"Solaris is a place you can go — a state of mind," says Shay Lia, the Montreal-based, East African artist who just released her EP of the same name. "It's where the sun shines brightest. It is a place of joy, dancing, sensuality, confidence and warmth."
As the follow-up to Dangerous, Lia's 2019 debut, Solaris leans into her strengths, with playful reggae-pop energy across five tracks — most notably "Irrational," which perfectly samples "Move Your Feet" by Junior Senior.
"I took my second project as another opportunity to explore and discover," Lia continues. "I'm discovering myself while you're discovering me. I'm trying new things, changing my approach and committing to my vision."
For Solaris, this meant getting outside the "comfort zone" Lia had created on Dangerous, which features an array of R&B, soul and funk. "With Solaris, I went for a blend of R&B, pop and afrobeat," Lia says. "I'm so grateful to the dope Haitian and Nigerian producers that worked with me on this — my songwriting process on this project was incredibly organic and freeing."
Below, Shay Lia breaks down every track off Solaris for PAPER. "To me, each song is special and has its own signature vibe," she says. "The tracks are all different from one another but they're part of the same world: Solaris."
This one is about us as human beings and how irrational we can be especially when we're in love. I wanted to feel carefree when I sang it, so I wrote about it in a playful way. If we're honest with ourselves, we know that we've all been there — in that phase when we know it's not good for us but we love it... until we hate it for good. I'm so proud of these melodies and this reggae pop vibe is so new to me. You'll probably recognize the sample from "Move Your Feet" by Junior Senior. I love that it gives the song a timeless and anthemic feeling. I went crazy the first time the brilliant Michael Brun played me this beat. When you listen to it, you can tell we had so much fun working on it in his studio in NYC.
I surprised myself and my fans with this song. French is my mother tongue and people have always asked when I would write a song in French. It was an organic process. I didn't plan it, I just started vibing to the music in French and I thought it would be cool to keep it that way on the chorus. I was inspired by the strength of women. We're resilient to the ways people talk about us or the insecurities we trigger in some people. It's also a song about people gossiping. There's something quite theatrical in the performance of this one, which is enhanced by the Brazilian pop production and I love it.
High Up is a track that is so smooth and has a lot of personality and confidence. This one is about sensuality and sexuality. I had so many images on my mind going back and forth between a beautiful landscape of the ocean and the beautiful body of two people making love. I pictured Black women's bodies — our beautiful melanin, our curves and beauty. "High Up" is about that special, almost indescribable world you create with the person you're in love with that no one has access too. I've blended my style of R&B melodies with Phantom's (producer of Burna Boy's global hit "Ye") — amazing vibe. There's nothing like Nigerian music.
"All Up To You"
I wanted to create something positive for people to dance to in these crazy times. I wanted to feel reminded that we're stronger than we think. I believe in the powers of words and music, and I love creating inspirational songs full of warmth and joyful energy for everyone of any age to enjoy. "All Up To You" is meant to be my version of a big, positive affirmation — layering my style of R&B melodies on a lush afrobeat-inspired instrumental. To me, it sounds and feels like a summer vacation by the beach with your loved ones, which we all need so badly right now. This song is also to remind the rarely satisfied, ambitious person (that many of us are) to step back in this moment and trust in life. "It's not a race against time. You're exactly where you're supposed to be. Life is a long ride."
"Love Me, Love Me Not"
If this song had a scent, it would be coconut oil mixed with vanilla. I wanted it to feel intimate and soft. I was definitely exploratory with this song. I wanted my listeners to feel how sensuality, pleasure and melancholy can blend into the same song, and share the experience of being friend-zoned from a woman's perspective. It happens to us too and we should not be afraid to share how it can make us feel. It can be empowering to be vulnerable.