Enter the world of Zenesoul – a JUNO Award-nominated Canadian-Nigerian Soul artist who has carved out a unique niche in the ever-evolving R&B and Neo-soul landscape. Bridging the gap between her Nigerian roots and her upbringing in Canada, Zenesoul’s compelling storytelling and vocal prowess provide an authentic, soul-stirring experience.
A multi-million streaming sensation, Zenesoul has garnered recognition from notable platforms like Complex, Earmilk, Lyrical Lemonade, CBC, and The Native. Her harmonious blend of R&B and soul with some afropop sensibilities has positioned her as an artist to watch, with a story that captivates and resonates with music enthusiasts globally.
The rising star delves into the depths of love and heartbreak in her new EP, Reality, which offers a perfect representation of the Toronto-based artist’s soulful blend of R&B and afropop melodies, combined with her raw lyrical honesty that is earning her recognition on major platforms, and helping her carve out her own space in Canada’s music scene. For our exclusive cover story, Zenesoul takes us on a journey through the creative process behind her new EP Reality, and shares the emotional and personal experiences that fuel her powerful music.
Before we start talking about the Reality project, we discuss the current R&B landscape, and how she has been able to carve out a unique space for herself within such a popular music scene. Zenesoul tells us that “One thing that I love about R&B is how diverse the genre is. I feel what sets my sound apart is how I blend everything I love about Soul music in all regards, from Afro-Soul, to Neo-Soul, to Funk and all in between. I feel like when you make music that you love it is genuine to who you are as an artist. There will always be someone that can relate to a genuine experience.”
There is however something even more peculiar about Zenesoul’s soulful R&B sound that sets her apart in this landscape, and it is how she has been able to gloriously merge her R&B essence with afropop-leaning influences. We discuss how this fusion has been well-received by fans and critics alike, with Zenesoul elaborating on how she makes it all work.
“Soul is the common thread in all the music I enjoy. Growing up listening to Nigerian music has infused a rhythm and melody into me that makes it easy to intertwine my natural love for R&B. I want to make sure the music I make is authentic to my story and who I am as a Nigerian-Canadian and I want my music to be a reflection of all things that is me,” she reveals.
We then begin our conversation around her new EP Reality with Zenesoul sharing the creative journey that she has been on that led to the conception of the excellent project. She shares how “A lot of times artists are branded to either make heartbreak songs, toxic songs, love songs, songs about the streets and so on. This branding comes from the types of songs that the audience sees an artist release consistently. I know for me, I touch on the topic of love. Whether it is romantic love, heartbreak, or self-love it’s always about love.”
She also shares her big picture approach to the Reality EP, and explains how it’s one part of a three-piece puzzle, “While going through my unreleased songs, I realised that a lot of the songs I’ve been writing about are either my reality or what I wish for myself, and I really want to dive right into this contrast that I’ve experienced in love. With this realisation, I decided that I wanted to create an album titled ‘Fantasy vs Reality’. But I didn’t want to release it all at once so I’ve decided that I will give my audience a glimpse into my reality with these three songs and the plan is that before the end of this year, I will give a glimpse into my fantasy before releasing a full album next year combining both my reality and fantasy.”
The conversation takes a slight shift, as we ask Zenesoul to look back at her previous releases, and track forward to this new project. “This project in comparison to my previous projects screams growth,” Zenesoul states, reflecting on her musical evolution. “My song writing has improved drastically and I feel like I’m getting a better understanding of my sound and brand. I also wanted to use this project to show my vocal abilities and that I am able to stay true to my sound while still being experimental.”
Her profound commitment to self-growth echoes throughout the EP. Reality is a testament to Zenesoul’s remarkable progress, not only in her musical prowess but in her personal journey. As she talks us through the thought process behind the title of her EP, Reality, she explains how the EP is her exploration of the emotions and experiences that come with love.
“All three songs on this project are a reflection of my experiences when it comes to love,” she says. “From ‘Let Me Go’ to ‘Love Isn’t a Game’, it is clear that the idea of love has a hold on me. I decided to title this ‘Reality’ because despite what I want love to be, my experiences of it have been painful, and like a lot of people the painful experiences in turn make us become closed and at times we play the games we hate so much.”
