The Toronto-bred singer goes into depth on her latest project "Unloved", out now.
There are certain artists you come across that tend to gravitate towards you in an emotive state of vulnerability, for better or worse. Perhaps you’ve finally broken off from that significant other that was preventing your growth; or you’ve just finished a lengthy phone call conversation with the one that got away, leaving you with a sense of hopeful bliss. In an effort to capture all of those dimensional feelings, Toronto’s own songstress Hunnah tends to leave no stone unturned.
Hunnah, born Hannah Wondmeneh, was born in North York, and then moved to the suburbs of Brampton, just west of Toronto. As a child of refugee Ethiopian parents, it was not out of the norm for her to be urged into a life of academia, like many immigrant parents often do. However, as she grew older and became more gravitated to the iconic figures of Lauryn Hill, Toni Braxton, Shania Twain, and many more, it became apparent that her unwavering love and pursuit of music would only enhance her craft moving forward.
Hunnah released a very sentimental project in 2019 titled “Show You”, in which she dedicated it to the passing of her mother, who was battling with cancer. The 5-track EP gives the listener a great scope of her musical range and emotional storytelling, in a manner that feels truly authentic and personable.
With her latest project titled Unloved, a 7-track diary of intimate exposures and difficult truths laced with a luscious and angelic style of production, Hunnah’s attempt to forge an intrinsically emotional bond with her listeners leaves them yearning for more. We were blessed to talk with Hunnah to discuss her early upbringings of living in Toronto, her introduction to music by way of her friendly Filipino housemate, and how her “Unloved” EP permits her listeners to be transparent of what they desire.
So growing up in Toronto, was there a big East African hub while you were living there? And how were you able to manage that?
When we were in like the city, I was born in North York, which is a neighborhood in Toronto. Um, and definitely had like, there's a large Ethiopian community in like Toronto, the city and I had cousins who weren't really my cousins. I had like a lot of that kind of extended family energy. Um, definitely was a little bit more isolating when I moved to the suburb. I didn't know that many Ethiopians. Like there was no Ethiopians in my schools or anything like that growing up.
So they were all in the city while you were out in the suburbs basically?
Pretty much, yeah. We got connected to some as we got older, cuz me and my older sister would teach piano to all the Ethiopian kids in our area, but yea growing up, it was definitely more isolated. I didn’t know that many East Aficans when I was in school, but I had my cousins in the city and we’d see them very often.
You mention isolation and growing up in the suburbs away from the city, did that give you an idea of how you became interested in songwriting and creating music at such a young age?
So my first introduction to music was actually from my dad, inadvertently. When he had migrated to Toronto, he had rented a room in this Filipino woman’s house, and we all ended up going to the same church with her as well. She kind of became like a grandmother to us; she had a piano in the house, she was very encouraging of us, despite my parents not being very musical at all. So, my actual introduction to music was through her. and then from that point, I think it grew into a more personal thing probably when I was like eight or nine, I started writing my own songs and it was really, I think it was like the same feeling to me as like journaling or diary, just writing like a diary except it was songs. Um, and that's how that started really. I think it was just like expression. That was very like innate to me at the time.
Who were some of your musical influences that made you sharpen your tool as a songwriter? I mean, I see Stevie Wonder in the background, so I know he’s got to be a huge influence!
(looks at her wall): Ummm…Yeah, I mean, you see the wall? The Spice Girls are really big for me too! Mariah Carey, Jazmine Sullivan, Ella Fitzgerald, Shania Twain–
Yeah. This, this wall is pretty much it, this wall is crazy! That's a great inspiration to wake up to when you're just like, yo, if you're ever in a funk, you can just kind of look at this wall and just be like, damn, I really need to make some shit.
Yea, I mean these are all people that inspired me at different times in my life, and I discovered them growing up.
(points to Lauryn Hill) The Miseducation of Lauryn was a big thing for me in my university years as well. I think I discovered things gradually. Um, and I'm sure that that informed my writing as well, but definitely like my writing was always very much like the point of it was always to communicate the emotion that I was feeling. Um, it wasn't until like, you know, getting older that I really thought about like, oh, like what kind of song do I want to make? It was more just about like, how do I communicate what I am feeling? How do I create this emotion in a song?
Yeah definitely. As you grow older, you start to look at life a little bit differently and start to value the things that really do matter to you. For you in particular, was there a significant point for you where you just felt like this was something that you wanted to do as a musician?
Um, yeah, I think writing was always a thing that I turned to because I was fairly guarded in real life, and I think I had a lot of walls up and was just very self-protective growing up. And writing was the only place I was completely vulnerable, completely open and just very much like, not writing for anybody else or for the purpose of showing to anybody else necessarily, but just because I needed to get what I was feeling out.
So I ended up going to university for journalism and, um, it wasn't until I was finishing up my degree that I had kind of started making YouTube videos, essentially when I was in university to kind of stay semi-connected to music somehow, and I just needed an outlet of sorts. And that's how I ended up meeting people and getting connected to people in LA and like, starting to think about like, oh, is this a real thing that I could do? Like, am I good enough to actually exist in these spaces? To try? And so when I graduated, I was like, you know what? This is the only time that I feel like if I'm going to do it, I just need to try now.
So is that a 2017, were you living in LA at the time or were you just kind of bouncing back and forth between, you know, Canada and LA?
I was going back and forth at that time. So. And you can even go six months in the US if you have the Canadian passport visa. So I was basically spending 2017, 2018, 2019. I spent basically like approximately six months here and then I would spend six months back in Toronto.
Now that you’ve gotten pretty acclimated to living in LA as a musician, who are some of the artists that you're listening to now, or at least would like to collaborate in the near future that you think would be both beneficial for you?
Honestly, a lot of black women that I super admire and, um, you know, there's some people even on this project that I got to work with that I really wanted–
Like Amindi on “My Man”.
Right! I think, like meeting people who are extremely talented, but also just truly like good people, um, with the best kind of motivations [which can sometimes be hard to find industry-wise] is so special to me. And those are the people that I want to make music with. In terms of people I don't know personally, I mean, some of them are up on the wall like Jazmine Sullivan, they are people I definitely super admire. And then other Habesha people, like Kelela and Mereba. I definitely would love to work with other powerful black women who are the people I listen to, the people I admire for who they are, musically and outside of music as well. Raveena would be someone who I’d want to work with as well. Honestly, I think part of me also really just wants to work with people who are good genuine people. I think the energy that comes from that is so warm and fulfilling.
So let’s talk about Unloved for a second here. For one, it's a great project. Um, I really think that you captured a really great message about the peaks and valleys when it comes to finding love or the pursuit of finding such. I think it's a really great example of how one can feel okay to be transparent about what you want and not feeling ashamed or simply boxed in for what you're looking for. And I believe this album is a great illustration of that sentiment. So where were you in that space when you decided to work on this project?
Wow, thank you! Um, I don't know if I necessarily, I definitely didn't set out with like, you know, I'm going to make a project that's all about how I cannot find love; that wasn't necessarily my intention. But I think what happened, which is what always happens, is I was writing songs about what I was feeling. And I started to take a step back and look at things and be like “Wait, these songs kind of really fit together. And they're telling one story”. And that's where that project came together organically, with just realizing that I was coming into–you know, past 25, now it's starting to become unusual that I've never been in love or that, or that I'm so detached from this realm of romance and starting to, I think, worrying more about it because I I've always been fairly comfortable being alone.
And then also I think, you know, 2020 was a very confronting year for a lot of people and it was a year of isolation, and so I think that made me think even more about it. There were some songs in this project that were actually written before, um, quarantine and everything
Yeah. I think “It Would Be Nice” and “About Me'' were written beforehand, which is very fitting because it feels very, it felt like a very “quarantine appropriate” time. But I wrote it beforehand, so I fully moved to LA at the beginning of 2020, and you’re moving to a new city and you're trying to find your place,you're trying to find your people, and you're feeling a little bit detached from your community. So “It Would Be Nice” came from that feeling of just like, you know, what if I had like one person, like if I had my man with me, I could go to all these things? All these parties? Rather than being like, “Okay I have to put in all this work, and I actually have to like, create like a true support system, a true community”.
But yeah, this project came from all of these, these kinds of different thoughts on the same topic of love and being desired, being appreciated. It came specifically from thinking about, you know, dating as a black woman in LA and all these conversations I had when I moved here with black women being like “you shouldn't have moved here for that”, “this is bad”, “it’s bad out here for us”; and having all of these conversations about that topic as well. So I think, you know, Unloved really came together organically, but touched on all of the thoughts that I was having about love and desire coming into my late twenties.
So, now the project is out, and now it's out for the public to consume and to gather their own opinions on it. For you, do you think you're in a space right now where you could find love or be able to love? Or at least feel what you're hoping to desire in this project?
Honestly, post-project release, I think I may have more questions than answers (laughs). It’s definitely a journey, obviously it's a very long process to get to the point of release. And I thought that maybe by the time I released this project, I'll be in a different place, like “Yes, love is around! I'll have answers to my own limitations and my own walls and my own barriers”, right? But you know, it did not work out that way. I'm still processing, still working through and still figuring out how to be more open and still navigating those spaces.
I'm still asking those questions. So for me, the project is actually still very relevant. Um, and I'm still kind of floating around that space, but, um, it's been great to hear from people who feel similarly, which I think is a big thing that I probably desire when I release things; it’s the notion that I'm not isolated in this feeling, and I'm not alone in the things that I'm wondering about. Unloved also came from a place where I started to question myself, is it just me? Is there something wrong with me? Why do I feel isolated? So hearing from people who are like “Oh my gosh, this song said exactly the way that I feel”; it’s so rewarding, it's like the best thing to hear from them.