Clocking in at a mere two minutes, Toronto R&B singer Liza’s (pronounced LEE-za, a.k.a. Liza Yohannes) latest single “Congratulations” delivers a tautly-woven narrative of being genuinely happy for a past love who’s moved on with his life. With only a sinewy, nostalgia-tinged guitar loop for accompaniment, “Congratulations” deftly showcases Liza’s voice, conveying a genuine air of sincerity and magnanimity, when it could have easily delivered snark.
Liza wrote the song with Jay Century and Michael Bernard Fitzgerald at a 2018 SOCAN Kenekt Songwriting Camp on Pender Island in British Columbia, after stumbling on her ex while randomly scrolling through Instagram.
“I’d completely forgotten about him at that point, I had repressed that thought, I had moved on, really,” says Liza. “And it was like, ‘Oh, he’s here, he has a new girlfriend, and he’s doing this, and this, and this, and congrats.’ That was literally the first word that came into my head, and then this song came out as more of a conversation.”
Much like “You,” a standout song from Liza’s 2017 four-song February 29 EP, “Congratulations” centres around a basketball-playing beau – its photo artwork is a bunch of dead flowers over concrete court markings. It turns out that there’s a connection. “‘Congratulations’ was the last song I wrote about the person I wrote “You” about, so that’s sort of closing the chapter on that person,” says Liza. “I thought that was perfect: end of the decade, end of the year. And sonically, it felt like an end-of-the-year song.”
“Congratulations” is just the fourth track Liza has released since her 2017 EP, following the ethereal cool of singles “Here to Stay,” “Passes Me,” and “Morning Glory,” but her deliberate approach is intentional. “Honestly, I’m a very big believer in quality over quantity. And I just believe that I don’t want to put out things prematurely,” says Liza. “In terms of my process, I’m a little bit of a perfectionist sometimes, where I’m very critical of my own work, and very critical of everything. Just because I want it to be the best thing I can put out. I want the next song I put out to always be better than the last. I want to always be progressively improving. And I definitely don’t want to oversaturate. I want my songs to live longer.”
“I want the next song I put out to always be better than the last.”
Writing songs alone, or with songwriter Kalvin, and rising producers like Akeel Henry, Liza’s sound not only incorporates the R&B she grew up with, but the music she heard from being raised in a home steeped in Ethiopian culture.
“I used to go every two years and spend a few months at a time in Ethiopia, immersing myself in the culture, the music in the language, in the food, everything,” says Liza. “ So that was me singing along to all these Ethiopian songs from the age of three or four. And because of that, I feel like it definitely influences the way I sing. It’s funny, but I never really considered it until multiple people came up to me and actually told me I reminded them of this Ethiopian singer, or that Ethiopian singer.” Liza cites Aster Aweke, Mahmoud Ahmed, and Teddy Afro, as well as the Ethiopian jazz of artists like Mulatu Astatke, as primary influences in her musical life. Clearly, the sum of her influences is increasingly garnering more notices and justified attention.
Recently, she snagged a co-writing credit and background vocals on “Complexities,” a track on Daniel Caesar’s sophomore effort CASE STUDY 01, despite the fact she’s yet to meet Caesar. “I didn’t think it was going to be used on the album at all,” says Liza. “As far as I knew, [producer Alex Ernewein and I] were working on an idea for myself, and then I kinda forgot about the idea. And then, yeah, Alex kinda mentioned something about the [Daniel Caesar] album, but it’s something that I didn’t think was going to be on the album, so I was, like, ‘OK, I’ll wait until we see it online.’ But it actually came to fruition. It was a really wonderful experience.” The song is also co-credited to Ethan Ashby, Liam Mitro, and Sean Leon.
With her musical career on the upswing and “Congratulations” drawing a line under a rear-view mirror experience, a new project in early 2020 is next on deck for Liza. Despite already distinguishing herself early in her career, she’s clearly intent on growing as an artist.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a person and as a woman. Just being more independent in various aspects of my life,” says Liza. “ I feel like all those things have really forced me to delve into a deeper space, through writing who I want to be, and who I am, and really understanding myself. I just think that I’ve really begun to understand myself more holistically, and that has come through time. I think my sound is going to be more mature because of that.”