When you’re a singer-songwriter trying to establish yourself, parenthood can throw a bit of a wrench into the mix. For Toronto’s Aphrose, however, becoming a mother provided clarity.

“It was something that I had to wrap my head around when I found out I was pregnant,” admits Joanna Mohammed, a.k.a. neo-soulster Aphrose. “When I had my daughter, we were in lockdown. Everyone was hitting the pause button on their lives,  but I felt like it bought me time to get clear on what I wanted for my career.”

Aphrose said she struggled with the thought of caring for a child while pursuing music. “A lot of people don’t see what goes into managing yourself as an artist, or the motivation behind you writing an album,” she says. “I was definitely having moments of, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’”

But when funding for her sophomore album Roses was provided by both FACTOR and the Canada Council for the Arts, Aphrose knew she’d found her calling. “Lo and behold, the universe answered: you’re going to have to carve this path out for yourself,” she says.  “In a lot of ways, being a mom and an artist have worked well together: having a child got me really clear on what the message is [that] I want to put out into the world as an artist. It got me clear on the fact that I needed to take a bit of a step away from a lot of the jobbing, corporate [music] gigs I was doing, and really hone in on my artistry.”

Aphrose, Roses, Video

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Aphrose song “Roses”

Validation also came swiftly: the video for title track, “Roses,” debuted on BET Television, and has been spotlighted on CBC Music’s “Songs You Need To Hear.” “I grew up watching BET in my pre-teens and teenage years,  so it was, like, a very, very surreal moment for me,” says Aphrose.

She adds that the dozen songs on Roses – predominantly produced by Scott McCannell and Safe Spaceship Music (which includes McCannell and his colleagues Santino De Villa and Ben MacDonald, and who’ve also worked with Tanika Charles and Lydia Persaud) – were written “in my post-partum state” and “at a time and place mentally where I was very vulnerable, and very scared, but also very grateful for  the existence of life.”

Marriage problems and the controversial  2020 murder of African-American security guard George Floyd by a Caucasian Minneapolis police officer also fueled the material, especially the Adrian Hogan-produced song “Weapons.” “I think a lot of us at that time – especially people of colour – felt so hopeless,” says Aphrose. “And I felt like this song had views of a lot of what I was going through, observing through the media.”

Oh yes, and motherhood inspired an important song as well. “The last song on the album [‘ZAG’] is an acronym for my daughter’s name, Zephira Afra Gonzalez, and I wrote it in complete post-partum,” she explains.

The variety of styles on Roses stems from the Humber College Music Program graduate’s upbringing: her Trinidadian parents fed Aphrose a steady diet of calypso, soul, soca, country music, and Bollywood soundtracks. “They saw me as very musically inclined, and put me in piano and vocal lessons,” she recalls. “But singing as a career was very much a decision that I chose for myself – and they’ve been supportive since day one.”

If Aphrose looks familiar, that’s because you may have seen her singing backup for Daniel Caesar, Jessie Reyez, or Charlotte Day Wilson. She’s also been in the solo spotlight, hand-picked as the opening act for Moon vs. Sun, the duo  of married couple Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk.

“The Chantal break was a really big one for me, in terms of being the supporting artist opening for her and Raine’s tour in 2019,” says Aphrose. “I hadn’t yet released my first album Element,  but I was doing a lot of songs from that album, and  Chantal and Raine’s audiences were just so loving and accepting of me – a literal unknown.

“I’ll always remember that very last show of the tour, at the Corona Theatre in Montréal.  At the end of my 20-minute set – just me and my guitarist and producer Scott McCannell – we’d just performed ‘Fire,’ and the audience leapt up to their feet with a standing ovation.  I stood there onstage and cried: the love that I got from this audience was just beyond my wildest expectations. It was then that I thought, ‘I’ve got to really make my artist dream a priority.’”

Aphrose, Weapons, Video

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Aphrose song “Weapons

Another key catalyst for Aphrose in that journey was being part of a 10-piece choir supporting Daniel Caesar in 2018 during his five-night run at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall to support his album Freudian. “This was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to be part of,” she says. “A really great environment, with a really great crew.  The whole thing was phenomenal. That experience, to me, really solidified where I wanted to go.”

When it comes to creating her brand of R&B, Aphrose says her Safe Spaceship Music collaborators help craft and create backing tracks. “I compose on the keys, and we flesh it out,” says Aphrose. “Some of the songs  they send to me, and I topline them, and  we work it out that way.

“I write at piano or keyboard – [with] pen and paper, I always have a notebook handy – and then  when I have an idea, I always voice-memo it.  I don’t have a tried-and-true method, and I’m also someone that, like, can’t function by writing every day.  I go through peaks and valleys.  Right now, I’m in a little bit of a lull with writing, because I’ve spent so much energy rolling it [the album] out. But I’m starting to get that writing itch again.”

Aphrose says Roses is being distributed in the U.K. by LRK Records, and the song “Yaya” has been “getting a lot of love.” While nothing’s set in stone, she’s looking to hit the road in 2024, in both Europe, and on the festival circuit in Canada. “I love playing shows and singing live,” she says, “so those are my immediate goals.”