Waymatea Ellis - Souljah Fyah
Where were you at in your music career when you had your first child? Was there much discussion about how that life choice would affect your career within the music/entertainment industry?
My first child, Nakai, was born on July 19, 2004, and Souljah Fyah’s first CD release party was four days earlier. My dear mother stood beside the stage for the majority of the night with a glass of water, hoping I’d make it through the evening. It was so important for me to get that CD out before I could turn my full heart to being a new mom. Looking back, I wish I had known how important it would have been to rest in those last days before everything changed. But I was driven and determined to feel a sense of completion.
I have played music since I was 3, performing classically at first, then later travelled in my dad’s steel band starting at age 8. Children in the West Indian community were included in late night dances and cultural festivals. For these reasons, I saw no need to change anything when my first child came along. In my mind, music and family were already a harmonious arrangement. So before she was born, I was very surprised when someone commented that ‘not everyone in the band will want to be around a baby’. I felt badly that anyone would see a child as a hindrance, as we were just starting to gain traction in the industry.
Determination and certainty of our direction won over the ‘people pleaser’ in me, and in the end, the band members grew to be more like family to our children. It was the loving generosity of our bandmates, combined with my own oblivious approach, that had our children often present at rehearsals, festivals, in the studio, and at awards shows. We did shows with a baby strapped to my back, with a toddler in a playpen just offstage, and as they got older, the children either joined us on stage, or danced in the crowd. The main provisions were ear protection, full bellies, and a safe place for us all to sleep.
I also want to say we were lucky that the children were fairly easy to bring along, and that not all children would have the patience to wait quietly for many hours while the adults are working. I would have hired a caregiver if they had needed extra support or distraction, but thankfully that wasn’t usually needed. Exceptions were also fun. For instance, we brought a lovely babysitter along to play a small tour through BC, my mum was able to travel with us to Whitehorse for the WCMA’s when my second was born, and a friend and her two children travelled with us to Jamaica when we recorded The Long Walk in 2015. For the Jamaica trip, we rented a 6-bedroom home with a pool, so under my friend’s supervision, all the children played together while the band members walked to the recording studio each day. Back at home, when we did travel or play shows without the children, my parents and siblings were very supportive and cared for them.
Our Alberta-born reggae band saw two WCMA's, 'Best Reggae Album' at the Canadian Reggae Music Awards, a JUNO nomination, a 3-year sponsorship by Edmonton Realtors, and played hundreds of shows, including two Grey Cup parties. These successes were earned because of the extended village that supported the children, and the tight-knit family that the band became.
Perhaps predictably, both of my children are musical, pursuing multiple instruments, singing in competitive choirs, and are comfortable on stage. I don’t think there’s any better way that they could have come to love music than growing up in such a nurturing environment, and also watching their parents so supported as they pursued their ambitions.
As a working parent in the music industry, what are some of the biggest challenges you are facing?
Currently, I am working full time in a remote sales career (my post pandemic career pivot), and while it is very exciting and rewarding, it isn’t music. I’m a solo parent and we are a homeschooling family. It’s been a delicate balance between providing stability, and pursuing my passions. So usually the first thing to go from the schedule are my own practice times. I have been intentionally repairing this imbalance by playing music with my youngest during my breaks from work. It’s been a bit of a rebuilding curve since 2020, but I do see brighter days are coming as I experience success in my new career. When there is enough space financially and schedule-wise, that’s when music can come more to the forefront.
What is one small change within the industry that could make a positive impact for working parents?
I think grants that cater to parents would be absolutely amazing. We are still here, still musical, still creative, just need some space to express that :) Also family-friendly tour circuits would be game-changing.
How do you find support and community with other working parents in or out of the music industry?
I follow the stories and social media accounts of parents who are making it work in their pursuits. More specifically, I follow people who ENJOY their children, who get creative with ways to allow their projects to harmonize with their family’s needs. Most of my friends are parents, and we do outings and visit while our children play. My good friend Olivia (King of Foxes) and I have had some great conversations at the top of a toboggan hill while our children careened down the slope. It’s important to find the time for those visits, so that we don’t feel so alone.
What's one specific example of an organization/venue/company doing something great to help support working parents?
Shameless plug - this summer, fellow musician Ben Sures has invited my youngest and I to play a set at The Works Festival in Edmonton. We will be billed as ‘Ellis’. This is an enormous support as we take our family project to the public stage. If you know of other organizations/companies providing support to parents, please tell me and I will spread the word!
What could a music event (festival, conference, etc.), do or provide to make it easier for you to participate?
At a festival, provide a family room in addition to a green room. A music conference with a family room means that everyone can participate and learn. For touring budgets, make space for children to be a part of the accommodations. For festivals, make provisions for children to be welcomed and safe at the event. Consult parents for these considerations.
Can you shout out another music mama doing great things?
I can shout out four! My dear friend and OG Souljah Fyah member Olivia Street (King of Foxes), SJF sister and JUNO-nominee Deanne Jennings, Canadian pioneer Carrie Mullings (Rebel Vibez), and my soul sister and music healer Krista Mendez (Blissed Out Dance)
Photo Credit: @freisen_photos
Here Souljah Fyah HERE.