Sounds x Interview: Ria Boss

Ria Boss is easily one of the most exciting artists today in Ghana’s alternative music scene. She makes beautiful, highly expressive soul music. If I’m to pick one word that aptly describes Ria’s work, I’d say “magical.” Her voice is as soulful as it gets, and she makes the kind of music you wouldn’t quickly get tired of listening to.

For weeks, people raved about Ria’s work to me. I finally understood what they were going on about when I listened to her. I can confidently say that Ria Boss is one of the Ghanaian artists to keep an eye on. She dropped her first EP, Find Your Free, in 2017 and has gone on to release nearly a dozen other impressive projects. We had a chance to interview Ria recently, and she dished on her background, her influences as well as her plans for the future.

Tell us a bit about your journey to find your unique sound. Have you always known soul music was the way for you?

My mother is my biggest influence musically, and I begin by saying this because it was her blasting Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Nina Simone (to name a few) every Saturday morning while she danced through our home that shaped my love affair with soul music. It was my mother that introduced me to Erykah Badu’s music and even to India Arie. I always found refuge in that sound, but I did not fully immerse myself in it until I got to college. Yes, I sang in the choir when I was in boarding school, but for a very long time, I was super shy of singing in front of people! When I got to New York I started to open myself up to my gifts even more, formed a band, and we gigged for a while. I also was in an electro-house group for a while called Gravez, and also for a little bit I was in a Hip-Hop/Soul fusion group called ADISACRA. I lend my voice to so many genres, but Soul is my ministry. It’s where my voice is most at home. I’ve finally found my self through that sound, and I’m confident in it, for which I give thanks.

I read somewhere that you started dabbling in music at an early age. Have you always made music or did you have periods when you were involved in other things?

Piano lessons and the choir were definitely permanent fixtures of my childhood. However, I was also super interested in acting (and I still am), also painting. But I’ve always been extremely centered around the arts and music has been a constant. I even started learning the violin at one point!

You’re reminiscent of some legendary soul artists. Can you tell us a bit about your musical influences?

Like I mentioned above, my soul mothers are comprised of powerful goddess women like Erykah Badu, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray. Soul fathers like The Isley Brothers, D’Angelo, and Marvin Gaye. Although I might also add that I also have newer influences or beings. I draw inspiration from like Solange, Frank Ocean and Lizzo (to name a few).

You have been described as one of the artists who represent a new wave in the Ghanaian music scene. Do you ever feel any pressure to make “hits” or the kind of songs played on the radio?

There’s definitely a harder road ahead for me when it comes to being more in the mainstream in Ghana. I’ve had people tell me that I should try and incorporate more Afrobeats into my sound such to get a “hit,” or even – wait for i – “to sound more Ghanaian.” But by virtue of being from here, I believe my music still represents my Ghanaian self especially in some of my writing. It is important for my genre to exist here, just like how Hip-Hop exists here with artists like Kiddblack or alte sounds like AmaaRae. It is important for us to be who we are and make the music that is authentic to our selves, our souls. So the pressure may come, but I’ll never cave.

You released 11 EPs during the THANKGODITSRIA series. That’s impressive. What was the inspiration for the THANKGODITSRIA series, and how has the response been?

I record a lot of music, and over the years I’ve grown a literal vault of music. Last year, my stepbrother sort of joked, “You’ve got so much music you could drop an album every month.” Then that got us into a conversation about Kanye West when he did GOOD Fridays, and how I could legitimately do the same thing. I was born on a Friday so, inspired by what my brother said, I decided to take the “Thank God it is Friday” phrase and make it mine and take over Fridays, every week till my birthday on November 24th. Honestly, I was not expecting anything really. I did it as a gift to myself, and also as an attempt to get myself in the studio more, and the gift came with so much love. The response has been overwhelming and all positive, most importantly I’m proud of myself for seeing it through.

What should the world expect from Ria Boss this year? Are we gonna get THANKGODITSRIA 2 or maybe an album?

THANKGODITSRIA is definitely a series I see myself continuing, so there may very well be a second installment closer to the end of the year. However, before I embark on that journey, it’s important that I finish out the first one. The music for the first edition now needs the films that accompany them. Each EP represented for me an aspect of self. An aspect of self that I’m ready to share visually. So this year I’ll be releasing a short film for each EP, a huge project to undertake but also one that will allow my fans to get a better sense of what goes on in my head, my heart and in my actual lived experience. Drawing inspiration from influences such as Sevdaliza, Solange, and Kendrick Lamar (to name a few). It is important to represent ourselves in our fullness. I am more than just a singer or writer, my art knows no bounds, and I’m ready for my fans to see that side.

Your music touches on a lot of subjects. Do you write all your songs?

I do indeed write every and all of my songs, and each and every one of them has come from a direct lived experience. Some of them represent mantras, others affirmations and many of them are almost diary entries. I’m an empath and severely hypersensitive, writing it all helps me in my own journey of healing, of figuring myself out in this universe.

I hear a lot of keys in your music. Do you still play the piano and do you play in your songs?

I grew up playing classical piano, so I love keys in my music. In the songs I produce, I tend to use the keys, but my lack of consistent practice has me a little rusty I must admit! One of my goals this year is to get more confident in playing as I sing, and eventually incorporating that into my live performances.

I read somewhere that you have Ghanaian and Burkinabe heritage. Is that correct?

That is absolutely correct. My mother is Ghanaian, and my father is Burkinabe. My ancestors are rooted in West Africa.

How has your experience living in Ghana and New York influenced your music?

I would honestly have to say it was living in New York that helped me find my confidence to take the leap into making music my career. Ria Boss was born there, found my comfort on the stage there. Now, more recently, being home, I’m connecting more to my ancestral wisdom, learning more about who I am through my family and all of that not only influences the sound but my writing as well. I found flight in New York, Ghana is where I get my magic. The songs can be seen as spells after all 🙂

What made you decide to move back to Ghana?

I get this question a lot (LOL), and, honestly, at the time I decided to move, I was living in LA, which, FYI, is one of my dream cities, so it struck so many people as odd that I wanted to move! But it was something in my spirit. I was not at peace, and at that point, it had been a few years since I’d been back to Ghana. Something was calling me – some may call it God, I think it was my ancestors – something told me I had to go home, and I moved almost within two weeks of having that feeling. I literally up and followed my spirit and I don’t regret it. The last two years I’ve had my fair share of unbelievable highs and undeniable soul-shattering lows, but I am happy I made the move. I’m a nomad though, so we’ll see where my spirit chooses to take me next.

I know it is probably wrong to ask this LOL, but I’m curious. What are your top five favorite songs from your catalog?

This changes depending on the mental space I’m in. I’m currently experiencing probably my worst heartbreak to date, and I’m slowly trying to rebuild my confidence, my joy. So the top five in this moment are: “Halfway House” (from BLOODBATH), “Intro” (from SAMPLEPLATE), “Freedom” (from THE COOKOUT), “Law of the Harvest” (from SWEETBABY), and “Bad Mama” (from WILDWOMAN).

Check out Ria Boss’ latest project, BORN DAY, below.

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