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Naya Ali recognized with inaugural Black Canadian Music Award

The Concordia grad is a rising hip-hop star set on making it internationally
February 15, 2021
By Suzanne Bowness

Naya Ali is just one of six recipients of the inaugural Black Canadian Music Awards, presented by the SOCAN Foundation. | Photo: Neil Mota

Naya Ali, BA 11, is one to watch, a rising star in the rap world recently recognized with an inaugural SOCAN Foundation Black Canadian Music Award, and the only one out of six winners to hail from outside Ontario.

Born in Ethiopia, Ali immigrated to Montreal with her mother as a toddler. In her teens, she began writing poetry and immersing herself in the artistic community of Montreal’s Côte-des Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough.

“The music scene back then was pretty well known within the neighbourhood,” says Ali. “There are so many different cultures that add to the diversity of Montreal. It definitely influenced me in the sense that it made me the person I am today.”

A dream deferred and then reclaimed

While at Concordia, Ali threw herself into her studies in the Community, Public Affairs and Policy program, while minoring in Spanish. She looks back on those student days fondly. “University is the best way to meet different people. Besides getting your education, you’re networking with people from completely different backgrounds and environments,” she says. “It’s a great learning experience that opens you to new horizons, different ideas and different worlds.”

But it was also at that time that Ali stopped making music. Worried about the viability of a music career, she got a job in marketing, becoming involved in entrepreneurship. Yet while her work focused on developing possibilities for others, she slowly came to realize that she needed to find her own. “I was very unfulfilled,” says Ali. “Although I love marketing, even today, there wasn't any purpose [for me] behind it.”

She decided to go back to music, almost as a form of therapy. “Suddenly I thought, what if everything I was looking for outside of myself was always in me? What if I am that million-dollar idea that I’ve always chased?” she says. “So, I directed my efforts and focus to invest in myself — and that's how the journey began.”

An upward trajectory

“University is a great learning experience that opens you to new horizons, different ideas and different worlds,” says Ali. | Photo: Neil Mota

Within a year, Ali’s life had changed. In 2018, she released her first single “Ra Ra,” which led to a manager and signing with Coyote Records. “When I did that, I had a confirmation that I was on the right path,” she says. “Everything just came together.”

Since then, Ali’s upward trajectory has continued. In 2020, she released the first part of her album Godspeed, with the second half to be released this year. Now she aspires to keep building her music nationally and internationally. The SOCAN award has only boosted her ambitions to do so.

“It's an honour,” says Ali of the recognition. “One of the great parts about this award is to be recognized by your peers. At the same time, it feels good that the award gives an opportunity to those who have a harder time being seen in the mainstream.” Almost equally exciting as the award, says Ali, is the boost in awareness of her work.

“The number of people who have discovered me is greater than anything that I can imagine.”

What does Ali recommend for students who are thinking about how to move their own dreams forward? Her top advice is not to be afraid to fail. “Don’t wait for everything to be perfect,” she says. “Go for it, learn and then build on what you’ve learned.”

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