Most people are said to be either right-brained or left-brained, but 21-year-old Moroccan-born Canadian Faouzia is both: artistic and academic.
The exceptional singer, who just released the eight-song Citizens, her second collection of Middle Eastern-imbued dance-pop and ballads, is also a songwriter, producer, guitarist, pianist, violinist; fluent in three languages – English, French, and Arabic; and apparently pens short stories, creates her own movies, and sketches fashion designs. She’s also majoring in computer engineering at the University of Manitoba.
“Yeah,” she laughs. “I’ve always loved both worlds. I’m making it harder on myself, for sure. But I’ve always loved being a bookworm and learning, and then, obviously, being creative is really big to me, too. I’m trying to do both and, hopefully, I can get there.”
She does plan on finishing her degree, but “trying” to do music is already long out of her hands. She’s tried and succeeded, releasing her first song, “Knock On My Door,” in 2015 at the age of 15, which racked up over a million streams on Spotify. In 2017, when she was 16, Faouzia and Matt Epp became the first Canadians to win the Grand Prize in the International Songwriting Competition (ISC), the world’s largest contest for songwriting. The winning song, “The Sound,” by Matt Epp featuring Faouzia, scaled the peak of the then CBC Radio 2 Top 20 chart, earning them a SOCAN No.1 Song Award. In 2018, she was featured on “Battle,” a cut on David Guetta’s album 7; in 2019, on Ninho’s single “Money”; and in 2020, on Kelly Clarkson’s Moroccan Arabic version of “I Dare You” (which she translated from English) and on Galantis’ “I Fly.”
And then there’s her own material. The mononymous Faouzia — her last name is Ouihya — has more than two million subscribers on YouTube, and numbers on some of her music videos are in the tens of millions: 2019’s anthemic “Tears of Gold” is at 30 million; 2020’s “Minefields,” with John Legend, at 81 million; “You Don’t Even Know Me,” at 22 million; and the lyric video for “RIP, Love,” at 21 million. That’s just for YouTube alone; Faouzia enjoys a grand total of more than 570 million total cumulative streams on YT, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, TikTok, and other streaming services. She released an “extended EP” in August of 2020, Stripped.
Faouzia, who comes across as confident, friendly, and humble, writes on her own — the big, uber-dramatic ballad “I Know” and unique lyric “Don’t Tell Me I’m Pretty” are solo credits on Citizens, the latter a song she produced — but she also co-writes. Johnny Goldstein, and brothers Andre and Sean Davidson, all appear multiple times in the songwriting credits. Faouzia says her ideas are never dismissed because of her age, or because she’s a young woman, and calls the experience of writing this latest batch of songs “lovely.”
“That’s another thing my team is really amazing at, putting me in sessions with people that they know are very respectful,” she says. “I would say that they even go above and beyond. They look forward to hearing my ideas and my input, and they really show that they care, and that they understand where I’m coming from, and what my vision is.
“I think that those are the people that songwriters should work with, especially if you’re an artist and a songwriter, because it’s your world. I don’t feel like my age has ever been something that has been in the way, or might make people underestimate me. It’s actually quite the opposite. I feel like people normally forget my age until it’s brought up, and then it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re born in 2000. I totally forgot,’” she laughs.
Faouzia’s family moved to Canada from Morocco when she was just one year old, settling in Notre-Dame-de-Loures, Manitoba, a rural town near Carman. She hasn’t been back to Morocco, where she still has relatives, since she was 13, but says her parents made sure she and her two sisters were exposed to their culture.
“As soon as I entered my home, it was like I was back in Morocco,” she says. “We even had a Moroccan living room, and we’d listen to Moroccan music and Arabic music, actually a bunch of different music from different countries. I spoke Arabic at home too.” Not surprisingly, Middle Eastern melodies are part of many of Faouzia’s pop songs, not just musically, like in “RIP, Love,” but in the way she sings – sometimes trilling and stretching a word like “thin,” for example, on the ballad “Thick & Thin.”
When she first meets with a songwriting collaborator, she uses descriptions, such as “touch of, like, Middle Eastern melodies or production,” “very dramatic and powerful,” and “very emotional” to help provide some direction for the sound. “What I normally do is I play songs that I really love that are in my catalog, or songs that haven’t come out yet that I really love, that are very fitting to the theme of the project, and I try to set the tone that way,” she says. “I use a lot of descriptive words on what my sound is.
“After that, I proceed to tell them what I’m feeling for the day, whether I want to do something up-tempo or more slow, or I’ll give them concept ideas, like words or feelings. And then, that’s how we work around it. So it’s very much working around an idea in my head.”
Unlike the six-song Stripped, it’s also important to Faouzia that Citizens is not referred to as an EP, rather a “project” or “body of work.” “Citizens is much more than an EP to me, especially at this stage of my career,” Faouzia explains. “I feel like it’s bigger than an EP, in the sense that it includes songs like ‘Minefields’ and ‘Puppet,’ and so many things that I’ve been working on for so long. It really is a taste of what my next project is, but at the same time, I feel like it can hold its own ground as a body of work. That’s why it’s a lot more significant to me than an EP would be.
“I think ‘RIP, Love’ and ‘Anybody Else’ are the songs off this project that showcase the most where I’m taking my music.”