She goes on to add that “Reality is that hurt people hurt people and I didn’t want to go out that way and I still don’t want to but at times it’s out of our control and we unintentionally put up walls that prevent us from getting the love we want. My reality is that I want love but maybe I’m not ready to receive it. Maybe I still need to heal.”
The ability to translate raw emotion into resonant artistry is a staple of Zenesoul’s songwriting prowess. Her aptly titled track, “Love Isn’t a Game,” serves as a poignant reminder that love should never be treated lightly. The track, she reveals, began as an exploration of a friend’s situation but quickly evolved into a broader commentary on the love games we all tend to play.
“Originally I thought I was writing ‘Love Isn’t a Game’ about a friend and her situation but I quickly realized a lot of us are in this situation including myself,” she confesses. “We know that something isn’t right for us but yet we stay. And in an attempt to prevent ourselves from getting hurt further, we end up playing the games that are toxic in relationships unintentionally. I’m learning that it is important for me to have the courage to walk away. Instead of waiting for change I need to change and leave those situations because in the end it’s only making me the person I don’t want to be. It’s a song to remind myself that love isn’t a game.”
As for the interesting role this particular song plays within the Reality EP, Zenesoul offers further insights, “I wanted this song to end the EP as a self-realization song. The first step to healing is realising, and by me being aware of the games and parts I play in situations, I’m able to work on preventing it. I also wanted it to end the EP because I want it to reflect the end of the cycle. I no longer want to beg for someone to let me go. I no longer want to question whether I want Love or not. I no longer want to accept the bare minimum and I no longer want to wait. I don’t want to play the game.”
This self-realization is also mirrored in “Let Me Go,” a raw and emotive look at the struggle to break free from toxic relationships. The song, she says, is born out of her own experiences where she felt unable to sever ties with someone detrimental to her well-being.
As Zenesoul puts it, “Normally in a relationship, I’m the one who ends things. It’s been like that pretty much my whole life. Not just romantic relationships but also friendships. It takes a lot for me to be over something or someone but when I am, it’s really deuces. Even with that, I’m a very forgiving person and although things might never be the same, if I see someone putting in a strong effort, I’m very likely to accept them back in my life, obviously not to the extent as before but they have a bit of access.”
However things were different on this occasion, with Zenesoul confessing that “I became attached to somebody that I realised I couldn’t let go of, which was very foreign to me and weird. I didn’t understand it because I couldn’t do what needed to be done. ‘Let Me Go’ is me literally asking the person to do it for my sake. This song is actually very toxic and something that I know I’m not alone in feeling. It is definitely something I don’t wish on anyone to feel.”
Not all of Zenesoul’s tracks, however, revolve around heartbreak and the painful parts of love. The hopeful “Pain, No Percocet” is a raw exploration of the aftermath of unresolved trauma. Describing the genesis of the song, Zenesoul shares how, “I ended up in a place where I was questioning myself a lot. Like what am I doing wrong and I was doing a lot of self reflection. I’m the type of person to overthink a lot of things and I live in my head. It’s such an annoying thing.”
“But even though it’s annoying, it allows me to be very self aware so I know a lot of my flaws,” she asserts. “I’m never shocked when I’m told about a flaw because trust and believe I probably already recognized it. One thing that I can’t figure out is why I love the idea of Love so much. Like I literally see people around me going through it in relationships. A lot of people aren’t happy. So sometimes I’m really just confused as to why I think my own will be different when time and time again experience has shown me that it’s not different.”
The hopeful romantic then adds that, “I have so much hope in me it’s crazy. I just feel like with every hurtful situation I’m supposed to be discouraged and though the pain of it doesn’t go away, I’m still ready to try again. I’m still ready to give my all like nothing happened. Is it foolishness, delusion or what it means to love? I don’t even know. So one day I was in my car and I heard the beat. The beat gives a very dark vibe but also intimate and once I freestyled the line ‘I’m ready, been ready’ I knew I was about to write about me being fed up with the state of things. I didn’t really know the direction I was going in but I allowed my unconscious mind to take over and ‘Pain, no Percocet’ was born.”
