Amaal: The ‘Milly’ Interview
Somali-Canadian singer-songwriter Amaal is claiming her throne. She began her remarkable journey in war-torn Mogadishu, where she and her family lived until they were forced to flee as refugees in the early 1990s. Toronto was a fresh start, often bristling with the poetic nature of her cultural heritage through repressive expectations placed upon women. It wasn’t until she turned 20 that Amaal worked up the courage to release some of her very first works, often focused on politically and socially conscious material inspired by the civil unrest in Somalia.
Amaal’s musical journey is one seemingly none short of exciting moments and lessons learned. Since the release of her 2013 EP, Painful Secrets, the songstress has been carefully honing in on her craft and creating a unique identity for herself by putting a modern twist to her nostalgic-inspired sound. After releasing a slew of releases, Amaal propelled into popularity upon the release of Black Dove in 2019. The project contains breathtaking tracks like “Not What I Thought” and “Later,” which further cemented her as one of the best new names in R&B.
With her new EP, Amaal reintroduces herself while simultaneously showcasing a more vulnerable and introspective side of her artistry. Milly, which boasts seven songs from Amaal, is the nickname she adopted when she began to visit the world outside of her close-knit community. Featuring fan-favorite predecessors such as “Honey” and “Heaven,” she explores themes of sexual liberation, self-love, and empowerment. Through this project, Amaal makes it very clear that her time is now.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Amaal in regards to style and aesthetic, her new EP, and advice to young women in music amongst other topics. Check it out below!
You’re someone who does not shy away from being honest and vulnerable in your music. How does music help you heal?
Creating music is like having a mirror placed in front of you at all times. It reveals all my inner deepest thoughts and vulnerabilities – it allows for me to work through experiences in my life that I, at one point, felt ashamed about and in the end helps me come out feeling proud and brave. It helps me break those habits of harshly judging and critiquing myself. Instead, I see the beauty in my weakest moments and extend grace to my experiences. It’s a form of self-therapy that has truly allowed me to grow. Without music, I’m not sure what other tool would have helped me evolve into the woman I am today.
How would you describe your style and aesthetic? Where do you get inspiration for your colorful and nostalgic visuals? I personally love how each video leading up to the project has been like a mini film in a sense that just grabs your attention.
A lot of my style comes from the 90’s golden era of women dressing in both masculine and feminine styles, mixing textures, street style and high fashion. Artists like Aaliyah, Lil Kim, TLC, and Missy Elliot single-handedly shaped my fashion choices growing up and still do to this day. Above all, I have to feel comfortable in what I am wearing especially with a body like mine that tends to fluctuate. Also, when I’m not wearing an oversized sweater with baggy jeans, I love sexy, simple spaghetti/sweetheart strap silk or tight form-fitting dresses. I used to shy away from my body and would always cover with a shawl or stick to wrap around dresses, but in the last few years my confidence has really grown. I’m embracing my sexy and doing it in my own way that still allows me to feel comfortable.
That’s a bit of background about my style, but when it comes to visuals, a lot of that comes from movies, books, magazines, and of course my favourite being my Pinterest board that I am addicted to. With this project, I just kept feeling a strong urge to go and create my own world, a universe where women are free to be whoever they want to be. In this world, I saw an Afrofuturist blend of sci-fi, tech, and comic universes. I feel we are currently experiencing a Black Renaissance. Seeing an array of Black art made by Black artists has been so inspiring and it really pushed me with this project to bring something to the table that can also tell my story.
How does it feel to finally release your sophomore EP and how long have you been working on Milly?
Excited. Nervous. Relieved. I could go on forever, but I am overall a ball of emotions. It’s been an interesting last 2 years for so many of us and to say everything that was happening around the world didn’t impact this project would be an understatement. I initially finished the bulk of the EP at the end of 2019 with hopes of releasing it shortly after, but there were so many setbacks that we’re outside my control.
So, to finally be here is truly a blessing! I’m happy for the world to hear where I’m at and the growth that has taken place. I feel I’m finally at a place where I’m no longer creating from a place of censorship and fear of what others may think of me or being shunned/disowned by family members. This project, and even creating for me, was symbolic of my liberation. Each song and lyric was intentional in celebrating my journey and how far I’ve come. I’m just excited to finally have arrived at this place in my life.
If you had to choose, which tracks on this project do you resonate with the most? And what do you want your audience to take away from the music?
I love “selfish” for so many reasons. One being, it was with amazing, talented musicians from Toronto—Jordon Manswell, Raahiem, and Akeel Henry. But it was also recorded in Toronto which means so much to me because for so long I’ve grown accustomed to working with the core people from LA that I started with. Another reason being this story really comes from a relationship that I was in years ago and I just never fully spoke openly about it.
I felt somewhat robbed, not only from him and all the obstacles I had to go through, but because I was ashamed of how much I did for this individual. Embarrassed that I stayed even when there were so many red flags, and for years It was like this secret only my close friends knew about but that was no longer. Doing the work also meant shedding any bit of shame I had left, and I feel this song really closes the chapter for me.
Considering that music has been a quintessential part of your life since you started making music, how has your creative process changed over the years?
The main thing that has changed for me over the years is truly trusting myself and always creating from a place of honesty. Till this day my favorite thing to do is to start creating with a very minimalistic instrumental – beautiful chords, pads drums, etc. From there, the track has to evoke an emotion in me, so once I find that one, I have to get on the mic immediately and start singing. I close my eyes and just go for sometimes 20 minutes. It’s during this time that my best ideas come out because it’s the initial feeling I’m capturing—it’s raw and comes from my subconscious. It’s when I force it that the ego takes over and I try to do something impressive and start overthinking. Learning this has allowed me to strengthen my ability to just let go.
What has been keeping you inspired and motivated these days?
More downtime where I can truly live and be in the moment, around my family and friends. It gives space for my tank to fill and be replenished. For so long I thought being in the studio constantly was the answer, but that only resulted in empty songs and feeling blocked. It’s so simple but the key is to live, explore, experience, watch shows, etc. It’s anything that makes me feel alive!
How has your Somali background shaped you into the artist you are today?
I come from a country that is dubbed “The Land of Poets.” The Somali language is very rich, extremely poetic, and Shakespearean. We have traditional poetry battles where the head of one tribe will go against another and in the past, it was even used as a tool to settle disputes in the community. The women have this beautiful tradition of beating on a drum and singing poetry for whatever special occasion it may be—wedding, birth of a baby, for rainfall, peace, prayers, etc. My own grandmother was a skilled poet/drummer so my family always says I must have taken after her and been blessed with some of her gifts.
Knowing all this has tremendously shaped who I am as an artist. I pull from those stories and my own language with using expressions. Even down to the spelling of my name Amaal Nuux (Amal Nooh), although I now just go by my first name, I chose to spell It in that way because that’s the Somali version. I wanted to stick to my roots and felt what better way than my own name being spelled traditionally.
What advice would you give other young Black women starting out in the music industry?
My advice to other young Black women starting in the industry is to know deeply you have the magic. You are the source, the essence, and the beauty. It all exists within you! Never go looking elsewhere for it, and never compromise on who you are and what you stand for. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will protect you, and most importantly, take time for self-care. We sadly do face a lot more obstacles and it can be extremely daunting, but with the right people around you and putting time aside to care, heal, and prioritize yourself, it will give you the strength to carry on.
If you enjoyed our chat with Amaal, check out our interview with Fana Hues!