Q&A: Vancouver Musician Bukola on the FreeUp! Emancipation Day Variety Show, Premiering August 1

Bukola is an up-and-coming local artist who will be performing on CBC Gem’s Emancipation Day special this Sunday, August 1. The singer-songwriter also just released her debut EP, The Chronicles of a Teenage Mind. The album’s soulful blends of R&B and jazz were a creative collaboration between her and Grammy Award-winning producer, Chin Injeti, along with Juno award-winning producer Ben Kaplan. We chatted with Bukola about what sparked her career in music (spoilers, it’s Willow Smith) and this Sunday’s hour-long episode on CBC Gem.

What inspired you to start writing and playing music?

When I was nine years old, I was on YouTube one day and I saw a video of Willow Smith performing “Whip My Hair” back in 2010. I thought it was so cool because she was having so much fun. And I said, “Okay, I want to be having that much fun when I’m older. I want to be doing exactly what she’s doing.” It was from there that I started really diving deep into music and seeing singing as a really cool career choice. I think I was also excited to do something fun that was also as a necessity. It was something that I had to do. I can’t live without music, it’s so important to me.

And what eventually got you into the music industry?

It really started with a musician development workshop that I went to in Surrey, called Band-Aid. It’s put on by the city every year. One of the people who was doing a workshop, Mark Fenster, reached out to me after and said he’d really love to help me with my career. It was really through him that I got into the music industry. He showed me the ropes and introduced me to a lot of people. He’s a part of my life and a part of my journey.

What has it been like for you to work on your EP, The Chronicles of a Teenage Mind?

It’s always been a dream of mine to put out music into the world. So when I got the opportunity to work on my debut EP, I was super excited. I got to work with some really cool people, like Chin Injeti and Ben Kaplan, who are the producers on the EP. It was really inspiring getting to finally do this.

What was the inspiration behind your song “Falling Deeper”?

Honestly when we went into the studio to make the song, I wanted to create a classic R&B vibe. A big influence for that track was Daniel Caesar. He’s one of my favourite R&B artists. I think the track turned out pretty cool.

Tell us about the CBC Gem show, FreeUp! Emancipation Day.

The CBC Gem show is going to be available for streaming on August 1. It’s in commemoration of Emancipation Day, which is when the Slavery Abolition Act became law in 1834. It’s an important event where over 800,000 people of African descent were freed in Canada. It’s a big part of Canadian history. I feel so honoured to be part of this celebration, and to be able to do that on a national platform. We’re hoping that people will understand its importance. Because it’s something a lot of people don’t know about currently.

What was the filming process like for you?

It was so much fun! Khadijah Salawu is the artistic director for the show. I’d never gotten to create something like this from the ground up, in terms of choosing the venue, the vibe, the outfit, and the artwork behind it. It’s so cool getting to have that creative freedom. I loved being able to give my input in all those different aspects of the performance. I also got to play with the guitarist, Anthony Anderson, who id so talented. Getting to work with him was super fun. Everybody on set, from the videographer to the person recording the sound, was super nice too. It was so much fun from planning to actually getting to perform it.

What are you looking forward to the most about the premiere?

I think just knowing that people are going to learn about it and it being on people’s radar. That’s what I’m most excited about. Because we weren’t taught about it in school, and it wasn’t in any of our textbooks. Even when I told my siblings and my parents, that I was performing for this event, they were like, “Oh, what is that? Is that important?” And I said, “Yes, it’s very important!” Just the fact that people are going to get to know what Emancipation Day is and what it’s about.

What’s something you hope the audience would get from watching the show?

It’s a variety show that’s going to feature notable Black community artists. They get to express what freedom means to them through poetry, performance, and dance. There are some amazing performers that are going to be a part of it like Haviah Mighty. Some really incredible performances should be expected. You’re not going to want miss that. 

What will you be working on next?

I’m so excited because live performances are finally coming back after COVID. On August 18th, I’m going to be performing at the Vancouver Mural Festival. I’ll also be performing at the Honey Jam showcase on August 12th.

You can watch FreeUp! Emancipation Day on CBC Gem starting August 1 — more information available here, and stream it on CBC Gem (free for all Canadians).