Afropop rising star, Rafiya, hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo but is a proud Pan-African. She will be the first and only African artist on Essence Festival’s inaugural Center Stage for emerging artists. The festival taking place in New Orleans will be headlined by Diana Ross, Mary J. Blige and Chance the Rapper among other global icons. Rafiya is excited to be in such distinguished company and we spoke with her ahead of the festival to better understand her journey, her sound and her connection to Africa.

Afropolitain-magazine - Rafiya
Afropolitain-magazine – Rafiya
How does it feel to be invited to perform at the Essence Festival, alongside so many great and legendary artists?

I’m beyond excited and grateful for the opportunity to perform and to represent Congo and Africa on this huge platform. I’ve always wanted to perform at Essence festival. It’s a brand that I admire tremendously and sharing the stage with great and legendary artists, is truly humbling.

When did you know that you wanted to become an artist?

I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember. As a little girl when asked what I wanted to become when I grow up, I would always answer ‘singer’ first. I became even more convinced that’s what I wanted to be after my first recording experience and after a big stadium performance I had in Benin (West Africa) when I was 8.

Can you describe your style?

My style is versatile. It’s very reflective of my multicultural experiences and travels growing up. I like to incorporate different languages and sounds. I’m also obsessed with the Congolese guitar.

Who influenced you growing up?

Mariah Carey was a big influence as she inspired me to sing. I was in awe of how she used her voice as an instrument. Lokua Kanza, Youssou N’dour, Angelique Kidjo, Miriam Makeba, Zouk Machine, Nayanka Bell were also great influences growing up.

What do you hope to accomplish through music?

Music is so powerful! I hope to uplift, motivate and inspire love.

Afropolitain-magazine - Rafiya
Afropolitain-magazine – Rafiya
What inspires you to create?

My passion for music. My passion for promoting African culture, pride and unity. My desire to touch and connect with people.

How does being from the Democratic Republic of Congo influence your music? How does it influence your style?

Apart from singing about Congo, as I did in my song “Congo Pleure” (“Congo is Crying”), and doing remakes of Congolese classics I grew up with, such as “Mario” by the legendary Franco and “Fetiche Mpongo” by Mpongo Love, I love to incorporate Lingala, a language from the Congo, and of course the Congolese guitar!  The Congolese love music and love to dance. Making music that makes people dance makes me happy!

What does Afropolitan mean to you?

To me it refers to a diasporan who is in touch with his/her African roots and who is involved in reshaping the future of the continent.

What advice would you give to other young Africans who want to follow a similar career path?

I would encourage them, as they are starting out to take advantage of open mics to practice performing in front of an audience and to hone their stage presence. I would also tell them that just like any other journey, they will encounter setbacks but that they must persevere and always stay true to themselves.