I’m going to be my authentic self until the end

By Beverley Knight

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Like millions, Sabriyuh lost her job in 2020 during the pandemic. But instead of feeling glum, something profound struck: Job security is a myth. You might as well do what you want. Was it time to take a creative career seriously? Sabriyuh bought four singing lessons, held on a New York balcony in the open air. She wanted validation from a vocal coach because there would be costs to pursue this professionally.

Sabriyuh didn’t always live in New York. She grew up in Las Vegas, and her family originated from Ethiopia. “I had a strict upbringing, and I was kind of isolated. Other than school, I couldn’t leave the house unless I was with my mom.” But she did have one caring friend, someone to share all her deep and most private thoughts: a songbook. “A little part of me worried someone would catch me writing in it, or they’d snoop and read it.”

It might not have been her best artistic work, but it was all hers. She still holds on to some notebooks now. The songs, short stories and poems are eye-opening to her as an adult. “A lot of the themes, like trauma, assault, mental health, freedom, and limerence, I still write about now. Reading them back, I found gems within the words that I want to rework.”

Songwriting is a way to cope with emotions. It was that and Tumblr for Sabriyuh. “I didn’t have anyone I felt I could talk to about my issues.” She’s not prone to writing a journal, so songs allow her to bare her soul. “But the true test of being an open book comes when sharing it with the world.”

When it was time for college, she moved to New York – it was life-changing. After all, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. Sabriyuh found the shift crazy from being stuck in four walls to going anywhere she wanted. “I loved the freedom. “With only herself to rely on for support, Sabriyuh always had a job and an internship alongside her studies. “I would write little phrases but never fleshed out a whole song.”

The daily grind of life can make you look for stable and realistic options. The safer plan was to go into the music business versus the artist route. She focused on surviving. “My parents didn’t escape persecution for their daughter to try and be a pop star. However, the joke was on me because there isn’t big money in the music business working at entry level.”

It was in May 2021 when she released her debut single, Freefall, produced with Mono The Maker at Brewery Studios. “I was so shy and didn’t tell any of my friends what I was doing, but the team couldn’t have been nicer to me.” Even though it was her first time in a studio, they treated her with respect and the same professionalism as an established artist.

Using pop as a foundation, Sabriyuh wants to branch out and fuse it with rock, hip-hop and singer-songwriting. “I’m still trying to figure out my sound. Pop and dance music has a wide spectrum.” A lack of production knowledge is a hindrance. With ideas speaking everywhere, it’s hard to communicate properly without the skills. “I tried to learn the guitar, and it was a bit hard on my fingers and wrist. I have spent the past few months teaching myself piano, and I love it.”

Another challenge Sabriyuh faces is the lack of representation of black women in dance music. “We typically get pigeonholed due to stereotypes.” Artists like Suzi Analogue, Aluna, Carla Monroe, and UNiiQU3 make a difference. “Seeing them succeed in this landscape tells me anything is possible.”

Song Unloveable is about Sabriyuh confronting a fear. “Am I just fuckable? Unloveable? Worth anything? I feel like men have only wanted me for my body and not me as a person.” It keeps happening to her. It’s enough to shake an uber-confident person.

When she posted the track Knife From K-mart on socials, it was raw, talking of a dark time when she was having a breakdown and took a knife to school to hurt herself. “I was worried about its reception. We never talk about the nasty side of mental illness.”

“Knowing I can help someone feel not alone is worth the risk of scrutiny and judgment. Fuck anyone who judges or makes you feel bad for having emotions.” It happens at different stages of life, but not caring what people think is liberating, to say the least.

It’s a memory no artist forgets in a hurry: your first concert as a performer. Last year, Sabriyuh presented a 45-minute set filled with dancing, props, and video interludes. “I’m looking forward to more shows in 2024. They’ll only get bigger and better.”

After the show, someone approached her and said they needed to talk. “She had cried when I sang Unloveable because it was so relatable.” Sabriyuh was terrified to share this song with the world because she was at her most vulnerable. Hearing souls have that reaction to her music makes the journey worthwhile. “I believe my destiny is to change the world and make an impact with my words.”

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Cover image by James Grant