Zenesoul’s narrative also speaks to the broader Black experience, a theme that she subtly yet purposefully weaves into her music. Sharing with us why this is significant to her, Zenesoul thinks that “There is something beautiful about the Black experience in that there is a commonality amongst those experiencing it, even though everyone’s journey is different across the globe. My art reflects my experiences in life. Because the Black experience is something that is naturally a part of my life, it is hard to pinpoint the exact moments reflected in my work. Something I love about artists like India.Arie, Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill is how effortlessly they expressed and reminded everyone of the beauty that is the Black experience, spreading positive messages of affirmations and holding a mirror to Black beauty. It is something Black girls everywhere deserve to hear, I hope to continue that mission of uplifting people around the globe.”
Her Nigerian heritage also plays a significant role in shaping her music and approach to songwriting. “One thing about being Nigerian is that we don’t stay down for long. We find a way to make light of difficult situations. I know I write a lot about heartbreaks and blah blah blah, but I always have to return it with a love song or something uplifting because that’s just how I was raised,” she shares.
Exploring this further, she adds that “It just feels weird to me being in a space or bubble of sadness without a happy conclusion and honestly that’s why all my projects either have to end with a realisation, growth or hope. Something positive must come from all the pain and I truly believe that. I’ve heard a lot that people love my slow ballad type songs but I know I can’t stay writing about that all day. I need something a bit upbeat, even if it’s still on the topic of sadness, I need a reminder that everything will be alright.”
Zenesoul’s music often teeters on the delicate balance between safeguarding one’s heart and opening it up to love. A balance she herself is consistently negotiating in her life. Elaborating on how this has become a recurrent theme in her music, Zenesouls confesses that, “This is a very unintentional recurring theme. I find that because I am constantly finding myself in that equilibrium, it extends into my music. My songs are usually a reflection of my headspace at the time. I go from ‘I’m gonna be closed up and give less, show less love…’ to ‘… I don’t want to be closed. I want to love and give my all and hope for the best’. It’s just a cycle that I feel a lot of us go through especially when ending a relationship. I’m hoping to end this theme, but that is for time to tell.”
Despite the heartbreak, Zenesoul remains a romantic at heart. Her fascination with love persists, albeit tinged with a bittersweet understanding of its realities. This exploration of fantasy and reality in love forms the core theme of her work, and she is the true embodiment of an artist pouring her soul out through her music. Despite love being such a universally discussed subject, Zenesoul continues to offer a refreshing take on it, while keeping her sound fresh and impactful.
Sharing how she has managed this, she says, “I love ‘love’, it is such a complex thing in all of our lives. But that’s what makes it possible to share different insights on it through my music. I am always working on being self-aware. In every situation I look at what part I played as well as what I couldn’t prevent. When I listen to stories, I look at the whole picture. I try to understand all sides and why someone behaved the way they did, and I think because of this I have so many perspectives and understanding of myself and people which makes it easy for me to talk about love. I have experienced more pain and have heard more stories about pain so it reflects in why my music is a lot about heartbreak and pain.”
In a world where the lines between reality and fantasy can often blur, Zenesoul’s music is a beacon of truth, a soulful reality check that helps listeners navigate the complexities of love and life. It’s a reflection of her as an artist – raw, genuine, and full of soul. As we delve deeper into the creation of Reality, Zenesoul shares some of the challenges she faced along the way, “I think my greatest challenge is the fear of how I would be perceived. When I release music, I’m honestly always scared like I don’t want people thinking I’m at home depressed or sad about love because that isn’t the case. Yes, I talk about love and heartbreak a lot, but I bounce back very quickly and I’m actually more okay with being by myself than my music makes it seem.”
