Author | Photo Jen Squires

How Aphrose Is Finding Strength and Honouring Her Mother’s Name

Raised in Scarborough, Aphrose‘s musical tastes were shaped by the genres present in her Trinidadian household—everything from soul and gospel to soca and Bollywood.  With a powerful voice and the years of experience working with industry heavyweights (Daniel Caesar, Lee Fields & The Expressions, JP Saxe, & Nikki Yanofsky), Aphrose’s sound is reminiscent of Teyana Taylor and Aretha Franklin. 

Her Element album release party is coming up at the Burdock on November 7. Grab tix here

SDTC: Tell us about your decision to take on your mom’s birth name: Aphrose. 

A: My mom’s first name is Aphrose, and when my grandmother converted to a new faith, she changed all of her children’s names to English ones. And so, Aphrose was kind of “lost,” so to speak. It shows up on her birth certificate and early official documents, but no one here in Toronto knows her by that name except our family.

I’ve always loved the way the name Aphrose sounded and looked in writing since I was a kid, and there is something so powerful and almost mystical about her name. So when I was brainstorming this project and deciding on how I’d like to distinguish my “artist-self” from my “working musician self,” I wanted to choose a name that meant something and had significance to me. With my mother’s blessing (and to her amusement and thrill), I chose Aphrose, not only because it is a name I’ve always loved but also because it honours the powerful woman that brought me into this world. My mother’s strength is something I’ve grown to marvel at, and [it’s something] I have always seen modelled for me growing up. She is strong and tough as nails but also extremely nurturing, and one of my biggest feminist role models. I come from a line of incredibly strong women, so choosing this name that is close to home/family honours my lineage as well.

Walk us through a typical day in your life.

My schedule tends to be a little chaotic at times, but my week gets divided up into two parts: first half of the week, I am a vocal coach and adhere to a more “normal” work schedule, whereas on the weekends I gig, so those days are more unpredictable. On a typical teaching day, I’ll wake up around 9 a.m., do a 20-minute workout, make coffee, read/pray/meditate, make breakfast, emails, post on socials, practice or learn tunes or parts I need to know for my weekend gigs, pack lunch and prep food for dinner later in the evening, shower and get ready for work, hop on the subway and get to work. Coach for six hours, find time to eat lunch in there somewhere, travel home, dinner, text my mom and get caught up in a wacky GIF exchange with her. Netflix, get ready for bed, lights off. 

What was happening in your life when you were writing the songs for Element?

When I started to conceptualize Element, strong feelings and imagery of the actual elements (Fire, Water, Sky, Earth) started to dance about in my head and the notion that we are all connected to these elements. I write from a place of honesty and lived experiences, and it is actually very hard for me to write made-up or fictionalized stories in my songs. I actually envy songwriters that can do that!

When I wrote “Fire,” which is my favourite track on the album, I was going through a particularly challenging time in my marriage, and it was an experience that involved a massive amount of grief, tragedy, and financial uncertainty. A lot of it seemed out of our control and bigger than us, and I remember penning that song at my keyboard in our old apartment, in complete brokenness, with tears running down my face. But I felt, in that very moment, the pain I was experiencing lose power over me. I was able to release it through the song. Whenever I sing that song, I go back to that place in my mind and it’s hard to sing it, but it’s the one that seems to hit audiences the hardest.

Describe the sound/mood you are aiming to capture in the album?

I’m trying to get you, the listener, to ease back, maybe with a glass of wine, and let me take you through a journey of sonic elements (there’s that word again!) that range from 90s hip-hop, to 60s soul, to funk, to modern r&b sounds. Each song has a very different vibe and energy from one another, but I do think they capture the essence of who I am as an artist and the sounds that have influenced and informed my artistry and writing style over the years.

What do you hope listeners get out of your new album?

I hope they are able to hear the sounds that influence me musically, but I also hope that they are able to hear my stories and are able to see themselves and [their] experiences reflected through my songs. My songs come from my own experiences, good and bad, and I hope my listeners can find solace, inspiration, and empowerment in them.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve come up against in your career, and how did you deal?

The biggest challenge thus far has been trying to balance everything. From creating the music (which is the fun part), to putting it out, rolling out a marketing plan, trying to stay on top of things like social media, and self-managing, it has been really really tough. As independent artists, we are required to take on all of the roles and do well at all of them, but that is super hard and can make you burn out fast.

I am only one person, and I also have jobs, bills to pay, and family obligations, so the all-consuming nature of what it means to be an artist can really wear you thin. I’ve learned that building a team is SUPER important to the health of your dream and well-being as a person. Delegating tasks, outsourcing to people who believe in you and are able to help you reach your goals, is essential. What that looks like for me is having a manager, a publicist, a graphic designer, a producer who I work extremely closely with, a visuals person, and musicians/band. Building my team didn’t happen all at once, and there are still some missing pieces that I would like to add to the mix, such as a label and publisher. It started with just me and my producer, Scott, and it’s since expanded, but it’s taken time, so patience is a virtue! This music thing is a work in progress, but knowing I have my team of people in place helps to bring the dream to fruition.

What issue is at top of mind for you personally?

Honestly, there is so much happening in the world right now, and on a close-to-home basis: climate change, women’s rights, our election coming up, American politics, the Amazon burning. We live in the Information Age, where we are surrounded 24/7 by what’s happening in the world; it can make you feel powerless and almost desensitized to it all. I’m trying to figure out how to be less of an “observer” and passive about these issues and become more involved in whatever capacity I can.

What would your ideal Saturday look like? How do you like to unwind?

Well, since most of my Saturdays are taken due to gigging, I rarely get a Saturday off! But when I do, is it ever sweet. I like to sleep in and then go for brunch with my husband somewhere we haven’t tried yet. If it’s nice outside, we’d probably do something like check out a street fest or an event happening in the city. Other times, I like to go visit my parents and dog and just hang out there for a few hours. I love going to see movies mostly because movie popcorn is the absolute best. Sometimes an ideal Saturday for me is staying in, doing laundry, writing some music and binge-watching Netflix. I know, I’m real adventurous. But seriously, because my weekends are always filled with so much socialization and being “on” as a musician, the last thing I want to do is be around people in my spare time! I’m an extroverted introvert.

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