By: Gemma Mastroianni
Haviah Mighty is a hip hop artist from Toronto, ON. She was inspired to start a career in music by growing up around her talented family. After winning the Polaris Prize in 2019 for her hit album 13th Floor, things have only gone upward. I chatted with Haviah to discuss her success thus far, her new single "Obeah", fallouts with friends, self-care, and so much more. We are proud to have her as our artist of the month.
How have you been doing over the last year?
I've been good, I think up and down, but mostly good. I'm grateful for the opportunities that have come my way, the ability to keep making music keep doing new things, and being able to release music which is really good. I'm definately very up and down mentally which is something we are all dealing with, and I do feel the waves of that. There are times when you know, what I used to do as a musician, those kind of guarantees and the way that your progression looked like, travelling and being able to get to a new place, not having those kinds of structures in place that you're used to is tough because it's hard to know how you're progressing when you have new ways to look at it.
For example, you can't go to a show and see how your attendance is improving or see how a region recognizes you from the last time they saw you there. You don't get to see how your brand is growing in those ways, and it can be discouraging at times not knowing how people are responding to what youre doing but at the same time, the opportunity to do those things and the responses I am seeing are reminders that I'm lucky to still be making music during these times.
How do you cope through those times of mentally being up and down and stay creative?
For me, the thing that works the most is tapping into self care. When I get really distracted I have to like, make a meal from scratch to reinspire myself, or clean my space, or re-organize my car. Those things help me find my core, foundation, and solace and remember my values. In a weird way, sometimes it's the outside stuff that distracts so much that you can't be creative, so I feel like reducing the clutter when that happens is the thing that works the best for me and reminds me, outside of being a musician, who I am and what I offer.
I understand you were very influenced by your family in music growing up. I would love to hear more about that, along with what other artists played a part?
I had three older sisters who played the piano and I was in singing lessons in the same music school in Scarborough. That was my earliest introduction into music and eventually my younger brother who also produces a lot for me now, and my parents being music lovers.
My Dad hand built a sound system in the house and was always into music, playing reggae, so for me that was where early inspiration came from.
I originally got inspired from broadway and Disney because I was a child singer. I was singing a lot of the musicals and performing with the Mighty Sisters, doing that sort of thing. As I sort of started to expose myself to other things, I started to find more R&B like Lauryn Hill, and Celine Dion in the car with my parents. As I got a little older and was listening to radio on my own, I got into rap. I found rap in the 2000's like 50 Cent, Ludacris, and fell into that era of quirkier rap with cutting edge music videos. Kind of educated rap, and also fun, there was a lot of that in that era. There were well written songs that really make you think with well put together videos and cool budgets. It was a little bit different before then and now, that was the age where I was the target audience.
50 Cent was my first favourite rapper. I'm not big on favourite albums, I like a lot of individual songs and individual things that people do but 50 Cent "Get Rich or Die Tryin"record, that whole era had me for a long time. I can look back to that as a jump off point for feeling like I was good enough to be a rapper, I should be recording myself. There were a lot of artists I was listening to, but 50 Cent from the perspective of a single artist with an album and music videos, even just his ability to be a storyteller, was inspiring. I really paid attention to how he was able to tell his stories and how they would impact you even though you didn't grow up in the hood and haven't experienced any of the things he experienced. The songwriting and the way it was put together and shared, was still so impactful and I think even just the value of the strong album with a strong rollout- that whole concept I first understood it through 50 cent becoming an artist.
Looking to Eminem before that and liking his production and hearing the familiarities and similarities of Dr. Dre being involved in 50's career and Eminem, and people from the past that you kind of know their catalogue, but then now it's this newer artist with this new era. I didn't know his catalogue from the very beginning like I wasn't listening to all of his mixtapes like other people were, but once he started putting out albums in the mainstream facet that changed a lot for me in terms of understanding how marketing works and how to impact an audience.
How would you describe your experience in the music industry since winning Polaris?
My exposure. A couple of contacts reaching out now who trusted I could work on their project because of Polaris. It was kind of a validator for some people like yes, she can do this festival, produce this thing, participate in this commercial. In ways it changed moreso other peoples perceptions of what my capabilities were, and gave me the opportunity to prove myself. That kind of became more of a regularity because of Polaris, the ability to reinvest financially because of the financial aspect of Polaris, being able to put money aside and save it for the next thing you're investing in.
