Best New Music: Liya ups the ante with “I’m Done” & “Powerful”
a new arc in her career
a new arc in her career
According to its Afrobeats-dedicated website, the total number of hours male artists have been streamed on Spotify is about four more times than that of female artists. It’s cold, hard numerical evidence of a hegemony that continues till date, even with the consistently increasing number of women making great music. Beyond the consumption pattern, the myriad of issues female artists have to face behind the scenes is sometimes obscured by music industry jargon like branding and funding, but other times it’s plain ol’ misogyny.
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“You fuck with me, I don’t fuck with you/Eyin melo gan gan le fe ba mi sun?!” Liya barks on “Powerful,” a song off her recent 2-song drop. That latter remark (or question) in Yoruba translates as, “How many of you want to have sex with me?” Her disdain is raw and her tone is personal, more than hinting that the line is plucked from her lived experiences. Alongside “I’m Done,” these songs are Liya’s first release as an independent artist, after being signed to the previous iteration of Davido Music Worldwide. Liya isn’t the only artist formerly linked to the superstar-led imprint to not achieve widespread popularity, the reasons for that will remain speculative but she’s definitely had more than her fair share of unwanted sexual advances in that period.
Recently, a Nigerian singer with allegations of sexual assault and coercion—who should’ve been roundly cancelled years ago—admitted to demanding sex from a potential collaborator, who also happens to be one of the most popular (female) artists in Nigeria and across Africa. For a rising artist like Liya, one can only wonder about the number and types of uninvited propositions she’s gotten. With its pounding drums and eerie vocal samples, “Powerful” is resounding in that these gross inconveniences are merely references for her to be at her cockiest yet. It’s not exactly a transformation but it definitely shows us another layer to Liya’s abilities as a songwriter.
When her debut EP, ‘Alari’, dropped in 2021, the singer’s blend of Yoruba aphorisms and operatic vocals, as well as her grateful, optimistic perspective, seemed to bend the sounds around her into an ethereal realm. Over folk-indented arrangements, vibrant dance beats, and soulful gospel moments, Liya proved to be unique and intriguing, if not wholly captivating. For all her qualities, she wasn’t fully formed yet to be the kind of commercial barnburner that many would’ve expected from the “first lady” of her erstwhile label. Improvements were needed, but clearly not in the mould of the trend-chasing single, “Izz Going (Skalala).”
Both “I’m Done” and “Powerful” up the ante for Liya, leaning into a sense of self-believe that has always been there but has never been this brazen, and they translate into proper jams. “I’m very powerful, I know that you can tell it too,” she asserts on the second verse of the latter song. The former, though, is the budding commercial gambit, a romance-themed song that’s more euphonic, featuring crisp drums and radiant strings, but Liya is no less ultra-confident. “I no go follow you play mind games/Keys to my heart I don throway,” she declares, sounding extremely assured as she hoses out the flames to a toxic relationship.
With the certainty in every line, the cherubic gleam in her voice feels less like a showy gambit and more of an integral trait to the song. Now, there’s a little more effortlessness in how she uses her feathery touch. There are no over-the-top stunts on either songs, and she calibrates her cadence to fit every line but the top line melodies are consistent. That allows the relatability of the music to shine, while also emphasising Liya’s boundless potential as she figures out how to draw in more listeners by figuring out her own unique combination of charisma and charm. “I’m Done” and “Powerful” are proof that she’s some ways there already.
Liya seems to have a chip on her shoulder, perhaps to prove that all that she needed was some more time to refine her skill-set, a lot more confidence to be as self-reverential as she wants and, like many other female artists, a little more faith from the public. How these two songs and subsequent drops work within the larger scope of her career depends on several factors, some of which she can’t control. Right now, though, Liya is doing what she can control: Make music capable of elevating her into stardom.