The Dublin based singer has been planning this radio moment all her life.
Zali has Ireland listeners streaming her songs hundreds of thousands of times, and across the globe, too. The songbird first became encouraged to pursue her passion as a youngster in her church choir. As year’s passed, she gained the confidence she needed through her adolescence, to create more than memorable solos, but instead… fan favorites. Today the local star is gearing up to spread her tuneful feminist anthems, and make you dance. Learn about ZALI‘s courageous climb in an exclusive one-on-one with The Knockurnal.
Your latest single “Girls Like Us,” describes wanting an uncommitted intimate relationship. What inspired this “don’t love, don’t trust” anthem?
“Girls Like Us” was a concept I had a while ago but could never really finish. Every time I would go back to it I would find that I couldn’t really connect to it. Well, not in a way that was real with my music. The sound [of my songs] has to be real or else what‘s the point? But that all changed when I got my heart broken. It was intense because it was my first true experience with romantic love.
For me, it doesn’t really reflect so much the desire for an uncommitted intimate relationship. It’s more of a disruption of patriarchy and how women are often confined to this role where you take what you’re given. Also, if we happen to veer from that standard we’re often looked at negatively. Even in the face of heartbreak, a lot of the time you find yourself being comforted with these words “You’ll find someone better, just be patient.” [Maybe you’re told,] “They didn’t deserve you”.
A breakup is always about [the other person]. So, coming from someone who typically did all the “right” things in finding love, it was sort of a wake-up call [to see] that it doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how bad you are, love and heartbreak do not discriminate.
I want this song to be an anthem to switch up the status quo. We can’t always be searching for love. And, for people who’ve been hurt by someone they loved, all those series of actions are bound to change how you feel and react to situations. I’ve felt the hurt. I’ve felt the pain, and instead of lashing out to try to hurt someone in a roundabout way to feel better, I’m just going put all that energy into being happy, however long the moments last.
And if I’m going to go through this… then I’m going to go through this on my terms. It was for me! This was a time (for once) to just do whatever I wanted. I did what made me feel good in that moment because sometimes it’s not always about pure happiness and contentment. I look at life sort of like divine chaos, and now more than ever… I grab every opportunity I can to indulge in things that make me smile, laugh, and bring me pleasure.
Those last lines of the chorus ‘‘Girls like us just want fun! All we want to do is just… “ leaves it up to the imagination but you can hear the hint of [the song] “Bad”. When I wrote this line I kept picturing that feeling of complete euphoria. I pictured the times you’re in the middle of a dancefloor with your eyes closed, just looking up, and feeling the lights on you. Those times where every beat vibrates through you are memorable. That feeling of freedom is what I wanted to communicate.
I’ve found that among girls who’ve heard the song, they immediately feel a connection of solidarity in a way because there’s always someone who’s once made you feel like you weren’t enough. [Men can] drain the life out of you. You might have known someone who’s been hurt in love. So, I find they’re either singing along because of their own emotions and experiences or they‘re singing along in support of every girl who’s been hurt that now is our time!
Your music is genre-bending. What is your favorite style to record?
To be honest, I grew up on soul music. I see myself as more of a soul singer. So, whether I’m recording a pop song or something leaning towards R&B, I try to sneak a little bit of that soul aspect into it. There’s just something so exhilarating in being able to capture emotion in that way. I’m working on a lot of new music and it reflects this side of me a bit more.
You walked away from a promising career in finance. How did you gain the courage to transition into music fulltime?
I did indeed, and I never regretted it for a second. I remember a specific moment last summer, I was at a music festival in Croatia, and Kehlani was performing. Everyone was going crazy! She was amazing and I was there with tears in my eyes. I just felt such a loss watching her perform, as though I was missing out on my life. That was the beginning.
Fast forward a few months… I was getting to a point in my career where each job promotion and each challenge/[career] advancement made me feel discontent. I was disconnected. I kept thinking, “Yes! I have all this knowledge, and I’m still learning, but at the end of the day… when I get home, I’m drained. I was already dreading the emptiness of the next day.
What is life [about]? I had to consider what really motivated me. I was realizing that I didn’t have to be stuck feeling this way. I think a lot of people get comfortable and lazy, in a sense. People remain in situations where they are completely unhappy… because of the [fear] of the unknown. The thought of disrupting their comfort is scary.
