Multifaceted Artist Aiza Marks the Stage

Performing Arts: A Journey From High School Theatre to the Big Screen

  • Aiza won Francophone Artist of the Year at Gala Dynastie 2019. Courtesy Manoucheka Lacherie

“I love taking up space. I love claiming my space. And I love giving permission to other people to do the same for that moment in the room.”

Aiza—singer, songwriter, actress—was raised walking the same streets that many Montreal artists tread. She found her way from a young age.

“[Music] was always playing at home. It was a big part of dealing. When I was going through bad times, music was there,” she said.

“It was just always a great outlet for expression.”

She said that music started out as a hobby but evolved into this career she is building for herself.

She grew up on the corner of St. Jacques St. and Elmhurst Ave. She attended École secondaire Saint-Luc, a French high school in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough. “I’m an NDG girl,” said Aiza.

In high school, she acted in the annual student-run plays and musicals.

“The big one was playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz in grade 9,” she said.

She discovered that she had a knack for reading and memorizing scripts. She longed for characters that allowed her to play a full range of emotions.

Aiza challenged herself even as a teenager. “I could see the other kids were having fun, but they weren’t taking it as seriously I was,” she said.

The school also had a music program where students could pick up and learn an instrument. Aiza decided on the trumpet and took part in the student orchestra.

“Music and performing was a big, big part of coming into my own as a teen,” she said. “It was a way to stay out of trouble and channel my creativity.”

Nearing high school graduation, her teachers recognized she had ample talent and pushed her to recognize that within herself.

“At the time, even though I loved the stage, I was still so shy,” she said. “If I hadn’t been pushed to do it, I don’t think I would’ve gone full steam ahead.”

As a young Black girl from Montreal, she did not find much representation on Quebec television.

“I am not seeing myself in the media,” she said. “Where do I see representation? In the U.S.”

Aiza performed at The Drake for the School Night Toronto event on Nov. 25, 2019. Courtesy Gizzy G

Growing up, Aiza connected more with artists from outside Canadian borders, such as Destiny’s Child or Alicia Keys.

Everything became clear once she hit the ground running. She studied theatre at Dawson College for three years. “I made lifelong friends there,” she said.

At Dawson, where theatre was taken more seriously than it had been in high school, she gained confidence and got a taste of the industry.

Aiza said she took her sweet time growing and exploring her talent in the performing arts.

She had a reputation for being good at singing and dancing, both of which she loved to do. She performed in plays and musicals at the Segal Centre.

“Right now, the thing that comes to mind the most is music’s ability to capture a moment. You listen to a song and you’re 13 again, or your heart is broken again,” she said.

“We have photographs. We have video. Music is able to do the same thing but in a very sensory way.”

“She can sing, she can dance, she can act,” said Vincent Stephen-Ong, founder of the Montreal hip-hop and soul jam session Le Cypher.

Aiza has been frequenting the weekly jam session since its beginning. She eventually joined the house band Urban Science, which backs the musicians, singers, and MCs.

“Not only is she a great singer, but her ability to host and to engage [with the] audience is really strong,” said Stephen-Ong, noting just how captivating Aiza is as a performer.

Preach Ankobia, the director and general manager of Kalmunity, a Montreal improv collective, said that Aiza has enough talent and skill to reach a larger market.

“I’m sure she has many other talents kind of hiding away,” he said. “Very unique, very energetic, very spicy.”

Ankobia finds that Aiza has a unique tone and suggested Montreal is too small for her dreams.

After performing as a singer and an actor on Montreal stages, Aiza moved to Toronto, and now acts on the big screen.

She currently works for a Netflix production, voice acting in the original series Jupiter’s Legacy, airing next year. She plays Sierra Ectoplex, who can blast ectoplasm from her hands.

“She’s badass, she kicks butt, and it was a lot of fun playing her,” Aiza said.

“Be yourself. Shake your ass if you want to. Cry if you want to. Just let it all go. It’s setting the world on fire.”

Aiza

She also recently got a gig with the Canadian Netflix show Working Moms.

Ankobia said Toronto’s scene is saturated, calling it the American knock-off of eastern Canada.

“It’s not easy for artists if they’re trying to get by out there,” he added. He believes Toronto is a bustling city where many can find better opportunities in the arts, but accommodations are expensive.

Aiza’s took the first steps into her career as a performer while in highschool. Courtesy Minus Coutur

“There is way more opportunity at hand, especially for a Black anglophone artist,” he said.

Both Aiza and Ankobia believe networking could go a long way for many aspiring artists in Montreal.

“Get the books, take a class, talk with people who are doing it. Ask questions. Pay attention to the people you are working with,” Aiza advised.

She said that Kalmunity was very helpful to her.

Aiza’s favourite part about performing is connecting with her audience. She feels grateful when the crowd dances and celebrates music along with her.

“I would be shy, but then when I sang, something else took over me. You’re just doing it—not worried about making money, because you enjoy it,” she said.

“Be yourself. Shake your ass if you want to. Cry if you want to. Just let it all go. It’s setting the world on fire,” she said.

“Light up the passion in people.”

Three years ago, Aiza decided to shift the language of her songwriting and produced her first work in French, “Adieu.”

In writing music, “you kind of have to sit through an uncomfortable, almost homework-y kind of space,” she said.

She continued to produce more French singles and visited Abidjan in the Ivory Coast to perform.

“I milk my bilingualism all the way,” she said.

“Adieu,” her French track, is about leaving to find newer or better grounds to cover and claiming one’s own space.

Aiza continues to take steps forward and to follow her dreams.

“I’m going to leave the regret behind,” she said. “I’m going to leave [behind] the questions and the aching doubts about what I could’ve done differently. I’m going to let go of the blame that I may have cast on some people in my life.”

“I realize now, after the release, a month later, I left Montreal,” she said. “‘Adieu,’ in a way, was a farewell to my city, my hometown, and a farewell to so much more than I thought I was writing about at the time.”

Aiza has been living in Toronto for almost a year now with her boyfriend, Christopher Cargnello, a multi-instrumentalist and studied composer. The couple work closely to produce music.

“I’ve been through so much, and I am going to take the lessons and I’m going to raise this glass to myself and to life, and I’m going to leave everything else behind,” she said.

She just completed the Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class. The internship plucks four from the many talented candidates who apply to participate in the week-long mentorship program in Toronto.

“Since then, it’s just been networking, doing shows,” she said.

While Aiza continues to reach great heights as a multi-talented performer and musician, Montreal was the place that gave her talents enough time and space to grow.

Now, Aiza is in a different artistic space than she was before.

“I felt more confident,” she said.

She started to learn Portuguese for her recent trip to Brazil. Last December, she was excited to fly to South America for the Semana Internacional de Música de São Paulo.

Over 2,800 people auditioned to perform at SIM, but only 27 acts—including Aiza, the only Canadian musician selected—got to rock the stage under the Brazilian sun.

“[Music] is not a job I can just do from nine-to-five, walk away, and go back the next day,” she said.

“It’s always with me.”

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