Published Jul 11, 2019Being born in Mogadishu, Somalia and arriving to Canada as a refugee at a young age are experiences that inform the life and music — including her new EP, Black Dove — of Toronto singer-songwriter Amaal. It has shaped her career path and the obstacles, both external and internal, that were in her way of realizing her goal of becoming a successful recording artist but they've only made her stronger, more resilient.
"Making music," she tells Exclaim! in an interview, "wasn't something that I thought was ever a possibility, to be honest."
After realizing victories as an independent artist — releasing well-received singles such as "With You," "Mufasa" and "Words Revealed" on social media platforms — the arrival of Black Dove, her first major label project (it's out July 12 courtesy of Public Records / Universal Music Canada), marks an opportunity to show the world who Amaal is.
Her musical story began with the civil war broke out in Somalia in the early '90s, and Amaal and her traditional Muslim family emigrated to Toronto. There, she gravitated to arts and music, initially as a form of expression.
"Where I'm from it's quite a taboo look for women to make music. It's not something that's encouraged. I didn't have music in my household growing up; it was something that I discovered on my own in high school," she says.
"It was getting my first job and being able to buy my first CD, which was Alicia Keys. I was also going back and discovering artists from a different era that everyone knew but I'd never heard of. I was really gravitating towards artists like Nina Simone, who had incredible vocals but also used her platform and her music as a way of spreading awareness of social issues that were affecting her and her community."
Her early music had an outward focus, speaking on themes of social consciousness, awareness and empowerment. But the six-track Black Dove looks inward: tracks like "Not What I Thought," "Coming & Going" and "Scream" focus on her personal struggles and triumphs.
It's something that she initially wasn't ready to explore.
"I came to Canada at a pretty young age. But for me, growing up, I felt like I lived in two worlds. At home, I was in Somalia, but outside I was a Canadian girl — and the difficulty was balancing the two. It was figuring out that balance without offending my parents and still respecting my roots and heritage that I come from. I felt like I had a story, coming to Canada as a refugee and being raised in that sort of environment; I realized the possibility to use my voice to share our stories."
Since then, Amaal says, "I've kind of drifted off into making music about my relationships. But that was the core and when I realized I could do this."
Black Dove is the culmination of who she is at this point in life: a woman of Somali heritage, a Canadian and an artist leveraging her past to propel her art forward.
Black Dove is an expression of growth and freedom, to hear her say it.
"I know I've had great opportunities come my way and I'm very happy and ecstatic for them. But the reality is those things wouldn't come my way if I didn't make changes within myself — coming to myself as a woman and getting comfortable in my skin," she says.
"I'm just caring less, in the most respectful way, about what other people think. I'm putting myself as the priority."