Tessa Ndjonkou sits down with UCD Commerce graduate and burgeoning artist Olivia Emade to discuss what it means to create your own sound and foster community through music.
If there’s anything this issue has proven to be true, it’s that UCD has plenty of talent to spare. And why wouldn’t it? With over thirty thousand students walking through its halls, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing so many achievements across different domains.
Among them is Olivia Emade, a recent Commerce graduate and an absolute force in the studio. The 22-year old revealed that she “has always been singing” as she was active in her school’s drama department and used to upload covers onto YouTube and Instagram as a teenager. Already a verified artist, she made her Spotify debut in 2021 and has a few songs published with many more to come.
My first meeting with Olivia was a chance encounter that wasn’t really one. On a hot August evening, I ventured into the Crow Bar Pub on Temple Bar to attend the second installment of Blacktones, an open mic dedicated to Black and Brown people. Humbled by the existence of this space and its significance, I was not actively hoping to recruit anyone for a feature but rather hoping to learn as much as I could from my peers. As I waited for the event to begin, I began small talk with the people closest to me, including Olivia. Further along into our conversation, she shared that she was a musician and that she was set to perform that night. As she gushed about her craft, I could sense the amount of passion and dedication she put into it. I had to confess that for a writer, it can be more comfortable to hide behind your words, behind a page. Therefore, I was immediately impressed by her ability to be vulnerable in front of a mostly unknown audience. What a gift.
I had to confess that for a writer, it can be more comfortable to hide behind your words, behind a page. Therefore, I was immediately impressed by her ability to be vulnerable in front of a mostly unknown audience.
As she reached the end of the first verse of her song ‘Think,’ her ethereal voice swirling around the audience like a haze, I realized I’d found the person I wanted to feature in this special issue. The song, that sits just at the 3-minute mark, is an incandescent tale of a love neither of us have experienced but nonetheless regret. The yearning, the faraway reminiscent edge of this song slices through the audience and demands introspection: ‘Do you think about your mistakes? / Do you see yourself? See yourself?’. When asked about the meaning of this song, Emade smiles wryly: “To me, songs like ‘Think’ and ‘Are You at Home’ are about lessons learned in life that I have yet to learn personally. They’re very much inspired by romance I’ve read.”
Oppositely, some of her other songs are deeply personal and intricately interwoven with her Christian faith. Her most recent release, ‘Hittin,’ featuring Malawian-Irish rapper GNS, is the result of a seamless association of strong personal messaging and great musical production. A direct reference to a letter from the Book of Isaiah (‘Altercations, ah’/ ‘He’s holding my hand through the day shift’) – that impresses God’s constant support of those who are faithful to him in their time of need; the song blends consistently powerful vocals with a well-timed and arresting rap verse.
Clearly Emade has made her mark as an artist who writes for those who feel deeply. Her outputs make it clear that we all deserve to feel wholly and deeply regardless of our personal beliefs, something she made clear to me during our exchange: “I want my music to still be enjoyable for people who do not believe, so even when I talk about God, it isn’t really explicit.”
Clearly Emade has made her mark as an artist who writes for those who feel deeply.
As I listened to her performance, I caught some Cassie’s sybilline voice, a touch of Eve’s grit and even some of Lauryn Hill in the backing track, the latter Olivia notably cited as one of her inspirations. She later confessed that the question of her inspirations and influences comes up during every studio session and undoubtedly, like herself, are constantly in movement. She states: “I’ve been attributed to Alt-pop and RnB sounds,” but sometimes all it takes is for her producer Kxng Bari to send her something to work on and it goes from there. No two sessions in the studio are ever the same: while the lyrics might be the focus of yesterday’s session, today melody could take precedence – there needn’t be any order or hierarchy.
As she comfortably weaves through genres and themes, Emade says she is learning to be kinder to herself and to remember to enjoy the experience of producing and performing music rather than getting caught up in the meaning of success in the music industry. She says: “I’m not leaving any room of comparison, If I’m speaking my truth. I’m happy even if the numbers don’t align.” Supported by her manager and producer Kxng Bari, her family and friends, Emade continues to shine and define her own specific brand of poetry.
Worried about where you’ll see her next? Emade promises she has exciting things in store. Keep your eyes peeled for more music.