With the pandemic being the next thing it really helped me out to be able to afford to put music out this year without any touring budget. Touring was definitely going to be the main way I would have been able to make money this year, to be able to use that and have the foundation from Polaris and have a bit of money that was invested properly, and also getting some side back-end opportunities to work with corporate companies and stuff, it just really helped me feel invalidated internally and also see examples of being validated externally.
Do you have any advice fors up and coming artist specifically during this time?
I think my biggest advice, and I'm trying to learn to take my own advice, is that there is so much time right now. This is the time! We are all hoping for things to reopen but we've all probably complained about not having enough time in our day, "everything moves so fast, we're so busy," like we all probably have those very similar complaints.
This is one of the only times where we can't make that complaint, and hopefully it is going to go away in the next couple of months. With that being said, this time is critical time to use. Even me, I'm recognizing like, there were so many complaints I had about the inability to execute things and it's like, I should be executing more with this time, there is so much time! There are 24 hours in a day, there is content that can be created, songwriting that can happen, there are so many things to stay inspired. Yeah, every day is not going to be your most productive day, but trying to maximize these days I think is the best advice I could give to any musician.
We are never going to have this time again and what you do with this time, you can take action on that in the future when things change. There are things you can learn, other types of technology you can tap into, new ways to market. Touring is just one of those ways, there are many other ways to utilize the internet let's say for your career. Those things you haven't established yet like your social media, establish that! Work on all the things that you can do in a pandemic that are still conducive to your career because not everything requires you to travel or leave your house.
There are a lot of foundation things, even investing in a home studio. Create an environment where you create content from the house and it's cheap and inexpensive. Even a little research- learn how to use a different platform that can help you access fans. Hop on Twitch, do an Instagram live. There are a lot of things to explore and we really are too busy when we are out and about all day. Now that most of us have a real genuine break somewhere in our schedule, I think it would be really valuable for most musicians. I have done it, but I want to do it even deeper and even more to maximize the time that I have right now.
When did you start writing your new single Obeah?
Obeah is one of the earlier songs that I wrote after 13th Floor. I think I started writing that one shortly after the Polaris in 2019 sometime between September and November. I sat on it and worked on other records, but it was always one of the records that was one of the standards and one of my favourites for the longest time, and all of the other demos had to be atleast as good as Obeah.
What is Obeah?
It's interesting, a lot of people don't know what Obeah is. It's a spiritual or religious practice to some generally practiced in the Carribean and West Africa. It's very familiarized to Jamaica specifically. Most people talking about Obeah are speaking about it from a negative perspective, but it can be used for good.
It's a set of practices that can be used for spiritual healing but often times is used to manipulate a course of events. A lot of people will attribute it to Voodoo or Santeria, which are similar spiritual practices in other cultures, but often times with Obeah people will look at it as a way to put a spell on you or somebody manipulating the course of events by practicing a certain behaviour, a certain chance, or a certain interaction with a specific object that's purpose is to meddle with something in your life.
It's a very common practice in the Carribean and although some people will use it for positive, it is often described as a negative thing. When some people will say "Oh my friend went to go see the Obeah man or woman," it's generally not a good thing. It's almost like seeing a psychic except you can utilize this person to help you make or not make something happen. It's like meddling with spirits. Some people do see it as something positive so they may go see the Obeah woman to try and get a job which is more positive practice.
For me, I believe that karma and energies of the universe and how you respond to those things, what you contribute every day to society, is what dictates the good and bad that comes to you. Don't believe that any one person getting involved in that process is conducive to what that process is supposed to be. As for myself, the idea of Obeah and getting in between that process is a dangerous concept.
My Dad, being a Jamaican, growing up understanding this concept and having encountered it a lot of times, I learned a lot about it growing up. It's something I never really vibed with and there was a parallel to his teachings to me regarding Obeah and friends. There was always this focus on making sure your friends are actually your friends and how often times people come with energy that can often be discern. You can read the energy and often times you'll have people in your life that are not actually beneficial and don't want the best for you, and I've actually learned that the most in the past two to three years.
As my career has kind of gone up a little bit, I've lost my somewhat so called closest friend at the time, people who I thought were on this journey with me that I thought I was giving opportunity to, trying to show value and loyalty and recognizing that it doesn't really matter. Some people can't be there for you and where they are in their life won't allow them to be happy for you, and it's not necessarily a personal thing.
