Unfiltered, Inspired, and Free: A Conversation with Zanillya

Zanillya © Jozef Wright
Zanillya © Jozef Wright
Atwood Magazine caught up with Dutch rising star Zanillya to discuss her musical beginnings, inspirations, the story behind “You’re It”, and what she has brewing for the near future.

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Zanillya’s latest release “You’re It” is a shot of empowerment and energy. After listening to the song, you feel limitless, ready to take on the world and shut up all the haters. It works, especially when paired with Nike Kids’ ad aimed at young girls – Zanillya’s words and catchy beats coupled with girls from all over the world proudly displaying their powers and practicing different sports makes for the perfect (good) storm.

Zanillya - You're It
Zanillya – You’re It

YouTube comments on the ad are overwhelmingly supportive, saying “I wish this kind of publicity was around when I was a kid” and a passionate “If this doesn’t fire you up and makes you TACKLE WHATEVER IT IS YOU’VE GOT, THEN THERE IS NO SAVING YOU”. With only her fourth ever single, Zanillya has already started to make a positive impact in the world.

Daughter of musical legend Bobby Farrell, Zanillya has now started to carve out her own space in the music scene, releasing inspired, R&B-inflected tracks that touch on self-confidence, mental health, the life of an artist, and empowerment. She’s a rapper, singer, and producer, and she’s only just beginning. Atwood Magazine caught up with the rising star to discuss her musical beginnings, inspirations, the story behind “You’re It”, and what she has brewing for the near future.



Atwood Magazine: Hi Zanillya, thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! Starting off, your father is obviously a musical legend, so growing up did you always know you wanted to pursue a career as a musician?

Zanillya: Ah thanks, I appreciate that. Yes I knew from when I was two. Growing up with my parents wasn’t always easy as they both were very outgoing, eccentric beings but so creative. My dad wasn’t always around as he was on tour, but that added to the mystique and it made me fall in love with being on the road. It was also Prince who inspired me to be an artist.

Do you remember the first song you wrote?

Zanillya: Honestly I don’t remember as I started writing when I was eight. My writing then was a mix of poems and songs. I still have all my lyrics so I could look it up 😛

Since your dad was famous, I feel like people can sometimes feel like they know about you and your life. Can you tell me more about your artistic persona and how you‘re introducing yourself to the world through your music? Who is the Zanillya the world is getting to know?

Zanillya: That is a great question. A lot of people try to compare me to my dad especially his fans, but I am so different than he was. My music is different, my style is totally different. I can’t tell you exactly who I am just yet. I am discovering myself and who I am day by day and I think the world is discovering that with me. I am not afraid to be honest in my music and to share my darkest moments. I think the more I grow, the more I can open up, yet in my music there is no filter and if people want to get to know me they can via my music, as that is the place where I let it all go. It is also the place where I get to know myself.

What inspires you the most when you‘re writing?

Zanillya: When creating I am totally free and let it come out how it wants to. I write about anything that is going on in my life. I always almost freestyle my songs first so there isn’t room to filter and mostly I don’t like to edit it too much afterwards. When I write it really feels like I am channeling and it comes to me so fast that I sometimes scare myself as it is confronting to get to see those parts of myself. When I freestyle or write it shows what’s going on subconsciously and it is therapy to me.

Your music is this great mixture of genres and energies, I feel like I could listen to your music while working out or dancing and also if I need to have a cry alone at home. Are there are any artists or albums which inspire you the most to embrace this eclecticism?

Zanillya: It makes me happy to hear that as that is really what I want my music to do. I was inspired by Prince at a young age, so he is one of my role models. Also Kanye is in all my work. He has a way to make you feel your own darkness and pain but also makes you feel alive. His sonics are insane and definitely a standard for us. There are so many other artists that inspire me and all of them are in my work. To list all of them here would be insane but what all of them have in common is that it moves me, it touches something deep inside. Growing up my mom used to play almost all kinds of genres from Balkan to classical to hiphop, R&B, dancehall, African music, soul and then I would go to my father’s family and they would play Caribbean and South American music. All those genres have influenced me and my music.

Zanillya © Jozef Wright
Zanillya © Jozef Wright

In ”In It 4 a Lifetime“ you describe the ”paradox of the artist‘s faith“, can you explain what that is in more detail, please? And is it somewhat daunting to you to realise that you’ll be an artist, with all the good and bad parts of that experience, for the rest of your life?

