The first song Aqyila ever wrote was about her mom. The then 10-year-old performed the tender track at a school recital. “Of course, she was a huge fan – she had her phone out, recording me,” Aqyila tells us over videochat, smiling. “It was the first time I ever sang on a stage, too.”
Now, at 22, the Torontonian R&B artist born Taahira Aqyila Duff has been heard more than six million times on Spotify, and garnered 14 million views with three million likes on TikTok, over on the strength of her track “Vibe for Me (Bob for Me).” She posted it to her TikTok page, which went viral after Lizzo shared it.
As Aqyila tells it, she posted the song back in November of 2020, then went on with her life – as she would after posting any of her TikToks – but then the notifications started accumulating on her phone. She was stunned, but even more so when Lizzo came through to post “love you” on her page. Since then, some famous fans of the track have included ‘90s icons Monica and Brandy, TikTok star Charli D’Amelio, and Bebe Rexha – who appeared in Aqyila’s DMs with praise, and now follows her.
Aqyila tells us the story of her virality after a writing session where she’s working on a fresh batch of songs. She recently signed to Sony Music Canada. When Aqyila started her TikTok page at the outset of the pandemic, it was for fun, she says, a place to be creative and test out the tracks she whipped up in GarageBand. It’s clear that the major-label signing is the most impactful part of this dizzying journey. She says this is the first time she’s used professional studio microphones, and, as someone who wrote solo for a while, she’s enjoying working with collaborators who understand her vision.
Aqyila was raised on R&B: she cites Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, and Fantasia as key influences in shaping her musical palette. Gospel, too, informs her artistic path: singers like Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin, and the duo Mary Mary. All performers who invoke vivid emotional depth, something important to Aqyila as a songwriter.
“I write out my emotions”
“I write out my emotions,” she says. “Whenever I’m thinking, or going through something or other, maybe [something] a little bit more difficult… I would just write it up and sing about it. And, usually, I feel like a weight’s lifted off my shoulders.”
So much of Aqyila’s brief musical offerings are characterized as “feel-good,” something she herself seems to wholly emit: Aqyila is kind, tender, wise, and generous in her time and her work. “Vibe For Me,” she says, is a song that glows, or allows the people listening to it to glow.
“I want people to know that no matter what you look like, where you’re from, you are an amazing person,” she says. “That it instills and reminds people, OK, regardless of what standards may be out there in society today, when I look at that mirror, I’m still going to feel like I am that girl, that I am awesome.”
Even though Aqyila’s a decade-plus removed from that first song she wrote, the thread through it all is her desire to empower the listener, making people feel good, seen, or heard with her music. This hearkens back to her influences, and what she values as a performer: deep emotional expression. She alludes to a love song she was working on, just before our call, as something she’s so wildly proud of, a “pretty little track,” as she calls it.
And while she’s still using TikTok, still connecting with new and old fans, Aqyila doesn’t feel the need to keep her momentum if it’s inauthentic. “I don’t want to ever put that pressure on myself to be like, ‘Okay, I have to do something that’s going to go viral.’”
It truly seems like that won’t ever have to be the case.