The young, Somalia –born, Ottawa based Sulekha Ali, a recording artist on a lyrical journey to global greatness, continues to mesmerize her fans with new hit singles including Hooyo
and Time and Time
Sulekha arrived in Canada at the tender age of 4 years after her family fled the protracted civil conflict in Somalia. Her family settled in the Canadian Capital where she went to school and excelled all the way to University level graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (BA Hons) degree in Human Rights from Carleton University. Her choice of post-secondary studies has largely influenced her music, which is loaded with socially-conscious lyrics.
In an exclusive telephone interview with the Digital Journal’s Farid Omar, the multi-talented, highly philosophical, university-educated singer said that she made her entry into the recording industry a year ago in the most unlikely fashion. The defining moment came during a house Karaoke stint in the presence of a close friend.
“I hit the musical scene accidentally while watching an ex-factor episode with a friend. In a Karaoke stint that followed, I sang for my friend in the dark and I even felt shy doing so. Suddenly, I realized that my friend was crying. She was struck and dazzled by my natural voice. This is how I unwittingly discovered my inborn singing talent. It never occurred to me I could be that good and I felt that a divine destiny was guiding me into the realm of music.”
Upon graduation from University, the shy, poetically-inclined singer and songwriter found herself in an occupational limbo that many Canadian university graduates face today.
“With a university degree under my belt, I was naive to think that all doors would open automatically for me. Instead, I ended up in a 9-5 routine working out of a bank in an occupation that did not reflect my academic credentials” said Sulekha
Being an artistic person, Sulekha quickly turned to poetry as a starting point in her performing career.
“I started with poetry as an escape. Since I discovered my inner singing talent, music and poetry have become a form of therapy for me. I realized there was more to life than 9-5 and I immediately started writing songs. I write my songs from beginning to end” observed Sulekha.
In terms of genre, the stunningly beautiful artist is confident that she can take on a broad range of genres out there.
“I don’t want to limit or box myself into any specific one. I am open to any genres as long as they are soulful” said Sulekha.
For an aspiring young, Somali, Muslim performing artist, it is often difficult to gain acceptance from family, friends and community in general. But Sluekha’s case is markedly different as she is able to garner overwhelming support from all quarters.
“I find myself readily acceptable to all my circles and I am glad that people recognize authenticity in my work. I think the main reason is that I have entered the singing arena with good intentions. I am not just looking into advancing my personal career. I care a lot about those around me and I am totally driven into making a difference in the lives of others. People are supportive because they closely identify with my music.” stated Sulekha.
Sulekha is fully mindful that the recording industry is wrought with many challenges as well as opportunities. She says this depends on how the individual artist chooses to navigate their way into an industry often dominated by explicit images, lyrics and scenes.
“In this industry, I know that female artists are being pushed to make fast money. One of the buzz words in the industry is the degrading phrase ‘sex sells’ and we have seen girls falling into this trap. I want girls to know that they can reach the moon and make decent money as long as they maintain their integrity and dignity. There is certainly an opportunity in this industry and I strongly feel that one can tap into it in the most dignified manner.” said Sulekha.
A highly gifted recording artist like Sulekha can certainly lend their voice to worthy causes. Somalia being her roots, is a nation in turmoil, and there would be a lot of public expectation for Sulekha to do something about Somalia, Africa and for the suffering masses around the world. Her human rights-based academic and intellectual credentials make Sulekha the ideal ambassador for such causes.
“I have the responsibility to let the public know that we have a problem. To the best of my ability, I will always give my time and attention to my people and humanity in general. I will support charitable causes as well as feature in benefit concerts whenever the need arises. But I will also encourage grassroots work like getting folks in the community to help each other. I think taking action should not necessarily be limited to charity as I am willing to have direct conversation with people on many critical issues.”
For a university-educated artist, Sulekha is aware that her audience would expect more from her in terms of entertaining but also doling out socially-conscious lyrics. To date, her hit single Hooyo
(Somali for mother), is a classic example of a song loaded with socially-conscious lyrics and powerful messages. The song is a moving tribute to all mothers as it highlights the day to day struggles they go through.
“In life, I need a super human being like my Mom who reminds me who I was and where I came from. If you want to know where you are heading, you have to know where you started” said Sulekha.
Incidentally, an artist of Sulekha’s calibre faces societal pressures to edutain (educate and entertain). Knowing that the recording industry today is heavily tilted toward the commercial side (entertainment) Sulekha is confident she can maintain a sound balance between the two; creating a musical fusion that is educative and equally entertaining.
“I believe that music should entertain and also impart important messages. And it doesn’t always has to be about war, conflict and starvation, but different levels of education like how a woman can get out of an abusive relationship. It is about being lyrical and also sending out clear messages” said the ever philosophical Sulekha.
On long term career goals, Sulekha once again reveals her philosophical inclinations, stating that her work and success should be defined by the impact she makes on those around her and society in general.
“Above all things, I consider myself a story teller. My poems and songs are built on perspectives of the people I came across. I know I would achieve my career targets if I help people find themselves in my songs and in the lyrical and poetic stories I had written. Five to ten years from now, I hope I can grow from this journey. I hope I can get involved with some international organization traveling the world, building schools, hospitals and alleviating poverty.”
In attempts to advance their careers, some Canadian artists have opted to make the trip down south, to the US, which is considered the global hub of the entertainment industry. But the social media savvy Sulekha feels that she can effectively build her career right here in Canada.
“In this age of globalization characterized by technological advancement, I can take advantage of the world wide web to reach millions of fans around the world. I can effectively use social media tools like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to connect to a world wide audience. Already, I got fans messaging me from as far away as Germany and Japan saying they love my music. I can make it right here.” said Sulekha.
Sulekha is elated that her career has taken off on a successful note.
"First and foremost, I thank God for all his blessings. My mom & dad for raising me in the most uplifting manner. My producer Goldstripes for believing in me and our music."
She is also grateful to the unwavering support she has been receiving from her fans.
“I wanna thank all those who listen to my music and have messaged me. I would not be successful without their support. Thank you all guys for your continued support.”
For young and upcoming artists, Sulekha’s advice essentially offers a blueprint of success for all wannabes.
“In pursuit of your dreams, never lose yourself in the process. Always maintain your integrity and go with the best intentions.”
As Sulekha continues to take the Canadian musical landscape by storm, her fans are in for the treat of their lifetime. The Ottawa-based artist is not only looking forward to releasing more singles but has got gigs lined up in future. Fans can catch up with her once she hits the Canadian tour circuit where she hopes to travel across various cities to promote her music.