'I still yearn for love': Zenesoul reflects on writing sincere songs about relationships
The Juno-nominated singer discusses her new EP, Fantasy, with Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe on The Block
When R&B singer Zenesoul scored her first Juno nomination in 2022, it was a turning point for the independent artist. She went from being a musician who found comfort in writing lyrics and singing for her friends at school to being recognized as one of the musicians up for traditional R&B/soul recording of the year.
The dreamy love song "Love and Be Loved" earned the nomination, and it showcased Zenesoul's silky vocals as well as her knack for penning emotional ballads. The track is a reflection of how her sound has evolved: on her latest EP, Fantasy, she embraces a soulful exploration of all the facets of love, unearthing deeper emotions.
Zenesoul joined The Block's host Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe for a conversation about the new EP's songs, her childhood in Nigeria and more.
Since this show has launched, you've been one of my core artists that I've been spinning [who has] such quality, quality music. And we're definitely going to get into your come-up story in just a little bit. But first, I want you to take yourself back to the time that you wrote this one, "Pain, No Percocet," and maybe reveal to me what you were thinking or what was going on in your life that might have inspired this one.
So I really wanted something dark, but still within my vibe, but also different. And I was in a space where I felt like everyone around me in relationships were going through it. I'm single, but people that were in relationships [didn't] seem too happy. But I still yearn for love and relationships, so it was like, "Why do I want this when everybody is going through it?" So I wrote that song to [have] a dark feel, but [it's still about] something I want.
Whenever I listen to it [I think about] the burning, aching, desire of [love] and sort of just accepting that, you know, it might not be enjoyable or the longing might not be enjoyable, but you're just still going to go through it.
It's something that we're going to go through and [love] comes with pain and there's nothing that's going to heal that pain. But there are moments that it feels good.
Those are the moments we hang on to. So as promised, Zenesoul, we're going to hear about your come-up story right now. We had a chance to have a little chit-chat before the mics flipped on for people to listen to us. But you moved to Brampton, Ontario, from Nigeria?
Well, I moved to Toronto.
OK. Tell me about it. So you were born in Nigeria?
I was born in Nigeria. Then I came to Canada when I was seven by myself. Well, my dad was here already.
So my dad went to school here in Canada, and then it was my brothers and I and my mom still in Nigeria. So my dad was going to bring one of us over and my little brother and I had a little fight at first. But I'm the oldest, so I'm like, "Well, I'm going." So I ended up getting chosen to come to Canada. So then it was my dad and I for a bit, then I moved to New Jersey for a couple of months.
Yeah. And I lived with my aunt for a bit, and then I came back when my mom and my brothers came a year after. And we stayed in Jane and Finch for about four years. And then I moved to Brampton, and I've been in Brampton ever since.
So where in that trajectory did your love of music spark? Was it when you were teeny tiny, still back in West Africa, or did that begin after your move to Canada?
It's a funny one, because African parents aren't [always] supportive of music. So I always thought [my interest in music] was sparked in elementary school, but talking to my mom, she told me that I used to, in Nigeria, wrap sheets around my body and pretend I [was] on a runway and I'd be performing on the stage. I [said], "Wow, that's so interesting because you never told me this before."
Now that you've got some shine she's like, "Yes, my child has been gifted and musically inclined from the time she came out of me."
Yeah, but I've always loved music as [long] as I can remember. I'd write lyrics and just sing to my friends. Grade 6 is the earliest that I remember writing a song.
Do you remember it?
It's like a rap, are you guys serious?
If you want to.
OK, it goes: "Hey baby boy, what's your name, what's your number, I really want to know 'cause I want us to be lovers, maybe we can go chill in the Hummer, I don't know."
The fact that you even remember that much is shocking to me. That was super cute. So [music] goes from something that, you know, you're just doing for fun, [so] where does that switch happen where you realize that this can be something that you can pursue as a career?
So I've always just sung. I would sing to my ex-boyfriend at the time, and he was like, "You know what? You're always singing. So let me just pay for you to go to the studio and do 10 songs for your birthday." And that was my first EP.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. To hear the full interview, listen to The Block on CBC Music.