• Siobhan Kelly

Covid-19 Through the Eyes of an Artist

It is no secret that the arts sector has suffered a great deal at the hands of COVID-19, especially when it comes to live performance. Last week, I was lucky enough to sit down with one of Toronto’s up and coming artists, Malaika Khadijaa, to talk about the challenges that COVID-19 has set out for artists. In the interview, we chatted about her music, how the industry might look going forward, and ways we as artists can stay inspired during this global pandemic!


First off, tell me a bit about yourself and your music!


I’m Malaika Khadijaa, a singer/songwriter from Toronto and I started music seriously around 2018, but I’ve been doing it my whole life. I love doing it, I think I do all types of music. So I obviously sing, but I’ve taught music before, and I’ve also done background vocals. I song write for other artists so I think I’m kind of all around the place. But I love doing it!


How has music/art impacted your life so far and is this something you want to pursue in the future?


I would definitely say yes. Art has been great for me; it's been a way for me to heal myself, to heal others. I’ve definitely made some really strong connections and have had really really good friendships through art. It’s ended me up in places I never thought I would be. So that's really amazing. Just thinking back to when I was in high school, I never thought that I would be doing the stuff that I have done so far. And art is just a way for me to have fun, to heal, to connect. Everybody loves art, it's a universal language. Even if it wasn’t the main thing in my life I will always always always be creative in that way because I feel like that's the way I can really express myself.


How did you get into singing and songwriting in the first place?


So, I have always done music. I started with piano lessons, then I did guitar lessons, then vocal lessons. I was always in choir, always singing singing singing. But, back in 2018 I really started taking it seriously: writing my own music, writing for others, and making it sort of business-y. I think that helped, I joined a lot of programs, I joined a lot of workshops , so I now have mentors that can help me and kind of take me on this process when I’m writing. So I think that's how I started: I would just take inspiration from other music and say ‘what do I want to write about, what do I want to say in my music, what's my main story, what's the theme?’, and then I just go from there!


What was the creative process like for your first single, “Story”?


Malaika Khadijaa

Well actually, I first recorded it last year. I went over to this producer and we just made the beat from scratch together. When I wrote that song, I think I was going through a little bit of a transition in my life: who was in my life, what I was doing, and what my main focuses were. So that story kind of came about- you have to write your own narrative and your own story without feeling judged by others or without fearing what's coming next. And so it's like, I’m on my own journey, whatever happened in the past happened, but let me kind of tell that to people and let me share it without, you know, cause people always come into your life and try to say this and that. So it's like, let me do it, I’ll take it on, let me tell my story.


You recently came out with a visual to go along with the song! How did that idea come about?


So it's super funny because it took awhile for me to do the song just because I had a lot of things going on. But, I didn't really have anything visually planned at first. And I remember I had my last session to really finalize the song a week before the lockdown. So then, I had to take it upon myself and say ‘okay, there's a lockdown, all these things are going on, I am going to take this opportunity to, you know, create something like on the spot.” So I figured, it's my story: How can I show that visually? So I went in and took a bunch of home videos and things that kind of represent me up until now and that was my visual. So I just got all the things, edited it myself, put it out there, and yeah! A lot of people really liked it because I feel like they got to see a little insight into my life. And home videos are always cute. It was super last minute but it worked out perfectly.


As an artist, how has covid-19 impacted you and your music?


I would say that at the beginning, I was in shambles and kind of all over the place. Before the lockdown I was very ‘go go go, do school, do work, and then do something with music’. But then I had to stop and think ‘okay, what am I gonna do now?’. I feel like I was also doing a lot of stuff for other people, and so I would just have a task, I could complete that task and then move on to the next. But when the lockdown happened I couldn’t do that, I had to focus on myself, which was kind of like, woah, for me. I really had to focus on what my next goals were in my music and what was gonna happen next. I released the song in April, and I thought ‘okay I did that, but now what?’. It took me a while to figure that out, but I was fortunate enough to do a lot of cool things: I did tons of Instagram live shows in the beginning, some online workshops, and I got to watch a lot of panels that were going on because of Covid. So I guess I did benefit musically from this, just because I got to focus on my art instead of other people’s. So that was really good for me. Now I know when my next songs are coming out and I’m planning next year as well, so it really gave me a lot of that time to really think about my stuff, which I wasn’t doing before.


