybe it’s the overwhelmingly positive response she’s received since then. Whatever the reason, she certainly seems unphased by the rigorous post-promotional processes common after a project’s release.
“Yeah, there have been too many back-and-forths, like ‘Liya we need to do this, Liya we’ve not done that,’” she says of the album’s aftermath during our Zoom call. She’s sitting at a desk nestled in a sparse area in her residence, wearing a dark red shirt and a diamond-crusted “30 Billion Gang” necklace around her neck. “You know I’ve been getting congratulatory messages. People are thanking me: ‘God bless you for this EP, thank you.’ It’s been amazing so far. The reception towards the EP has been great.”
Last year, Liya unexpectedly got her long-awaited breakthrough when Davido signed her to his imprint, DMW. She tells me how an outing with a friend led to a meeting with one of the label’s acts, Peruzzi. The “Somebody Baby” crooner heard her (then-unreleased) new song, “Melo” – recorded just two days before their chanced meeting – and was stunned by what he heard. It was so good, he couldn’t resist spreading the word about it. “When Peruzzi heard ‘Melo’, he was like ‘play it again’,” she says, flashing back to that life-changing moment last year. “We got to the club, and Davido was just sitting in this corner. Next thing Peruzzi is whispering something to David. Later, I was in front of David. [He] was like, ‘I hear say you bad,’ and I’m like ‘I’m trying.’ It was noisy in the club, but David instructed them to play my song in the club. Then they stopped the song in the club and played mine. And he was stunned by what he heard [and said]: ‘F**k, you bad, I wan sign you.’”
That was how Liya – born Abdulsalam Suliyat Modasola – got her first big break. The spotlight immediately shone on her: music enthusiasts sought to unravel the mystery around this new Davido signee. But while she owes her sudden rise to fame to Davido’s – DMW’s at large – enormous social capital, she attributes her current sonic output to years of childhood practice. She remembers singing as early as she was seven.
Forming a mini-band of sorts with her mother, they often sang while they performed house chores. Her religious background also had a huge influence on her music. “I attended this Arabic school when I was little,” she tells me. “We did a lot of music classes. There was also this Cherubim and Seraphim church behind where we stayed in Alapere, Ketu. You know these C&S churches, they always have these celebrations and festivals, singing spiritual songs. Subconsciously all of these were in my mind, and I’ll also go to church sometimes with my friends. I joined the choir too. And there was also the time I was working in a hotel; a live band was always playing. I just knew I loved music. I feel the only way to express myself is through singing.”
Liya’s first studio session happened in 2014. The first song she put out was a cover of Rihanna’s “Stay”. “That was my first time in the studio,” she recalls. “I was so excited.” I imagine that’s what she derives joy from the most – being in a place she’s comfortable enough to make music happily. “I enjoy doing it,” she adds, confirming my suspicions. “It just gives me joy, and it also makes me happy that people are loving what they’ve heard from me.”
Last month, Liya released her first body of work, Alari. Sonorous in its texture, it perfectly elucidates her inner thoughts through themes of gratitude and introspection while showcasing her artistry’s most striking points. With only one guest appearance — from her label boss, Davido — Liya is in absolute control of the narrative.
Before the EP, many weighed Liya’s sonic abilities solely on the strength of her debut song, “Melo”, which didn’t prove convincing enough as a standout debut. Interestingly, Liya understands the reactions to it. While a solid effort, “Melo” wasn’t a strong enough yardstick for listeners to deduce her sound. And while several music blogs and tastemakers listed her as one of the artists to watch for the year, numerous listeners were skeptical of her exact bearing as an artist. Liya believes Alari has dispelled those doubts; now, people can attempt to understand her artistry with six songs and not just one. “I’ve [also] been getting a lot of apologies from people after they listened to my project. I’ve gotten messages like, ‘I’m sorry I doubted you, I’m taking it back.’ People [often] feel that their opinions actually count, but sometimes they don’t,” she says, smiling knowingly.
One of the most poignant cuts off the EP is “Years Ago”, where she reflects on her come-up journey. On the track, Liya stirs up heartfelt emotions with a delightful blend of dazzling percussion and swirling melodies. “I just want people to be proud of themselves,” she says. “There’s a difference in how people see you and how you see yourself. I want people, the listeners, everyone who comes across this EP to see that they’re amazing. A lot of people are depressed right now. A lot are not happy. People are going through a lot of things. I want them to see themselves as someone important to the existence of this world. Have that conviction that: If I’m not here, I don’t think this world is going to be what it is.”
“I made “Years Ago” after I got signed,” she recounts. “I [made it] around April/May. I feel everything in my life inspired me to [make the song]. I was being honest [and] thankful, and I guess that’s the reason you can feel the emotions in the sound – because I always like to show it in my music. You can feel it in my music; you can feel if I’m sad or angry or just having a moment. “Years Ago” was about everything: my life as a person from scratch, to the present place where I am.”
Even though she’s still a fresh face – as I write this, it’s barely a month to her first year in the industry – Liya operates with a free mind. Her ideals are rooted in letting things happen naturally and unforced. This also seeps into her creative process: “The way my producer and I record, we don’t record like we’re preparing for a project,” she tells me. “We record because we love it; because we enjoy it. We record from the depths of our hearts. Sometimes we’d be recording, and I’ll just be jumping up and down. My producers are always telling me to calm down, but I’m enjoying it. So we don’t always take our recording too [seriously] – we just enjoy the moment. [We] let the vibe flow and make some awesome music.”
Liya created most of the songs on Alari while she was still an independent artist: “Lakiriboto” in July; “Melo” a few days before she met Davido and “Olodumare” in 2020’s ending days. As is evident on many of the project’s tracks, Liya aims to lead listeners to a place of gratitude. After a year defined by isolation and loss, she steers away from the unpleasant happenings, choosing instead to appreciate the divine creator for the good news that came her way.
Liya’s new path is clearly defined now. She has tunnel vision, solely focused on finishing this journey she’s begun. She hints at some features planned for release later this year. And with a host of collaborations with fashion labels coming, it’s certainly her time now.