I've become very cogniscant of reading energies. I used to be not as good at it and I used to kind of let people in a lot quicker with the career. The moment someone tried to help with my career I would think they were there for the right reasons and so I think since Polaris, I really started to learn. People act really funny after things like that. They either act like they really care when they didn't, or the people that seem to care all of a sudden won't even congratulate you. You start to get really conflicted and you have to start reading energy instead of just trusting what the history of the relationship with that person was.
The parallels of Obeah and my understanding of that spiritual practice and my parents constant teaching from when I was a kid of like, 'Be careful who your friends are, be careful who you spend time with, you are what your friends are, you are what you eat," that whole idea of what you surround yourself with will become you, will be a part of you, I think I really started to understand that teaching in 2019. That's why I felt like I had to write a song about it as it was a part of my journey particularly after Polaris recognizing, "Oh wow, there is all these people around me who don't necessarily want the best for me," I was able to relate that to the concept of Obeah.
I used my Dads voice in the recording and he's in the video, my Mom is also in the video. I pulled the whole idea together that this teaching came from this person. The video depicts how that might look in the real world today and as opposed to it being a spiritual practice in the Carribean, you see that practice more-so in the Western world today almost like an everyday friendship experience that anyone could go through. It's more relatable to people that are here but should still watch out for energies and things that might not have your best interest at heart.
How was your experience collaborating with your parents?
It was great! My Dad is a little actor and movie star, he did really good. He was really stressed about his part but he maximized it. It was funny because some of the people who were involved in the process but didn't know it was my Dad were like "Did you hire an actor?" and I was like, "No, that's my Dad!" and they were like, "Wow, he did so good!" It was just funny how stressed he was the night before and then he just really did a good job.
It was a weird time with COVID stuff so I didn't know if my Mom was going to be able to come to the set, and then she was able to make it out and she appeared briefly in the party scene. It's cool to have a lot of my family in there, my sister was also the driver. It was great to have not only my family, but an awesome videography team and honestly be able to pull this concept together.
As someone who grew up never having sleep overs and never doing those normal things people do to create long terms friends, I've never really had those devastating fall outs and stuff like that. I look at how that practice has helped me today and how I do have still long-term friends. The person in the video who does me wrong is actually my best friend of 13 years and also my DJ. There's a juxtaposition of utilizing a really good friend to depict this visual, but like, I've utilized this way of thinking to eliminate that happening in this part of my life.
Now, it's almost the thing that I preach the most, especially as a musician or anyone who has oriented some sort of freelance business. If you are doing a freelance business and you have energies around you that are not helping or not conducive to this idea and this vision that you have, it's only going to pull this thing down. If you keep that thing around and facilitate that thing where you invite it over, hang with it, give it food, you're feeding something that's only going to bring you down.
It's crazy how many people have talked to me about this concept. It's a very valuable concept because when there is genuine people around, you are able to discern those things. I think it's important for self protection and when you know where you're going you have to know that whomever is around wants to see you go there and is going to push you in that direction. Just like if you meet someone you should be offering them that same thing and if you're not, you shouldn't go there.
It's just cool to be able to bring that concept to life through the visual and it was great to have my family in it. I'm excited! I think it's one of my strongest music videos that I've ever done.
What can we expect from you over the next year?
There is going to be more singles and I think we will roll it out into a body of work. I'm not aiming to put it out as an album as much as I am as a project. I think this is a great experimental year, so that's why rolling the songs out as singles is fun for me.
I can watch how each song does, determine strategies, find out what works and what doesn't, and see how people respond. This is such a weird year just like last year was, and I think we're going to have fun with the data of it all, put some music out, I've worked really hard on it. It's the next installment to the first thing that I think most people have heard from me so it's a critical time. I think we are going to assess how everything does and really communicate and be direct with the fans and that way the next thing is super awesome but this year, there is a ton more music coming.
There will be a couple of videos and I think everything is really going to step up in quality to let people know that taking a year and a half off from the 13th Floor record, doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of music to come. I want to reward the fans for this big hiatus and give them a lot of music because its been a long time.
This focus is less about this Haviah Mighty story, and more about connecting with the fans in a time where I think we need to be connecting. This is the best way to get the messages out and I can't play shows, but I can definitely put out songs and make sure they reach as many people as I can get them to, put out the best artwork and videos I can, and let people know that the train doesn't stop.
Follow Haviah Mighty on Instagram.
Watch the music video for Obeah.