Seeing as this pandemic has taken a definite toll on the arts sector, it has caused many artists to rethink a future in the field. Has this been something that you have grappled with lately?


I think that in terms of art, the live shows have kind of gone down, but there’s so many different ways that you can do art. So, I would never say that I would ever reconsider not doing art. I think I’m always going to do art. But that being said, you should always have something else that you do. I teach music, but I also teach other things and I work with social media too. So, I am doing other things. I won’t say that I’m just doing music because that wouldn’t get me by, but I feel like everything I do is intertwined. So I’m doing music but I’m also working with social media, design, and that also really helps me. So I haven't really rethought it. I think if anything I’ve just been more willing to do this, because even though this pandemic has taken a lot of things from us, I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities from this as well. It’s been amazing.


Do you see live arts returning to us if this can come to an end? If so, how do you think the live arts would look?


Honestly, I do think that they will come back because I’ve seen it happen already. Just little concerts in the park, I feel like people are willing to go. I feel like live music is something that people really enjoy. Even myself, I'm a concert junkie, I go to concerts like every two weeks. I definitely think it will come back, but for now I’ve been seeing a lot of live shows or drive-in shows. Even for me as a backup vocalist I’m doing a show that's just pre-recorded and then they put it out. So, it definitely will be back soon. But for now, I definitely think live is what’s happening and outdoor/smaller venues. But I think it’ll come back, I think people will still come to live shows.


Can you speak to your experience with music while in lockdown? Has quarantine been a roadblock for you and your writing, or has it been the opposite?


At the beginning, it was definitely a roadblock. Again, I felt like I was in shambles: I didn't know what to write about, what to do, and how to figure it out. But once I did figure it out, I really got into it, and I was writing like a song a day. I had a bunch of songwriting sessions with some friends. We would just write three songs even if it was just about nothing, but just to write and express yourself in that way, and to have that outlet. I definitely did a lot of writing, and I'm excited to see the final product of the songs that I've written in this time because this is a crazy time, so it will be interesting to look back on it and how it affected me. I've definitely been writing a lot and been really creative.


Are there any tips you have for other aspiring artists on how they can remain positive and fueled during Covid-19?


Honestly I would say to take your time, cause it's not that easy for everybody to just be positive. I know some people, they would do a live show once a week, and now, they can't do anything. For me it wasn't like that, like it was for some people. Really, just take your time and when it comes to you it'll come to you. And then, you would definitely enjoy it more than forcing it. Also, I would say that during this time don't feel pressured to be super creative, or when you create, you don't have to make it super deep and super intellectual. You can just write about a tree and that's it, you know, but that's writing, and it's something. So definitely start small, no pressure, take your time, because when you do that, the result after will be worth it.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?


For artists, just keep going. I feel like things will pass, and even though they might be different, art is art at the end of the day. It's everywhere and you can never escape it, so just embrace it!


Malaika’s creative inspiration is drawn mostly from her east African and Caribbean background. With her genre leaning towards alternative R&B, she always finds a way to infuse her culture into her music. Her musical inspirations include Solange, Cleo Sol, Daniel Caesar, and Mariam Makeba. At the young age of 17, Malaika is a powerful singer-songwriter providing background vocals for some of the most talented artists in the Greater Toronto Area.


In 2019, Malaika founded LUMINARY which is an organization dedicated to supporting young artists by helping them spread love and light through their art. Being a young artist herself, she understands the struggles of entering the industry with little to no knowledge, and now wants to help others avoid the same problems she has experienced. She recently released her first-ever single entitled “Story”, a song about transformation and writing your own narrative without fear of judgment from others, and from yourself. It is now available on all streaming platforms.