Kalifa Sarah Clyne
Cyrilia Lopez wakes up in her home in South Korea, has breakfast
, then walks a few steps to her in-house recording space, where she records videos, writes songs and works on marketing her brand.
She divides her time between her husband and son and her music career.
As an independent recording artiste, much of the work that would typically go to a team at a record company, she does herself. She charts her own musical direction and makes all the decisions necessary as she pursues a music career.
It allows her an artistic freedom that she is leaning into after having a “eureka” moment because of the covid19 pandemic.
“When covid just started. they made it seem like it was lethal and everyone was like, ‘Don’t go outside. you would get covid and die.’ I was shopping with my hand sanitiser.
“I thought, what if I die, what legacy am I leaving behind? What would I leave behind? I said, ‘Listen, if you die tomorrow, this is the song you are working on right now – are you happy with that?’”
So, after dabbling with the very popular Korean music genre of kpop, she decided to go back to the music she felt most comfortable with – music with soul which tells stories that allow her to share herself with the world.
Her stories are as much about love as they are about trauma, as she uses her words to weave her own personal pain and hope with soothing melodies.
Her latest single So Empty, released on all major streaming platforms is one such song, written for her mother, with whom she has a difficult relationship.
She spent her childhood in South Trinidad living with different families, sometimes staying with her mother, an experience she described as traumatising. During her childhood, she says, she was also sexually abused,
“I never knew my dad, and my mom has not been there for me.
“My mother was the only parent I knew. When I was with her I felt like I was the adult. At eight years old, I was learning to cook lentil peas or wash clothes in the river on rocks, cleaning up the house, going to the chapel to get free food. I felt more like an adult than a child.
“I just did not have a relationship with her as a child. and then later, in my late teens, I moved in with her and I felt like that connection was more (like) friends and I never had the mother-daughter relationship.
“After I left Trinidad to go abroad I felt I was being manipulated; I felt like she was using the hard times I know she would experience to get finances out of me and I have stopped talking to her.”
In the song, she shares her feelings on the emotional distance between her and her mother.
“When it says, ‘Do you ever think about the times we never met when I needed you and you were not there,’ I was talking about living in my aunt and uncle’s house. and they treated their children differently from me and I would look at the connection they have and that was not the connection I had with them, because I was not their child and…I was like, ‘Where were you?’
“I think we have this shameful culture in the Caribbean where people say. ‘You only have one mother, you know,’ but I think you need to break off ties with any family member if they do not feel right within your energy and show you that they do not care about what you need to go through.
“That’s what this song is for, to let people know if you aren’t happy doing something just break it off.”
Cyrilia, 29, writes all her songs. On her first EP she wrote One Day, a song with hopeful lyrics, for her sisters. She wrote love songs based on past relationships and songs that reflect her own growth as a woman.
And while she is committed to her singing career, it wasn’t a career she let herself dream about when she was a child, coming from a troubled home.
“I never even knew that music was a thing I could do. It was often looked down as ‘Don’t waste your time with these things, study real subjects,’ and one parent day at school, the teacher said, ‘Hey, she could go to the US and study performing arts,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, this is a real thing that I could do? People go to school for that?'”
She did the the SAT exam and planned to go to a US college to study education, then switch to a performing arts major.
“I did the SATs and a school accepted me, and the family I was living with said they would sponsor me.”
She said they made an agreement that the family would pay for her to go, but told her when she got to the United States she would need to work and support herself.
In anticipation of that, she got a job in Trinidad, with her mother, but the family disapproved of the relationship.
“They said if I decided to go work and stay with my mother, then they would not support me moving to the US any more. When they said that and did that to me, I was gutted. They came together and removed me from Facebook and said that I would end up like my mother and make children out of wedlock and have tattoos and piercings.”
When that dream ended, Lopez looked to different avenues to perform. She performed at SanFest, an annual culture festival in San Fernando, and competed on Digicel Rising Stars.
But, she said, in Trinidad, “I felt like the scene of music I was doing, there was not a big market for it. It would be easier if I do soca or dancehall or reggae. I just left and realised there is a bigger world outside and I did not need to box myself in.”
She started hearing about people getting jobs as performers on cruise ships and looked for similar opportunities.
“I went on Google and searched for companies hiring musicians abroad, and I found a company that was hiring in the region. They would bring those people, make a band and take them to Asia to perform – and I went to Beijing for four and a half months.”
Beijing, she said, was a culture shock.
“I was so scared, because I was thinking, ‘I’m from a third world country, what if I get human trafficked or my organs harvested?’ Watching too much Lifetime on TV has you thinking those things.”
Despite her fears, she signed a one-year contract to work with a band, singing top 40 Billboard music in China before moving to South Korea.
It was in Korea that she started refocusing on her own music.
“I made the decision to just be 100 per cent authentic with my music and not make commercial music just for getting ahead which is what would have happened if you talked to me two years ago. I would have said, ‘I want to get people’s attention, I want to be famous,’ and now I’m like, ‘I don’t give a s–t.’ I’m so on with being authentic to myself.
“We all have a choice. I fine-tuned my direction. I knew I wanted to do things differently, there was spiritual growth and self-awareness and so much things.” She knows pleasing herself won’t please everyone.
“People ask what kind of genre of music I am singing, or, ‘What kind of artiste are you –blues, R&B?’ I am from an island where there is so much diversity, where you can partake in so many things and why would I suppress any of that?
“I am done with trying to box myself in. I’m a multi-genre independent recording artiste. Why box me in?”
Her focus now is to realise her dreams, making the connections that will take her music further as she looks forward to a covid19-free world where she can perform to live audiences again.
“I want to have sold-out shows for sure. I want to carry the flavour of the Caribbean. As mixed as I look and as mixed as the Caribbean is, I am going to infuse that into my branding and my stage.
“I want to start off with intimate acoustic concerts first.”
While she prepares for that experience, she says she is working with the resources she has.
“I don’t have money to pay a marketing company right now, so I am investing in myself and I do my videos and recording sometimes at home. Instead of looking at where you could be and focusing on, ‘I should wait until I get there,’ just look at what you have right now and make do.”
She said she is focused less on doing things for “clout” and more on working with different people, adding that she is working on singles with Grammy-award winning and nominated producers and artistes.
“I want to make enough money to give back and maintain my family. Being a parent, I realised how difficult it is to raise a child. Even in the household where I was abused or basically a slave, I still feel the need to repay them, because it is hard: where are you getting the food, the money, working hard to buy cloth for a uniform? I know some days we had nothing.
“I want to have programmes for children suffering in poverty and human trafficking. I’m focused on collaborating with a foundation in Vietnam (where she will be moving in the near future) on human trafficking and I also want to be able to help single parents.”
The issues are close to her heart and intertwined with her own goals for success and while her stories fuel her singing career, Lopez intends to use her singing career to make life better for those around her.