Joy may be tough to find these days.
But music sensation Falana – a Western graduate dubbed Nigeria’s coolest music and fashion star – sees joy as a state of being, a matter of choice more than a question of circumstance.
And that’s why her single Joy, written just two weeks before the world went into pandemic lockdown in 2020, became an anthem for fans eager to hear a little hope.
Its lyrics, a paean to sunshine and optimism, are also a rallying cry for the weary.
“Baby it’s up to you/
What you want to do?/
Cause life from my point of view/
Is all about gratitude.”
“The irony is that a lot of those times when I’m writing those songs, it’s not because I’m feeling optimistic; it’s because I’m trying to get to optimism,” said Falana, BA’12. “It’s almost like I’m trying to talk myself into a mindset. So it’s cathartic. It’s therapeutic for me.”
Now Falana – with the honey-rich voice that dances funkily between fire and ice – is primed to drop a seven-song EP titled Rise.
Kinesiology to music
Known as Victoria Falana while at Western, she graduated with a major in kinesiology and a minor in psychology.
A competitive soccer player sidelined by a torn anterior cruciate ligament just before she arrived at Western, Falana redirected her energy from sport to her first love – composing and performing music – as she won and then was a judge on the Western Idol talent competition.
The diverse range of options in kinesiology including sport, law, injuries, business, psychology and marketing provided great preparation for a music career, she said. “I took a lot of those courses because I wasn’t 100-per-cent confident what I wanted (besides) that I wanted to be a singer. And all of those things… are applicable in the music space.”
While at Western, her influences and mentors also spanned different faculties: Janice Forsyth, kinesiology professor and scholar in Indigenous sport; Jay Hodgson, professor of popular music studies at the Don Wright Faculty of Music; and sociology professor emeritus Anton Allahar, who specializes in the economic and political sociology of the Caribbean.
Forsyth introduced her to Allahar, who connected her with to a music professor at the University of Havana, which led to her studying music in Cuba for a year: learning Spanish, tutoring in English and grooving on the island’s unique music styles.
She speaks four languages and plays three instruments in addition to song-writing and vocal talents.
“Whether you know for sure where you’re headed, sometimes you just allow life to evolve itself. You never know how a kinesiology degree is going to connect you to the future music career that you have.”
‘Alchemy’ of influences
Born to Nigerian parents, Falana grew up in the Toronto area. She now lives full-time in Lagos, and her musical stylings reflect the influences of a career that spans the globe.
And she is garnering international acclaim: A 2017 piece in Vogue magazine called her Nigeria’s “coolest front-row star.” And a recent profile in Red Bull Records describes Falana’s sound as “a precise alchemy of all her influences … from Afrobeat-like rhythms to her rich, silken soul vocals and lyrical musings on life and love.”
Producers from Toronto, Jamaica, the U.S., England and Nigeria have all contributed to the unique sounds and rhythms of the soon-to-be-released Rise, she said.
“It’s inspired by women’s empowerment and stories of love and finding self and hustling and being free and finding joy.
“But it’s just so interesting sometimes to see how my experience meshes with the purpose I’ve always hoped I would have, which is to make music that carries… songs that lift you, that remind you of who you are and who you can strive to be.”
She misses the stage, misses performing before crowds and hopes she can soon return to travelling and live performances.
“There’s something really special about being in a room and feeling people’s responses in real time, then being able to play off that energy and interact with that energy. It feeds me in a way that I can’t explain – that adrenaline rush that pushes you to be greater than you are and to push outside your limits and your boundaries.”