When asked about how the early success of “Let Me Go” influenced the creation of the other tracks in the Reality EP, Zenesoul explains how “It was so cool to see the organic love for ‘Let Me Go,’ especially seeing people in different parts of the world sharing with me their love for the song. I feel this song had a new momentum after the EP was released. When I write my songs, I don’t go in the studio with a full intention for a story, I just write how I feel in the moment with the beat. It is only later when I see how the songs relate to events in my life and tell me of my surroundings.”
She also shares the specific memories and experiences tied to each track on Reality, providing a glimpse into the emotional landscape that inspired the project. “I actually found a beat that I’ve had for a while that inspired the idea of ‘Love isn’t a Game’,” she shares, “but the beat did not give the full emotion that I wanted so while in the studio with my engineer Nate Smith and my manager Mahad, I asked Nate if he could make a beat for the song to give it a 90s feel that is hopeful but serious at the same time and after some time he sent it over to me and I was in love.”
For “Let Me Go”, she reveals how “I was in a writer’s block and didn’t know how to get out of it. I’ve noticed that I’m inspired by certain sounds at different times. Some days I’m inspired by neo soul sounds and other days, afrosoul or traditional R&B. I found the only beats resonating with me at the moment were transitional R&B sounds, and once I heard the beat for ‘Let Me Go’, my writer’s block was gone and it was very easy to write on the topic of the song because it was my current experience.” The track “Pain, no Percocet” also holds a special place in her heart, as she unearths how this track came together, “The beat gave me a very dark poetry night vibe that resonated with me but wasn’t my norm. I knew from the beat I wanted to speak on something dark but empowering. I imagined myself on a stage while creating this song, and I feel it really brought out the vision I was going for.”
Zenesoul’s ability to turn her raw emotions into soulful music has helped her evolve as a songwriter and an artist. “It is so cool to look back and see the growth, having a public catalogue online allows me to look back to my earliest work and contrast my experiences in the studio with my current and future releases,” she reflects. “I think the biggest growth I’ve noticed is how I create melodies and harmonies, learning how to do more background vocal work and really exploring all the ranges of my voice has been a rewarding challenge and is something I plan on working on even more. I think it is super important for artists to continue to sharpen their tools and it is something that I’m proud to continue doing for the rest of my career.”
She explains her songwriting process in detail, which involves a lot of freestyling on beats she likes as she is driving. “I begin to freestyle on the beat until a line stands out to me and from that line, I create the topic of the song,” she says. “Lately I’ve been reflecting on the line to see how it relates to me or others around me and from there, I begin to form the rest of the song.”
When asked about the emotional connection she hopes her listeners will forge with Reality, Zenesoul is clear. “I want my listeners to understand that going into something does not mean it’s going to work out. And if it doesn’t work out it’s okay, but you must understand that taking time to heal is important because that yearn for love will have us going in and out of relationships playing the games we hate so much.”
Zenesoul’s exploration of love and heartbreak through her music has also informed her personal understanding of love. “I think I expect love to not be easy,” she admits. “I used to think it was supposed to be, but now I’m at a space where I feel you have to put in work for it just like you put in work for other things you want. Love isn’t something you just throw away when you’re done. It’s constant understanding and learning. It’s definitely not supposed to be feeling like you’re at war, but it’s not as easy as I grew up thinking.”
Discussing how her tracks “Pain, No Percocet” and “Let Me Go” explore the torment of toxic love, Zenesoul reveals how she envisions this narrative might resonate with her listeners. “A lot of us are in toxic love and have a hard time navigating it. I know for me I never wanted toxic love and I want out of it, but some way, somehow it happens from scars unhealed,” she shares.
She also adds that “I want healthy love but sometimes you don’t know something is unhealthy until you’re in and at that point you’ve now added a new baggage to your load and a lot of times it gets taken into another relationship and the cycle begins. Many of us are in a cycle of being afraid to give our all but not giving you’re all toxic. It’s just something that I know is affecting this generation from conversations with friends and posts I see online. Anything that has to do with love will always resonate with my listeners.”
