An Interview with Saliyah Itoka, Queens-born Trinidadian and West African Singer-Songwriter

Saliyah Itoka is a singer and a songwriter and a model, and if you watch her perform, you’ll realize she does have a plan to kill everyone in the room.

Saliyah Itoka

One of the best things about my gig here is that, by default, I have to expose myself to every type of music. I have to challenge myself, because it’s easy to ask a rocker what kinds of strings they use if you’re into electric guitars. But it’s a challenge to run across a singer/songwriter that’s out of your depth.

I connect with Saliyah and we discuss our best cocktail mixes.

Liam Sweeny: I’m listening to What You Doing, the video on Youtube. I love your style, it’s great. A sense I get from you by your lyrics is that you’re a strong, confident woman and you are in absolute command of what’s around you and what’s in your world. How much of what we see of you as a performer and how much is actually you?

Saliyah Itoka: What my audience sees from me as a performer is actually all me. I’m still learning to be comfortable as a performer and that comes from the type of shows I do. And it comes from reading the room and being confident that I can command the room. But everytime you see me hit the stage; I’m aiming to be the best.

LS: I’m learning about you from listening to your videos. You’re a singer/songwriter, and I’ve heard plenty of them, but I’ve not heard anyone bringing what you’re bringing. I fully admit this is me; I’m a rock guy. So let me ask simpler questions due to my own personal lack of depth. When and how did you get started singing and writing songs?

SI: I started singing when I was 3 years old, and I started writing songs at 11 years old. I’ve always loved to write and I’ve always been fascinated with how my favorite artists wrote their songs. I used to open the CD and read the paper insert and see how the lyrics were formatted and I would write them out myself. I studied artists like Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, and Sade in regards to their writing and composition. As far as singers, I listened to a variety of artists growing  up but I’ve always gravitated towards R&B and the artists that I idolized for singing were Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, and Tamia.

LS: Some people have an aim, or an inner vision with what they want to create or produce and they’re never there yet, stuck in a home studio with every instrument on earth. Then there are people who just pick and grin and smile and will pick and grin forever. Do you have a vision for what you write now and what you want to write?

SI: It depends on a few factors. Sometimes, I’ll get a random line or melody that pops into my head and I’ll write it down quickly so I can build on it later. Other times, it depends on the track that I’m given or the vibe I get from the track. And there are instances where the vision of what I want to write about will just appear and I  just follow its course until its completion.

LS: Music transcends our differences and puts our hearts in the hearts of others, and that is an amazing property. But music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. None of our lived experiences are the same. As a black woman in America, you have to share your experience to audiences that won’t get it. How do you try to reach them? Do you try?

SI: I believe that being and staying authentic to your true self is how you reach greater audiences. And I also believe that being open to having those conversations and asking the questions is how we reach understanding. As a black woman in America, I want to be able to express my experience in the way that I have lived in and hope for it to be a roadmap or even a glimpse into understanding who I am as an artist as well as a human being.

LS: You were nominated for the 2022 Listen Up awards. As I write this, the 2023 awards are coming. By the time you get this, you might be twice-nominated, or you might be a winner. This is a fan awards thing; we don’t vote for anything. Do you have something to say to the fans? Do you want to nominate anybody?

SI: To my fans, I just want to say thank you for all of the support. It’s heartwarming to be a consideration for a nomination. I appreciate everyone who has taken the time out to listen to my music and have followed my journey and I can’t wait for you all to see what I have in store. As far as me nominating anybody, there are so many people that I can see being nominated. There are a lot of artists who are really stepping out of their comfort zone and really showing their talents from the 518.

LS: You are also a model on top of being a singer/songwriter. I love it when people have some other cool thing on top of being a musician. I figure you have more to pull from. We are getting out of an age where modeling was abusive on women in the sense of body image. How do we reform the modeling industry? Any ways that aren’t easily seen?

SI: I think we should understand that everyone is beautiful in their own way and that there is a market for everyone. I think that the flaws that each of us have make us unique and that not everyone is going to fit into the same category. With that said, there is a market out there for everyone and I believe that every single one should be showcased. It doesn’t matter what size or fit or shape you are, you are beautifully made. I feel that the stigma that a model should only look like this versus a model that looks like that puts unneeded pressure and unneeded expectations on the mind. We are all beautiful and we need to keep an open mind in the discussions of what beauty is because the definition is different for everyone.

This article was originally featured on RadioRadioX

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