I made the decision to hand in my notice with no job lined up. I just knew I didn’t want to be there anymore. I didn’t want to do this anymore. Waking up every morning and thinking “another day of this,” that’s when I knew it was just time.
I’ve met people who actually wake up every morning and enjoy what they do. Life can be long. Still, life can also be the shortest thing, and I didn’t want to spend another day doing something that didn’t bring me any fulfillment. It was a lot to give up, but just because you’re good at something [doesn’t mean you stay]. It doesn’t matter if you’re trained at something, that doesn’t mean you have to do it for 10 hours in a day unhappily.
I don’t want to have any regrets in life. I made the choice to pursue happiness, and I found it in music. If I wasn’t in a role I disliked so much… I might never have had the courage to give it up. So, I’m thankful for that experience. It led me here. So, you see, life really works in mysterious ways.
Describe the Dublin music scene?
The music scene in Dublin is booming right now. There is so much talent emerging all at once. There seems to be this new wave of music coming out of Ireland. It is changing the way Irish artists are seen and I’m happy to be part of it.
How do you stand out in Ireland?
Even though it’s not rare, outside of Ireland, people are always shocked to discover the mix of cultures and heritage you find in Ireland. I’m a confident and talented Black woman. I [own a] strong voice and a sound not typically known to come out of Ireland. It is opening listeners up to a cross-genre appeal, while simultaneously [keeping me] honest.
Your most successful single, “Can’t Stop,” focuses on the aftermath of a breakup. How did you get through that experience?
Well, “Can’t Stop,” tells a story of being crazy about someone, unrequited feelings, and more. [The song is about] looking for closure, and that scary feeling of anticipation when you don’t know where you stand. It’s me basically questioning my ex at the time… on life. Things fizzled out.
[It was] kind of like, “Do you miss me like I miss you”? And that’s how I got through that experience, by getting my answer. Essentially, [the song is requesting my partner] tell me. So, I know and we’ll see happens… or tell me so I can go.
You have a few covers on YouTube. When will your first official video be released?
I am currently in the process of recording the video for “Girls Like Us”. I’m very ambitious when it comes to visuals, so right now it’s all about communicating who ZALI is. It has to carry the weight of what the song is about. All I can say is that it’s going to be a mix of sensual, aggressive, and a little bittersweet. It will be released in January.
What can listeners expect on your upcoming debut EP? What is it titled?
I decided on The Other Side, for the EP title. Still, I can’t say for certain that won’t change. [Stay tuned.]
Who are you listening to currently?
I’m so behind in music these days. I’ve been so immersed in creating music, I haven’t really been doing it for listening for pleasure. Still, whenever I get the chance… I always go back to SZA. Her entire CTRL album is on replay. She is great.
Also, every single volume released by H.E.R. [is good]. I could do an entire 2-hour concert of just SZA and H.E.R. [covers], that’s how much I love their music. Those are my top 2! I also like a few new singles released from Frank Ocean.
You’re credited as a writer. Do you plan to release a book, too?
I have been writing for so long. I was that kid walking home from school with my head stuck in a book, and I’ve been writing since then. I had done a few short stories here and there over the years.
I started my first novel right after college, however, when I got into my career I never went back to finish it. It’s only now that I’ve given myself the space to explore and express my mind. I’ve gone back to the drawing board. I do plan on releasing that novel and hopefully more.
But for right now, the focus is more on my music and songwriting. I’m discovering many forms of expressing myself. The other day I had a stressful day and walked into an art store bought a canvas, some paint brushes, and paint. I went home and just started painting for hours. It was the most therapeutic thing. So, you never know with me… what form I’ll be expressing my life experiences next!
Who is ZALI?
ZALI is a multi-faceted woman who is changing every day with each experience life throws at her. These [songs] are only beginning. I have so much to accomplish, and so much positivity to spread through my passion for music.
Also, songwriting and performing [represent who I am], along with my ambition to succeed. I don’t think anything can stop me from reaching my goals. My motto right now is live your best life. And that’s all I’m doing. I can’t wait to have this conversation 6 months from now… to see where I’ll be.