working girl: sonya teclai, musician

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 – As told to Ellen Haile

Eritrean and Egyptian artist Sonya Teclai’s voice has been described as sultry, smooth and funky. With the video of her single “Detached” debuting on Afropunk, her first solo project Veridical Paradox was praised for its boldness in addressing social issues. She shares how she started her musical career and how living in the Big Apple and her cross-cultural upbringing has influenced her work.


Name: Sonya Teclai

Location: NYC

Profession: Singer, Rapper, Songwriter



How did you get started?

I had known that I wanted to pursue music all of my life. I remember loving to sing at three years old and then I was in the choir from about eight years old until I was 18. I was a part of a singing group through high school as well. I always knew I would pursue [music] as a career, but being a part of the duo “OZ” had also pushed me to completely pursue my solo career.

What’s an average day like?

I don’t really have an “average day”…especially living in NYC. I will say that when I get home at the end of the day, I’m usually happy. There’s so much chaos here that forces me to thrive but I also get lost in it every once in a while.


Why do you do it?

I’m in love with the music. I loved it before I even understood what love was. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else and being happy with it.

What are some ups and downs you sometimes face on the job?

When making songs I always have this idea in my head of what I want each one to sound like before it’s done (lyrically, sonically, etc.). Once the song is finished and I’ve made the idea tangible; it’s one of the best feelings. Another great part about it is being around other people that share the same love for music and are amazing at whatever they do… It’s inspiring. Everyone has a different story to tell and no matter what walk of life we came from, we can all relate to one another through that love for it.

The downs are the sacrifices made as an emerging artist. During this past year I really had to isolate myself to make my new project. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I even saw my immediate family and other loved ones in that span of time. Also, as an emerging artist, money can get funny. But I would definitely say it solidifies what you’re willing to do for what you believe in.

Being Habesha (East African), how do your parents feel about your career choice?

When I was a kid it was so much harder to get them to take it seriously. They had always supported my pursuing music, as long as I was doing great in school and stayed a good person. I really had to take initiative for what I wanted to do when it came to music throughout most of my life. They’re extremely supportive now and proud of me. If I’m out with them, their friends will mention that to me as well. It’s amazing to see that turn around.


What’s your greatest achievement so far?

My mom loves my music… like really loves it. That’s huge for me. Also, being able to perform with and having worked with Phife from A Tribe Called Quest was pretty crazy for me.

What might be next for you?

I just finished my Heatwave EP, so once I solidify distribution and publishing deals… that will definitely be out next. Then following that up with touring.



What are your top go-to hair tips?

I naturally have really curly hair, so a lot of these will be catered towards anyone who wears their hair natural.

  • Washing your hair with alcohol-free shampoo/conditioner will maintain the moisture and keep your hair healthy.
  • Products: Shea Moisture shampoo/conditioner, Mixed Chicks leave-in conditioner, and a dab of living proof’s no frizz styling cream.
  • Try air drying your hair as much as possible, although I normally don’t since I’m impatient, keeping heat off of your hair will also keep it healthier.
  • Sometimes I get tired of my curl patterns and want a straighter look, so if you want looser curls, you can blow dry your hair straight and then form barrel curls with a smaller curling iron.
  • Eat healthy (vegetables, fruit, protein) and use deep conditioning treatments once a month.

Fun facts: I’m addicted to green tea and sushi. I love vinyl. I’m sporadic and get tired of things quickly. I like simple things and complex minds.

For more of Sonya, check out her website or follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Sound Cloud.

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