Qi Yama is on the grind. Relatively new to Montreal’s music scene, the singer-songwriter-turned-rapper has been tirelessly honing his craft while building strong connections in the local community. Raised in Winnipeg, the 21-year-old has a voice that carries the unmistakable weight of energy and emotion, belying a tone which breezes effortlessly over beats. Deeply committed to the craft of musical storytelling, Qi Yama has moved quickly to build an impressive repertoire of emotional snapshots that betray an astuteness beyond his age. I sat down with him to find out more about his musical evolution, influences, and the message behind it all.
To set the proper vibe, we’ve got an exclusive premiere from Qi Yama’s upcoming EP for you just below. Enjoy!
First off: Who is Qi Yama?
I don’t know if I could give you a full description, but I could definitely give you words that are important to me. Faith is very important to me, family, honesty, loyalty, belief in yourself. I really believe that Qi Yama is all about believing in your dreams, and actually working towards getting there.
How did you get started making music?
I’d always been very into guitar, but never got the chance to get one when i was younger. I played a bit of drums in middle school, and played percussion in band class. But when I finally got my driver’s license, I went and bought a cheap, cheap guitar, and literally couldn’t stop playing it for like a year straight. That’s kind of how it all got started, just trying to emulate my favorite acoustic artists and that’s it, only acoustic artists.
You mention first being about acoustic artists, and playing guitar first, but now your music style is changing towards hip hop and rapping. Now, you can still hear parts of the singer-songwriter, but you’re moving past that, and getting more lyrical. What was the catalyst for that change, what was the inspiration?
I think really it was because the biggest thing I loved about music and I really admired about music was the storytelling. That’s such a fundamental part of rap, and just such a fundamental part of songwriting in general. The artists I look up to, Ed Sheeran, Jack Johnson, Lou Reed, James Mercer from the Shins, they’re all great storytellers, and I found that as I was playing acoustic guitar and writing these little melodies, I’d always want to throw a little verse into every song because I wanted to expand the story. I wanted to more concretely say what I wanted to say, and then eventually the writing kept going and I was like “Dammit I just want to move towards rap”. It’s way more bumpy and there’s a lot more I feel I can learn from other people’s production.
Stylistically, where do you think you’re going next? Right now, it still seems very much like you’re in transition.
I definitely think it’s going to move towards a more produced angle after I put out this next little EP, which is off producers I’ve met online. They don’t really even care about the music too much, they’re like “Yeah you want to use this for free go ahead”, and they probably don’t even listen to it if I send them a file. But I definitely want to move towards a more self-produced angle, and really form an album, EP, or project where I make all the music, more than just an acoustic guitar but all of it, the beats as well. Hopefully also just more meticulous lyricism and work to become a more conscious rapper, because I really want that conscious angle in my lyricism.
Building off of that, you’re talking about that more conscious part of your lyricism, and that you want full control over the creative process. You seem very particular with everything about your music, so what is it exactly that you want to convey with this upcoming project?
The projects I’ve been doing have been really just snapshots, a quick five song collection of things that I’m feeling right now, and a lot of this one talks about a bit of depression and anxiety, but it also talks about the problems going on in the world from one person’s viewpoint, and kind of feeling at times hopeless, but understanding that things can and need to be done, and believing in that through my music.
That’s interesting, because often when people try to convey they’re going through a rough spot they want to believe that things are going to get better. You seem to be talking more about expression through music, and working through tough times by expressing this moment in time. How’s the music helped you get through these times, and through some struggles you’ve had?
For sure, detailing back until when I had first started music, I started because I was going through that kind of teenage angst, depression, huge identity crisis kind of stuff. I didn’t really understand who I was within my culture and my faith. So singing, naturally, the action of singing makes you feel better, it’s a release of emotions. Then to pair that with forming stories as if I’m writing in my journal and sounds. Truly, when you’re pushing those sounds up and you’re expressing those emotions, that’s where that all started from, it truly is a healing thing for me. It’s a cathartic thing, just the action of singing, like you’re screaming in a way, to the whole finishing of the album, and thinking that this really captures the feelings that I’m having right now and the things I want to talk about. Usually it’s a polar thing, usually when I’m upset or really happy about something that’s what I want to write a song about, capture the vibe and the entire idea, through a verse and hooks and whatnot.
Do you find stylistically your style changes depending on what you’re trying to convey, which emotions and things like that?
I’d say in general the singer songwriter has always been a sadder part of me, I’ve never written fast, or happy songs on the guitar. But as far as rap goes, it’s the idea that I go in with, and the beat and production behind it that sets the tone for what I want to do. Sometimes I write something with a lot of boom behind it and dance, but most of what I write about still about darker commentaries in a way.
How has being in Montreal influenced you, your creative process, or your music? Be it the people, or the “sound,” or the city itself, Montreal is now really starting to come up as a music hub.
I think just the culture and the art here first of all, the art on the walls, everything here, there’s so many artists walking around, big or small it doesn’t matter, there’s just people that love art out here. Then with artists like Kaytranada and High Klassified and all these guys doing cool stuff, there’s this more eclectic sound coming out of Montreal that hasn’t really been defined, like in a place such as Toronto maybe. So that opportunity is in the air, with a bunch of artists floating around, and meeting each other. I think that catalyzes high inspiration, because it’s not about being the one that takes over the city or anything like that, but it’s more like when there’s such a cool atmosphere bubbling up you really want to be a part of it, you want to understand and be influenced by it, and you want to meet other artists within it. So I think that’s where a lot of this city inspires me.
Anything else you want to add?
Check out the new EP, that’s about it.
(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity)