KÔSA is a vocalist, songwriter and producer from Toronto, Ontario. She is a storyteller who paints vivid imagery through her lyrics, drawing influence from genres such as operatic and clasical music, alternative electronic synths and afro centric rhythms. KÔSA’s interest in classical music was sparked at an early age. In her adolescence, her passion for music flourished at the Regent Park School of Music (a non profit organization). Later, she majored in Opera at the University of British Columbia, where she had the opportunity to perform in The Cunning Little Vixen in the Czech Republic. Upon her return to Toronto, the girl named Stacy found strength and comfort in experimenting in her own unique style of music. Thus, KÔSA, the unapologetic and sensual artist was born.
KÔSA’s latest single offering is called “Toxic”, a cover of the celebrated Britney Spears song. First of all, let’s get this out of the way, this is not a copy of the original. This is a truly unique take on an already well established pop song. The pace is set right off the bat with tight and crisp sounding percussion and backup vocals that prevail throughout the whole song. The verse enters with sultry and sensual vocals. It is clear that KÔSA, along with her originality in choosing this as a cover song, is a well trained vocalist. The simplicity of this arrangement and stripped back elements are a far cry from the original Britney Spears version, but this is one of the qualities of KÔSA’s version that is the most enjoyable as she hides behind nothing. The operatic backup vocals that enter towards the end of the song are definitely genre-breaking. They seem to linger just in the background, providing a mood that is truly haunting. KÔSA should be commended for her bravery and skill in transforming a very popular song into something completely different.
Check out KÔSA’s version of “Toxic” here.
Keep scrolling for KÔSA’s exclusive interview!
Thanks for chatting with us! First of all, can you describe your upbringing and how you first became interested in music?
For sure! I was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up in a small tight-knit neighbourhood called Regent Park. Depending on who you asked they’d probably describe it one of Toronto’s notorious ghettos but I knew it being full of colour, vibrant cultures and a place where people had respect for one another. There were a lot of immigrant families there and my big ass family was one of them (there were nine of us crammed it into a 5 bedroom at one point). I would say music was something I was always interested in as a kid, it was pretty much an event in our household whenever The Grammys or Billboard Awards were on. I remember this so clearly: my older sisters during the week would record music videos on VHS off Much Music or BET and then every Saturday afternoon we’d pop it on TV and just jam (and somewhat clean). When it came to showcasing any talent though, I was mute. I was super shy about singing aloud for some reason and if I was ever caught belting Mariah Carey in the shower or in my room, I would switch into this weird Kid Bop kinda voice and play dumb... But one day I noticed my friends and classmates lugging these hefty instruments across our neighbourhood. I was super intrigued and honestly dumbfounded that these kids were learning music and having fun.They seemed like they found something special and I wanted a piece of that too. Fast forward, I signed up for The Regent Park School of Music (my parents went along with it because they saw that my super smart friends were also in the school too) and it became a second home for me where I truly developed my interest (now love) for music.
You studied Opera at the University of British Columbia. Do you find that your education influences the way you write and perform your music?
Not at first. While I was trying to discover my sound I fought so hard to ditch what I knew. I felt like classical music was too structured and passe for what was trending around me. I later realized I felt this way because I was forcing myself to live up to some false expectation that if my music was not notated in some classical form it wouldn't hold merit (honestly it’s still a lot of unpacking to this day) but as I was playing around and writing (mainly on my smartphone) I would find myself creating with some operatic devices, like recitative, motifs but the operatic voice was my main factor. It really hit me over the head one day when my good friend and creative partner, Andrew Rohoman, suggested that I freestyle the ending of ‘Ember’ (from ‘Garnet’ my debut EP) “in opera”. I looked at him like he was crazy. Here we have this haunting, dark, free speech form, African inspired song and you want me to drop an aria on it? I thought it wouldn’t work, but he helped me let go of my fears, doubts and told me to just try. We were completely alone in a candle lit room with me singing into a Blue Yeti microphone, this random, heartfelt vocalise. I kid you not, it was pure electricity in the room. Everything just clicked, time froze, my heart, soul and mind completely aligned in that small but raw moment. And that’s just it: when you’re singing operatically you’re not just expressing heightened drama but you’re also showcasing the rawest form of singing. Technically (and naturally) you’re not forcing or manipulating your vocal chords in any way when you’re singing opera. It’s so beautiful in its entirety. That moment in ‘Ember’ was honestly a countdown to where we are now. I did a whole lot of chasing and searching for my own unique sound but I realized (like last year) that I’ve had one within me this whole time. I’ve completely embraced the use of the classical sounding voice, I love utilizing it and I appreciate its blend with my Afro-centric rhythms and sounds. It honestly makes me smile just talking about it.
Who would you say your biggest artistic influences are?
Honestly, everybody and their mama. The list runs from Hugo Wolf to Nina Simone to Mariah Carey to Renaldo Hahn all the way ‘round the back to Giacomo Puccini through to Michael Jackson.
You just released “Toxic”, a cover of a famous Britney Spears song, and your version is definitely a refreshing take and not a direct copy. How did you come up with the idea to cover this song, and how did you land on your interpretation and approach?
‘Toxic’ started out as an exercise for my Valentine’s Day challenge, #7KindsOfLove. In the Greek language, they have I think over 30 meanings or words to describe love so I grabbed seven of those words and created the challenge to cover songs that represented these different meanings. Eros describes that raw, sensual, lustful, titaliating kind of love and I immediately thought of ‘Toxic’ to represent it. I was really drawn to the idea of the speaker being a siren or some form of seducter. I started with this really simple, sweet, bird-like progression (the da-da-daas) that serves as the siren’s mesmerizing call. The percussions I banged out on iMaschine (Native Instruments app) which gave support to the hypnotic atmosphere in the song. I wanted ‘Toxic’ to be simple and but layered enough with the percussion, synths and vocals. For the vocals, I knew I wanted to keep a bit of that raspy, speech-like tone that Britney [Spears] brings on the original track, but again that rawness, I knew that an operatic touch was needed to help accent and elevate certain moments in the song. Honestly, ‘Toxic’ did something to me. It was the track that made me go, “Wow sis, you did that?” it definitely fuelled my vibe and direction going into my second EP, “Alt 0212”.
What can we hope to see from you in the future?
It’s still so early but right now I’m more comfortable with my style and sound than I’ve ever been before. I’ll continue to incorporate that marriage of classical and afrocentric themes within my music. I’m definitely heading into the future more vulnerable yet sure of myself through my artistic practises but also allowing myself to take full ownership as a creator. The universe is limitless, and so am I.
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