By Moboluwajidide Joseph
When speaking with Ayo Leilani and SunSun, our conversation was filled with laughter as I tried to piece together their experiences as two queer women of colour living in Toronto, with careers as professional music artists. The duo, with Mas Aya who is their drummer, comprise Above Top Secret: a Toronto based music group whose distinct sound can be described as an eclectic mix of hip-hop, dub, electro and soul.
We started off by talking about why they had both chosen to craft and inhabit stage personas. SunSun reveals that her name is a gift from a friend, with her birth name actually being Francesca Nocera. For Leilani, although she is often mistaken as Nigerian because of ‘Ayo’, this too is a stage name which is often taken to be her birth name. Etmet Musa, her East African birth name, requires her to consistently correct people on pronunciation, she confides. She is known instead as Ayo Leilani or Witch Prophet.
“The streets kind of named me. It was just a nickname one of my roommates and one of my friends gave me. I am SunSun. They gave me that name when I was living in New York like 15, 20 years ago and it’s supposed to mean a lucky wise one,” said SunSun of her stage name.
© Above Top Secret | Youtube
Their music is closely tied to activism, with their 2016 single Bang being a call to action on issues spanning missing and murdered indigenous women, along with police brutality and organ harvesting. “We’re not good at writing love songs”, SunSun admits. They prefer, instead, to make music about things happening in the world that do not receive as much attention as they should. Although they believe that the group’s sound has evolved to be more appealing to popular audiences, they are adamant that they will not sell out their ideals and their political voice.
In clarifying Mas Aya’s role with the group, they explain that the two of them are the creative minds, while he contributes to their live performances as a drummer. They are interested in bringing in more guitar influences in their upcoming albums 1984 is Now, which sticks closer to their hip hop roots, and Altro Mondo, a more EDM based production.
“Our slogan used to be ‘disrupt dis reality’, and so we kind of just carry on that theme where we like to break the norms and be a little different.”
The two also spoke on their relationship, announcing that they are getting married in August! “Me and Sun have been together since we started 88days, in 2009,” Leilani adds, referring to the art and music collective the two founded a decade ago. They are rebranding it as a record label named Heartlake Records, which they run together.
“We are partners in every aspect. We’re best friends and we raise our son together,” SunSun shares.
The two started 88 days of fortune in response to how unwelcoming the hip-hop scene may have once seemed to women and queer folks. “There was nothing before,” Leilani comments referring to the Toronto hip-hop scene and the lack of opportunities that once existed for queer and female identifying folk, “We’re just taking baby steps.” They both are hopeful that more work will be done to increase access and opportunities for these individuals in the hip hop music scene.