Getty Image/Ralph Ordaz
Last year, Chiiild, the moniker for Montreal-based singer Yonatan Ayal, arrived with his debut project, Synthetic Soul. The seven-track effort was led by the success of “Count Me Out” and “Pirouette,” tracks that helped bring plenty of attention to him. He was eventually named one of the most promising Canadian acts and this year, Chiiild will look to fulfill that with his upcoming debut album, Hope For Sale.
While we’ve yet to receive music or a release for the project, Chiiild’s Yonatan spoke to us about the direction fans can expect him to go in on Hope For Sale. “The intention I think was — to break it down — lyrically, to be more conversational, to reflect the times [more],” he said. “A lot of the artists that I love and I grew up on are just like mirrors of society… it’s beautiful because you see what’s happening, what’s trending in life, not so much just music, and you’re like, ‘Hey this is what I need to reflect, this is my reaction to that trend.’”
Coming off a year like 2020 that was as hectic and overwhelming as any set of 12 months could be, Chiiild insists that as an artist, it’s important for him to reflect the times for listeners of today and tomorrow. “I’m here to translate what has happened in the streets and try to immortalize it on record and say, “Hey you know what? Tomorrow’s going to be better,’” he said.
As he continues to prepare new music for a release at some point this year, we sat down with Chiiild’s Yonatan and asked him for some of the Black artists that influenced him and his sound as he grew up and found his voice, and he gave us these thoughts on the five (but really six) Black artists that inspire his work.
She’s an Ethiopian singer. She put out this self-titled album when I was a kid, or at some point a long time ago. It was just played on rides from Montreal to Toronto every few months when I went to visit family. It was so peaceful, so moody, [and] it still had so much of our culture in it. As an artist, you’re a sponge so it just seeped into me early. I would say she’s definitely my first inspiration. If you listen to the record, she has this version of her album, it’s called “The Illuminated Audio Version,” and it is so meditative, so peaceful, it just transports you to another place. When you think about the music that we’re making, that’s a big part. There is a sense of escapism, I do want you to put your headphones on, or turn it up real loud, and just get lost in it, build a ritual around the record and I feel like that’s what that album taught me to do. The best way for me to describe it, I’m not sure what it’s called by word, but it’s that moment where something that’s not sad makes you wanna cry. That’s the feeling where you’re on the brink [of tears] and you’re like I don’t know why I just feel this way and it’s overwhelming. That’s the goal, that’s the destination [with escapism]. I know it sounds dramatic, but I’m pretty dramatic.
[They’re] kind of a Black and a White artist in one. To be fair, I don’t really see color in the same way partially because of that same experience we talked about earlier. I would say that music is probably the closest attempt at blending R&B, punk, reggae, dub, [and] industrial. It’s what they created as a world their own… I feel like the attempt is to create a world of our own as well, I want to be best in class, in my space with my tribe and my people, and build that one-on-one relationship. When I listen to Massive Attack, I’m just like, this is something that doesn’t get classified as Black music, but is Black music to me. That’s something that I love. Other things in life made me tap into who I am instead of trying to fit, being an Ethiopian Canadian, it’s like how much representation do we have in the world or in media until The Weeknd, that’s like yesterday. It’s not that long ago, I would say I was encouraged to just be myself because that’s the only way that I was able to radiate the way I’m supposed to. There’s a quote that I’m going to misquote that I heard that I think kind of sums it up the best: “Great strength is shown in restraint.” Being able to restrain from doing all those things and just focusing on my values and what I want to put in the world is my greatest strength and where I find my strength. It took a really long time to get to a place where I’m just like, “This is me, this is who I am, whatever take it or leave it.’ It takes everyone a lifetime to really get fully acclimated with themselves. At the same time, that’s what this is about, that’s really why I’m doing this. I’m doing it to represent myself and people like me and people will find it.
Because of how “Count Me Out” was conceived. “Count Me Out” really came from me watching an episode of Being Mary Jane and Sam Cooke’s “(Somebody) Ease My Troublin’ Mind” was playing. I was just immediately taken back by it, went and bought every CD I could find, or vinyl, but I essentially collected them all within that year and studied it, studied it, studied it and I was like, “I want this.” I want to do something like this that feels like this but that is a reflection of all my inspirations. When you think of “Count Me Out” and how starts in that string intro and how it’s in 6/8 and just the way it’s composed. You can tell that as an artist you’re a sponge, I’ve been listening to Sam Cooke for the whole year, “Count Me Out” happens, it’s just the natural process. I’m not sure anything that I’m doing other than trying to be my own being is on purpose. I think as artists we recognize things that are beautiful, interesting forms and that stuff happens in your everyday life. You go out the house and you see a strange car and you’re like, “Oh, this is really interesting, there’s something really attractive about it.” With music, you go into the studio and press a bunch of buttons and do all kinds of things and when something really special happens, as a great artist you recognize it, that’s all you’re doing. Like yeah, you did press the buttons, and yeah, you make it sound, but the point is you recognized it, that’s the difference.
I’m kind of going back in time, so it’s like that’s also part of my DNA growing up. If you’re in an Ethiopian household, you understand the impact of Bob Marley but what’s impressive and with Bob Marley is his ability to represent everybody. Every shade of Black was represented with Bob Marley and that’s one man, it’s unbelievable. He did his thing and I really truly respect that and aspire to radiate one-fifth of his energy. I think some things are popular because they’re popular and some things are popular because they’re good and I think Exodus is popular because it’s both good and popular. It’s just incredible, that’s probably the album I listen to the most. I love “Buffalo Soldier,” I love the storytelling element, “No Woman No Cry” [as well]. It’s a journey, you turn on that album and from top to bottom it just feels incredibly homogenous. He’s telling his story, but at no point do you feel attacked or threatened by what he’s saying, and I think that’s a big superpower of him and his collaborators. He can be revolutionary without making you defensive. That’s magic, I don’t know how you do that. You just sing along to it whether you’re the perpetrator or the victim. You’re just like, “I’m with you.” That needs to be studied if it hasn’t already been studied it’s just the way that his messaging is just second to none.
Jimi Hendrix/The Weeknd
I would say Jimi Hendrix for his incredible gift, his talent, and ability to just communicate through his instrument, that’s something that we all as musicians want to be able to do. The other one would be The Weeknd more recently. Representation alone, the fact that he just keeps pushing the bar for artists like us, like I said, growing up there was no one that looked like me on TV and for him to go and continue to push the bar it’s incredibly inspiring and challenging at the same time. I’m in constant awe. That’s kind of the bar that keeps moving, if that makes sense. I’m grateful that we have somebody like that.