Toronto R&B Singer Savannah Ré Goes from Songwriter to Rising Star

"To have someone who could go anywhere to start a label and find any artist wanna sign me first? It changed my life."
Toronto R&B Singer Savannah Ré Goes from Songwriter to Rising Star
Photo: Othello Grey
Just days before the release of her Opia EP, Savannah Ré was hosting a select group of people around the city of Toronto in a Sprinter van (adhering to COVID regulations, of course) and walking them through the project. Though technically serving as her debut EP, Ré has been sneaking in and out of the music industry for a decade with sporadic singles. This time, however, she's back into the fold for good with more knowledge, a bolder personality, and the attitude of the girl-next-door you're dying to be friends with.

"I'm not hyper-religious or anything, but I do believe in God and God's timing, and I think that's a huge thing that's kept me going all this time before Opia," she explains when asked about the lengthy journey leading up to this moment. "I was a kid 10 years ago. When I talk about my journey from then to now, I probably sucked 10 years ago," she says with a laugh.

"Being in Toronto, or especially feeling like you're stuck in Toronto, breeds a whole different beast that can go and succeed anywhere in the world. I've met a lot of really great people, but a lot of things changed for me when the right people came into my life."
Two of those "right people" are her long-time collaborator and now-husband YogiTheProducer (who she says creating with is "like breathing") and Grammy-award winning producer Boi-1da, who signed Savannah Ré to his 1 Music imprint through Universal Music Canada.

"I was working at this studio, which is, coincidentally, where I met Yogi as well, and I was just songwriting and trying to figure it out. We got a beat folder, and I was told they were Boi-1da beats and to write to them or whatever the case may be. A year after I started writing on his stuff, I met him at a club and was like, 'Hey, I'm Savannah, the one that's been writing on your beats.' He was in VIP, it was red-taped out, and security came down and got me. We ended up talking for about 20 minutes, and he was like, 'I listen to everything you send me, we gotta get in' and this and that. I was in complete shock because I didn't expect someone that successful to be that humble," Ré says. 

"Fast-forward three years, he got an imprint deal with UMC and called me and was like, 'I wanna sign you,' and I was like 'Oh, OK, cool, you wanna sign me as a writer?' He was like, 'No, I wanna sign you as an artist.' For me, that was the most affirming thing that's ever happened to me. To have someone who could go anywhere to start a label and find any artist wanna sign me first? It changed my life."

For Ré, a Black female artist in Canada, the magnitude of the moment wasn't lost on her. Thanking her predecessors like Jully Black, Deborah Cox, Tamia, and Melanie Fiona, she notes that though they haven't been given their flowers, because of them, there is a change brewing within the Canadian R&B industry — especially for artists like her. 

For her, the key is having conversations with her peers and ultimately being vulnerable with one another, bringing us back to the EP, Opia. After hearing the term "sonder" through fellow R&B artist Brent Faiyaz's musical group, Ré discovered its origin as a word invented by John Koenig for his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, and came across the word "opia" in the process.

"The short-form version is the intensity when someone is staring you in the eye, and it makes you uncomfortable because the eyes are the window to the soul. That feeling and that word resonate with me so much because for me, this music is so so personal, and the person who consumes it, they're like strangers reading your diary," she explains. 

As a diary, Opia serves as a collection of full-bodied but short records, all of which fall under three minutes — an approach she credits to Tierra Whack, whose Whack World project was composed of 15 tracks, each 60 seconds long.

"The reaction to this project is so surprising, and I already know that that feeling comes from being from here. I'm not used to acknowledgment at all, mixed with a sprinkle of imposter syndrome, but my people have really been lifting me up, and that's these other artists — everyone who has been so supportive of me has made this process what it is," Ré expresses.

"I don't want there to be this third wall between myself and the people that invest in my music, I want them to laugh with it, love with it, cry with it. I've done all these emotions within these songs, and I just want them to be a part of my journey. This project to me is the book."