Zanillya: The ‘Choose Life’ Interview

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Zanillya is a Netherlands-based artist that creates unique tuneful melodies with a soul-tingling sound. Being the daughter of late Disco legend Bobby Ferrell, music was something that quite literally ran in her blood, thus she was destined to pursue it. Zanillya tried her hand with a slew of releases in 2018 such as “C.R.S.H.D” and “For You” amongst others.

After taking a bit of hiatus, Zanillya returned with a fresh new, yet more mature and evolved sound, revolving her music around themes such as self-belief and healing. Her 2020 song “Sacrifices” laid the foundation for what’s to come, being followed by “Million Reasons” earlier this year. Through her music, Zanillya is meekly walking fans alike through her evolution and journey into womanhood.

Most recently, Zanillya shared her debut EP Choose Life, a heartfelt, varied yet cohesive collection of tracks characterized by her signature blend of R&B, Dancehall, Afrobeats, and Hip-Hop. The 6-song offering serves as a vivid portrait of one of the most radiant voices in the Netherlands. Its lead single, “Alive,” set the tone for Zanillya as well as the honey-drenched vocals and twinkling melodies heard across the project. Choose Life essentially puts some of her best work to date on display.

“The EP is a snapshot of me facing my demons and being open about it,” Zanillya shares. “The title of the EP is an affirmation that no matter how dark it gets I should never forget to Choose Life.” We had the opportunity of talking with Zanillya in regards to her musical journey, new release, and advice to young women amongst other things. Check it out below!

Hey Zanillya! If you don’t mind, could you walk us through your musical journey and what eventually brought you to artistry?

No, I don’t mind, I would love to walk you through my journey as I feel my journey has been so serendipitous. I really gravitated to artistic individuals from a very young age as my parents were very artistic and definitely instilled a sense of creativity in me. I remember seeing Prince on TV at the age of  2 years old and I immediately knew I wanted to do that. Seeing it up close from my dad being an entertainer added to the mystic and it made me fall in love with everything that I then thought I knew about the music business but boy was I in for a surprise.

To this day with all the stress, rejection, and pain that comes with the music business it’s still that love and passion that keeps me sane. It’s either that or I’m am a masochist. I enrolled myself in ballet class at the age of three and I started performing in shows and writing when I was eight. My writing then was a mix of poems and lyrics and I used to playback songs I really loved. I stayed with it until I was like thirteen, but when my parents got a divorce I fell off my path. I started rebelling and being so angry at the world.

It wasn’t until I saw Alicia Keys on TV that my dream of being an artist awakened again and I started working on it again. From then on I went to acting, dancing, and music school. I really started developing myself as a singer, rapper, and writer from then on. I was also recording here and there but it wasn’t until I met Humphrey Dennis that I started to record professionally and now here we are. I am excited to keep walking this path and see where else it will lead me. 

How important is it for you to not conform to one particular genre of music or think outside of the box?

I love this question as it was extremely important to me. Being raised in a multicultural environment meant that I was exposed to many different ethnic influences in terms of music so I knew I wanted to mix all of that into one sound that would be unique, as that was the only way for me to be me. Humphrey Dennis and I both grew up with various genres so we’re both very naturally inclined to not conform to one genre.

I was heavily influenced by Prince, Kanye, Bob Marley, Nina Simone, Rihanna, Missy, and so many more trailblazers. I always wanted my music to feel like that; fresh and unique. It was something we really aspired to with this EP, not saying that we accomplished that yet. It’s something we aspire to when we go into the studio to create. It took a while for me to be happy with what I was making as I set this insane high bar for myself, but with ‘Choose Life’ I feel that it’s the best music we made to date. I just want to share it with the world but we have a way to go. 

When listeners hear your music or watch your visuals, what type of emotions do you want to elicit?

I want to touch people in their souls. I know that sounds intense but that’s how I experience music. When I watch art it does something to me on a very deep level and I chase that with my own art. I hope when people hear my music, see my visuals, or see me live that it gives them a sense of what it means to be alive.

Some of your songs contain a romantic push and pull which makes me wonder, how do you define love?

Again such a great question. I am still discovering what Love really is as I think the older we get the more and deeper we get to experience and learn Love. So I am not sure about my definition of it yet. I think I can say that Love is being able to admit when you’re wrong and to still keep choosing your partner even when they make mistakes. However, you need to both be able to do so for it to work. 

Me and Humphrey have been together 10 years last May and all I now know is that we continued to choose each other no matter what. We both chose to be committed to growth. Also, we say sorry and are brutally honest even when it’s really hard. I think that is what helped us be able to work and live together for the last 10 years.

With Choose Life out now, how did you cope with the anxiety of putting our your debut, or what were you doing to let time pass?

Honestly, I am not that great at always coping with my anxiety. In therapy and by experience I did learn amazing tools that tend to work for me. Though it’s a process and sometimes I still fall victim but I am getting better at controlling it. When I get debilitating anxiety I gravitate to one of these things; I sleep it off or I watch something that I enjoy. Both help to let it pass and get my mind off of it.

When I get lighter anxiety, going for a walk, hitting the gym, meditating, sitting at the beach, or talking about it really helps me. I don’t create when I have anxiety and I also don’t work when I have anxiety but implementing these tools help me to get back on track. Sometimes I bounce back quickly and sometimes it takes me a day or more. I think I also accepted that this is what happens to me sometimes and tend to not fight it as much as I used to in the past.

Outside of your own music, who are some of your favorite artists in your playlist rotation?

I honestly don’t listen to my own music on rotation after I release it. As I have heard it so many times lol. My favorite artists that I listen to at the moment are WizKid, Burna Boy, Olamide, Aruban bands like Buleria, Patrice Roberts, Anaiis, Jorja Smith, Frank Ocean, Betty Wright, Nina Simone, Linden Jay and I could go on and on. A lot of music that hits deep but also at the same time makes you feel Alive.

Taking all the knowledge that you’ve accumulated over the years, what advice would you give to your younger self or women who look up to you?

I also love this questions a lot. You killed it with the questions! Let me marinate on this one.

I would say it doesn’t necessarily get easier but you get stronger. The best way to overcome anything is honesty and trusting yourself. Trust that you got this, trust that you are enough, trust that you are beautiful just the way you are, trust that good exists and will find you if you stay true to who you are, trust that life will always work out for you if you just keep working at it and believing. There is so much I would want to say but I think this is what I would have needed to hear the most to cope a bit easier.  

If you enjoyed our interview with Zanillya, check out our conversation with Maya B!