Does Amaka Queenette's future lie in nursing or as a singing star? The answer is both
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Written by Sharine Taylor.
Amaka Queenette is the embodiment of unyielding vulnerability. The 21-year-old singer hailing from Pickering, Ont., pairs introspective, existential lyrics with ethereal production — courtesy of her producer/best friend Joshua Stanberry — as she croons about unrequited love.
Her affinity for music started in her native Nigeria, where she enjoyed the communal experience of singing in public. As a student in Pickering, she joined bands and choirs at school and church and at 14, wrote her very first song.
"I sat down and said 'I'm going to write a song,' and it just happened. It was very organic," she told CBC Music.
In 2018, she released her debut EP, Vacant, crystalizing her transition from doing music as a hobby to doing music as a career, all while pursuing studies in the medical field. "I'm in school [for] nursing," she said. "It's hard, it's time-consuming, but I've been building this [music] career out of pockets of time." Music and nursing both stem from her desire to help others, and even though she's had to navigate between her own ambitions and the expectations of her parents, she has mastered the equilibrium needed to explore each field with tenacity.
"[My parents] accept me, and it's lovely. It didn't always used to be this way. I don't know if it's me conforming because I want to make them happy or if it's [because] I literally like to be one of the more intelligent people in the room. I want to know about medication and health, but I also want to sing. I don't want to be just one thing, I want to be well rounded," she explained.
I just need to hear every variation in order to say this is the one.- Amaka Queenette
A perfectionist through and through, Amaka Queenette gets involved in every aspect of her music-making — writing, arranging, producing — and her ever-present challenge is knowing when to be content with a song. She recalls tweaking a song she wrote when she was 16 right up until last year. "I kept on getting the mixing engineer to mix it differently. I feel like I'm so picky and I don't ever want to annoy the people around me, but I just need to hear every variation in order to say this is the one thing."
Amaka Queenette's efforts haven't been in vain. Her latest project, 2020's two-track visual album fleeting inconsequential, is a harrowingly intimate confession. Loosely inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned, "Suffocate" is a meditation on "lives and loves passed," according to Amaka Queenette. But it's also a testament to the artist's lyrical dexterity and sonic exploration of the dynamics of love. On the second song, "Ceilings," she sings beautifully about the future, which she admits is a preoccupation.
"It doesn't exist. It's just imagination. [But] it takes up a lot of space in my mind," she reflects. "So ['Ceilings'] is about moments of time where you feel infinite, I guess."
Even though Amaka Queenette is just starting out, she stands firmly in her sound, inspired by an eclectic blend of rap, alt-rock/punk and neo-soul artists such as Green Day, Eminem and her favourite, Frank Ocean, whose music she scrutinizes carefully. It's because of this mosaic of influences that she prefers not to ascribe a genre to her sound.
"I have a hard time claiming R&B just because it's not the thing that inspired what my music is, but every time I have to select a genre on [streaming platforms], I always pick contemporary R&B," she says, of the desire to have more genre fluidity as a Black artist. "I love [R&B]. It's good, it feels nice, but it's not the stuff that I grew up on per se; '90s R&B didn't raise me. I feel like that's very obvious [in] my sound."
Not knowing where to fit in is a concern for the artist. "It feels quite lonely at this moment. I know that something in me craves to have community within the Canadian music scene," she admitted tearfully. "But I feel like it's OK. It's helped push me in ways that [don't require me] relying on other people to make my decisions for me. That's something that I'm thankful for, but I can tell even by this reaction that my soul craves the community of things and it's a bit difficult without it."
But the tact and drive that Amaka Queenette applies to her pursuits are steadily attracting that community. "There's two versions of me at war," she shared. "Patience — everything that's yours will come to you, keep doing the work — and the aggressive side: I want this by any means necessary."