Born in London. Raised in Gabon and Ghana. Living and working in New York City. Dreaming of Los Angeles. Singer-songwriter Ria Boss has been all over.
But through her vulnerable songwriting and dreamy, soulful vocals, she’s finally finding her place - and her self - through music. In her own words, Ria speaks on the pursuit of a musical career, and learning how to let go.
I’ve always been strange. I feel that from a very young age I have always seen things differently. But there was a point in time where I wanted to be liked by everyone and I would adhere to constructs that were set already, especially with my sound. When I started making music it didn’t speak to who I was; I was speaking about things that related more to others than it did to me. When I started out, the sound was very acoustic and unplugged. I was drawing a lot inspiration from Tracy Chapman, Nina Simone, and India Arie. I used to do a lot of covers, but I stopped because I figured I actually had something to say. Now, I would say that my sound is driven by expression - I only sing what I feel.
I never really thought of myself as a singer. When I was young I really wanted to act because I’ve always been really dramatic. I actually played Kweku Ananse in a GIS play once. I did a pretty fricking good job [Laughs]. But people had to really pull some teeth to get me to sing. I wouldn’t sing in front of people: I would either hide my face or turn my back to the crowd or I would have to sing with people. There was absolutely no way I would sing by myself. Because I didn’t trust it; I didn’t believe it when people told me that I could sing.
The first time it really clicked for me was when my mum told me. One day we were in the car driving in Tema, and I had just seen the movie ‘Annie’. I was singing ‘Tomorrow’ and then i realised my mum had turned the radio off. She looked at me said, “You know you have a true voice.” I didn’t know what that meant, and then she explained, “You can sing things exactly as you hear them.” I didn’t really see that as a gift. I figured everyone could sing something once you hear it.
Music became really huge for me when I moved to the States. I didn’t take myself very seriously before that. When I moved here I became almost shy of voice. In America you’ve got a bigger palette and there are a lot of singers. I was scared initially because i though it wouldn’t be received well. But i remember my friend Kobby John Yamoah used to Skype me all the time and he would talk to me about my voice in a way that nobody has spoken to me about my voice before. he would tell me about the power in my voice and that i had ability to sway emotion and make people feel something. That vote of confidence really helped and that’s when I started working on my own music.
"Looking Back & Letting Go"
A lot of my memories of high school aren’t pleasant, to be honest. I used to have a very bad reputation for lying when I was a kid. And a lot of that came from the fact that I didn’t like myself very much. So I did anything that had to do with not being myself. People didn’t really rate my opinion very highly because I just used to lie and do dumb shit. In retrospect I realise that I was trying to fit in and please everybody, but in the real world you don’t have to. I think I probably should’ve tapped into [music] sooner, because that was my thing. And so a lot of my personal influences in my writing come from me grappling with how i used to be and the person I am now.
A lot of that has shaped who i am now because I’m learning how to let shit go. I still have those insecure moments but I’m learning that it’s not that deep, and it’s never that serious. That self-discovery translates into my music . I used to restrict myself to doing certain things vocally, but now I that i’ve actualised my full self I’m way more comfortable in my own skin, and that’s showing in my voice. I’m perfectly OK with who i am right now. There are so many constructs that have been built around us, but we don’t all have to adhere to the same constructs. We actually create our own constructs, and my life is mine. So i think using that as a premise has shaped how i see my music now.