Meet Zadia – Baltimore’s Next Rising Star
We were thrilled to work with a local singer and songwriter for Visit Baltimore’s Your People Are Here campaign video. Zadia is a singer, songwriter, and educator born and raised in Baltimore. Her debut album Vacants came out last year and is a tribute to all parts of her city. Zadia records and performs with dozens of musicians and artists within the Baltimore creative community—we knew she would be a natural collaborator.
Zadia worked closely with Visit Baltimore and Bellweather to write a song that is soulful, memorable, and real.
Not only is her song “Realest City in America” featured in the Visit Baltimore piece, Zadia and her backing musicians appear themselves giving a performance. More recently Zadia sang the National Anthem at the Baltimore Orioles opening home game—documented by Bellweather! We sat down with Zadia to talk about her process and her love for Baltimore. Zadia (@bougiegivenchy)
How did you start singing?
I grew up singing in the church. I come from a family of singers. I’ve pretty much been singing all my life; since as long as I can remember.
Walk us through the process of writing Realest City in America. How did you start? Do you sing melodies first, or start with writing lyrics, etc?
Realest City in America originally started as an acapella. The first question I asked myself was how would I describe Baltimore…. the city I’ve known all my life, the city that raised me, the city I learned my toughest lessons and experienced my happiest memories. When I think about this city I think about the people, the rawness, and the undiscovered richness in talent and love. I came up with a few words then tried them with different melodies. I had to go back to the drawing board quite a few times. I reached out to some local musicians… Josh Stokes, a good friend of mine and one of the best drummers in Baltimore whom I work with often; Rachel Winder, an amazing saxophonist who I knew would bring forth some Baltimore Jazz energy; and John Tyler, the kid who plays just about EVERY instrument, on guitar. I made sure to include musicians from different sub-cultures in our city to capture a diverse sound that represents how diversified Baltimore truly is. These are just a few of the many artists that contribute to the city musically. I tried to convince Visit Baltimore to let me create a choir with more musicians but couldn’t happen due to COVID-19 restrictions.
You performed and recorded the song with a live band. How does performing with a live band contribute or change the song?
Recording with a live band certainly shifted the song, in a good way of course. I grew up in church so singing with live instruments is always a familiar feeling. The musicians were able to bring their own sound to the project which is special because we all grew up in Baltimore.
When did you learn how to play piano?
I’ve been playing piano for years, mostly by ear. While teaching Performing Arts I started to teach myself how to read music. I’m no expert yet but I’m enjoying learning. I like to feel my way through.
What artists inspire you?
I’m inspired by Great Writers and Artists that make me feel. Gil Scott Heron is one of those artists. He’s real and raw. Lauryn Hill for the same reasons. Marvin Gaye. Early Pharrell and N.E.R.D. I’m heavily inspired by 90s gospel. I think that’s what I listen to most along with early 70s soul music. I’m also inspired by the artists from my city whom I’ve watched grow over the years. Before making music of my own I curated events for emerging artists. It’s amazing to see how far a lot of my peers have come.
Baltimore for Artists
There are so many artists and musicians in the city. What do you think causes so many creatives to call Baltimore home?
Baltimore is a melting pot. No matter where you come from you will find a community that fits you. If you’re into art.. we’ve got it. If you’re into music… we’ve got it. Architecture.. got it! Nightlife… got it!
Keep in mind that this is Tubman City. It’s in our history. This is where a lot of Black Creatives settled back then. The city is full of potential and any creative can see that. That’s what drives creatives to live and thrive here.
What makes the creative community different and special in Baltimore, compared to Brooklyn or DC?
The difference between Baltimore and other cities known for arts and “creative-community” is our rawness. It’s real here! Not saying it isn’t real anywhere else but we are very community-oriented. We have a “We All We’ve Got” mentality and we operate that way.
You’re a born and raised Baltimorean. What was it like growing up in Baltimore?
Growing up in Baltimore is an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. It made me tough, street-savvy, and compassionate. I had a lot of fun as a kid. I come from a large family so I grew up surrounded by loved ones. I was fortunate to be able to experience all sides of the city; West, East, North, and South. I had family all over. I spent most of my time in West Baltimore where I lived but summers I would spend in South Baltimore (Brooklyn). It was church on Sundays and family functions throughout the week. There was always a reason to celebrate; birthdays, graduations, holidays, homegoings, and sometimes just because. There was a lot of singing going on. My mother would wake us up at the crack of dawn with a song. That’s how we knew to get up. And if we didn’t get up right away she would sing louder. Me and my cousins would perform at family cookouts. We would do skits and sing as a choir. My childhood wasn’t perfect, nor were we rich but my family had a way of making us feel like we had it all. We had each other. There was a lot of love and a lot of giving back to our community.
You sang the National Anthem on Orioles Opening Day—what an accomplishment! What was that like?
Singing at the Orioles Stadium was an experience I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I used to play baseball at Beechfield Elementary school where I was first introduced to the sport. My team, then, had an opportunity to visit the stadium but I was so excited I stayed up all night and ended up missing the bus in the morning. It was a full circle moment to have my first time as an adult at the stadium be for a performance like that! It felt surreal. It gave me chills to perform in front of such a large crowd.
Baltimore For Visitors
You are a huge supporter of small businesses in the city. What are some of your recommendations for a first-time visitor?
I support small business in my city more than anything else. There’s so many! I would recommend Illicit Rag Vintage, Keepers Vintage, GreenHouse, Taste This, Currency Studio, Huey Brand, LRL Clothing, City of Gods Clothing, Calm Body Daily LLC, Brushlers Bmore, Homemade, Oyin Handmade, Water for Chocolate, Papi Cuisine, BlkSwn, and Good Neighbor to name a few… I know I’m leaving out some of my favorites.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I’m looking forward to releasing more music and touring hopefully out the country as well. I’m definitely looking forward to collaborating with more like-minded artists. I’m also looking forward to spending more time with family now that things are getting back to normal.
Favorite book you read in the past year:
West Baltimore Ruins by Shae McCoy
Coffee or tea:
Tea.. with Ginger. No coffee for me.
Things you do every day:
Three favorite albums:
Clipse’s Lord Willin, Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and Anita Baker’s Rapture (as of right now—this list changes often.)
Three albums in heavy rotation right now:
Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales; D’Angelo and The Vanguard Black Messiah; Bobbi Rush’s Root; and honorable mention Randy Crawford’s Everything Must Change
Happiness on a Saturday looks like:
Dirt Bikes riding past the family cookout
A perfect summer playlist includes:
Ms.Toni asking me how I wanna carry it…
Baltimore may be known for crabs, but I wish it was known for:
Unity and its creatives
Photographs by Schaun Champion