Zanillya: Oh yes it is daunting. Feeling so much all the time is beautiful, but it is also very tiring and scary at times. Sometimes I hurt so bad that I don’t know what to do with myself and then other times I feel so alive. The highs and lows are extreme. I am learning to find my balance with it and music helps but it is still hard. I hope to get a handle on it one day but wouldn’t want to even it out completely.  As artists we believe in a better world, we believe in the good of humanity, we believe in love but the world sometimes has a way of stealing that joy, that purity and it is our duty as artists to help ourselves, but especially others to remember the beauty of life with the ups and the downs. That to me is the artist faith but also the artist fate.

Can you talk a little bit more about your collaboration with Humphrey Dennis? When did you start working together, and why do you think he’s the perfect collaborator for you?

Zanillya: We started working together almost together nine years ago. He is the best collaborator anyone could ask for. When I create I go to this unknown, dark place and I feel free to do so around him. Honestly without him I think I wouldn’t have been able to reach that deep. He lets me be, he leaves his ego at the door when we are creating and really caters to me and my vision. He taught me so much about producing, being patient and trusting the process. We fit together perfectly as he, even more than me, sees no boundaries, no rules. I think we will continue to work together for this lifetime as I will never feel that free with anyone else.

You‘ve said that writing is a form of self-expression for you, and that it‘s after you write a song that you realise that it might affect others as well. What inspired you to write such an empowering song like ”You‘re It“?

Zanillya: “You’re It” was really created to cater to Nike’s vision to inspire young girls with sports. I tried to channel the inner child in me and what I would have loved to hear growing up. Nike came up with the phrase “you’re it” as they wanted every girl to feel like she has it and I took that and made the lyrics in less than a day. We recorded it the same day and mixed it the next. It was done in two days. I love making music for brands. The creating process is different and the songs have a different vibe. They don’t necessarily fit on my album but this is also a part of me. It is something I like to make and something I am good at. So yeah fuck it, no rules right 😉

On ”You‘re It” you mention a lot of incredible women like Rihanna and Serena Williams. Who‘s a female artist or figure you look up to and why?

Zanillya: There are so many incredible artists and everyone in their own way inspires me. However the ones who have had the most impact on me are Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone, and Aaliyah. They are all unapologetically themselves. In sharing their stories, in their style and in their performance. Beyoncé inspires me to work harder, to me she is the greatest performer alive and her video content always blows me away. Rihanna inspires me to not be afraid to mix genres and styles, Amy wrote the most honest and raw lyrics and her voice had so much pain. Nina was the same and Aaliyah was so pure and so unique in her sound. She was soft but tough and her style was everything. Alicia is one of the artists that helped me remember my dream when I lost it. They all have a place in my music, style and the way I express myself.

Watch: Nike⎪You’re It


Zanillya: I work out a lot and believe working out builds endurance and it’s needed to live a healthy life. When I work out I like to push myself beyond and see that as a metaphor for life. I believe sports and self-empowerment are linked because when you work out you feel strong and feel like you can take on the world. It gives you a feeling of power over your own body and mind and that is empowering.

You have an Instagram post where you say that when you‘re gone you hope you touched people‘s lives. How do you want you and your music to be remembered?

Zanillya: Awesome question. Honestly I just want to touch people and make them feel connected to life. I want my music to help people through whatever it is they’re going through. As an artist I just want to inspire and be remembered as someone who was pure and honest with their pain and flaws but also had a love for life.

If you could write music with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

Zanillya: Prince, Bob Marley, Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse. To me they have mastered the craft of writing music and touching your soul with their lyrics. I hope to get to that level one day. Alive I would say Drake and Frank Ocean. Both are incredible in their own way and to sit with them in a room one day would be incredible.

What‘s coming up for you in the future? Any projects we can look forward to?

Zanillya: We are working on an EP which is almost done, lawd, so exciting, We have been working on it for the last four years and I bare it all. On this EP I share my story with dealing with depression and mental health.

What‘s the last great thing you listened to?

Zanillya: It is really hard for me to choose one thing because everyday I feel different and want a different vibe, also there is just so much great music out.  However Burna Boy’s last album is incredible from start to finish and Rosalía. She is everything.

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Zanillya - You're It

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