Zenesoul’s music has been recognized by various outlets and featured on numerous playlists, including landing on the cover of Spotify’s ‘MOOD RING’ editorial playlist, which is no mean feat. “It’s just so cool, especially because I love that playlist,” she gushes about the Spotify cover. “I literally go on there almost every Friday to see what new music in Canada is out. There is so much talent here and I love how everyone is in different lanes and this playlist really highlights the Canadian talent. I’m so grateful to the kind folks at Spotify for their consistent support in my career.”
Diving deeper into the impact that being recognised and garnering critical acclaim has had on her journey as an artist, Zenesoul reveals, “It has had a lot of impact for many reasons. A big one is that it is very affirming that people like what I’m doing. Especially people who live and breathe music. It’s an indication that I’m on the right path and my music is touching others. It’s a very beautiful thing seeing my hard work and my art being recognized by people I haven’t yet met in person. It’s so motivating and comforting.”
Overall, her reaction to the recognition and appreciation her work receives is one of gratitude. She tells us how “Honestly, I am so grateful every single time, because for me releasing a song is always scary. I’m always nervous about how it’s going to be received because although my art is for me to express myself it is also to be consumed and to be relatable. To see that it is being recognized and appreciated, it brings me joy to know that my music is resonating with other people and touching others the way it touches me.”
As she looks towards the future, Zenesoul shares her dreams as an artist, and how her ‘Reality’ project plays into her future vision. “My dream is to be able to execute all the visuals and ideas I have in my mind when it comes to my art without feeling limited in resources. I’d love to have a family, create music and have a lot of businesses surrounding my brand. ‘Reality’ is where I currently am in the family department. Not really going well lol. Love seems to be my favourite subject but the most daunting part of it all,” she reveals.
However she does add, “My fantasy is for me to focus more on me and my passion and let God take care of the rest. Since I’ve made ‘Reality’, I’ve been on my fantasy journey and I’m honestly loving the space I’m in. I feel free and I’ve given myself grace. I’m currently completing my next project which is Fantasy and I’m very excited for the freeing vibes some of the songs give.”
She also reveals the core message she wishes her listeners to derive from her music as she evolves as an artist. “I want my listeners to understand that life is a journey. I’m still learning and always willing to learn. My perspective on things changes and that is okay. I make mistakes, I heal from them and I make new mistakes. I’m human and my music reflects my consistent evolution.”
Reflecting on her career as a musician, she considers being nominated for a Juno Award to be the most gratifying moment to date. “I would say being nominated for a Juno Award mainly because I felt like something like that was given to people that were known in the industry and had connections. So to be an independent artist with no connection like that and be chosen in a genre that is so popular in Canada was very affirming and it built my confidence,” she shares.
Zenesoul’s music captures her vulnerability and strength, giving voice to deep emotions through soulful tunes. Drawing inspiration from human relationships and the emotional spectrum of love and heartbreak, she crafts a relatable sonic universe, resonating deeply with listeners. She is unafraid to document her growth and evolution, forming an ever-evolving narrative that illustrates her changing perspectives and continuous learning.
Over the years, she has honed her songwriting, experimenting with diverse sonic elements to craft her unique sound. Such dedication has brought her recognition, epitomized by her Juno Award nomination. As Zenesoul looks to the future, she aspires to manifest her creative visions without bounds and to branch out beyond music, indicating dreams of family and entrepreneurial endeavors related to her artistry.
Zenesoul emphasizes the dynamic nature of life, urging her audience to accept change and understand the inevitability of evolving perspectives. She epitomizes the transformative power of vulnerability and authenticity, inspiring countless fans with her poignant music. By uniquely weaving past experiences with future aspirations, she’s reshaping the contemporary R&B landscape. Her music invites listeners on a journey through love, heartbreak, and self-growth.
Since her 2019 debut, Zenesoul’s passion remains unwavering, as she pushes boundaries in the R&B/Soul genre. Her releases provide a window into both her musical evolution and personal revelations. With a bright future ahead, one constant remains: Zenesoul’s indomitable presence in music. As her soulful journey unfolds, audiences can expect a tapestry of musical depth and genuine emotion. Join Zenesoul as she continues to captivate and connect with her melodious narratives.