While the world quieted down in 2020, Moliy was ready to crank up the speakers of Ghana’s dynamic music scene. Afrobeats was becoming a global phenomenon, as its popularity grew in the West, and Ghana was the perfect breeding ground for a new-gen take on the continent’s popular dance music. Moliy, a sweet-voiced singer-songwriter and Accra native, was able to take advantage of the moment, leaping from obscurity to become one of the country’s new musical heroines.
With her 2020 solo debut EP WONDERGIRL, Moliy showcased her cherubic voice and established her ability to craft perfect pop songs. She laces lyrics about puppy love, lust, and young heartbreak with a distinct style of Afro-fusion music heavy on R&B influence and Ghanaian highlife.
In 2021, Moliy reached another breakthrough, lending her writing and delicate melodies to the Amaarae-fronted Afropop anthem “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY.” A major moment for Ghanaian music, “SGLM” received a remix featuring Kali Uchis and impacted international streaming charts, cracking Billboard’s Hot 100. Yet, though the hit song made Moliy’s presence known both at home and around the world, changes to the record’s credits threatened to disrupt her momentum. Earlier this year, the independent artist alleged she’d been removed as a primary artist on the remix and had not earned a dime of the proceeds.
While her role on “SGLM” brought her global attention and into fresh conversations about the future of Afropop, Moliy hopes the subsequent controversy is merely a bump in the road toward pop stardom. Throughout it all, Ghana remains an inspiration. Her new EP Mahogany St, released April 28, is “more Ghanaian than anything” Moliy has done to date. By returning home, Moliy takes one more step toward conquering the globe.
When did you know that music was something you wanted to pursue?
Growing up, I was obsessed with music blogs. Literally every single day, I was looking for new music to listen to and burning CDs. If I really loved a song, I would listen to it until I could sing every melody and lyric word for word. My sister, Melissa, also makes music, so we grew up sharing that obsession. Our mom had a bar right next door to our house, and there was always music playing—Daddy Lumba, Celine Dion, all these classics. I always felt like music was something I could do. But I didn’t take the step until like four years ago.
How did you “get started?”
The dream was to finish high school and then go to America for college. But then I went there and it was kind of a struggle. The system is different, paying rent every single month, studying, adjusting... Everything was a lot, and I don’t think I was ready to handle it. So, I came back to Ghana. I could’ve gone to uni here but it just didn’t appeal to me. Instead, I threw all of my energy into music.
I was dating someone at the time, he was also an upcoming musician/producer. Being around his circle, just seeing other people do it, I thought, “Why can’t I do it too?” Then I met my producer Mike Millz. He’s the one I actually started creating songs with. I feel like everything else before was just vibes, but when I met Mike, I grew confident as a recording artist.
It looks like a big part of your process has been social media. You’re one of the artists who seem to understand how to harness the internet to represent your brand and expand your audience.
Yeah, I think social media played a big role. Before I started creating records, I was posting freestyles on my socials and it was getting some traction. I once did a freestyle to a Rema song, but I switched up the lyrics to the girl’s perspective. It went really viral, then Don Jazzy posted it. It was so exciting. It motivated me and showed me I can go a step further.
That brings me to your debut EP, WONDERGIRL, which feels like such an honest, personal take on what it’s like to be young and dealing with love. Why do you think this project was the perfect way to introduce yourself to the world?
I feel like if I’m going through it, people out there are going through it too. And this project is just very me. I’m so unashamed, like if I smoke, or if I’m in a toxic relationship, or I fucked up, it’s real, it happens. I just want girls to see that and almost learn from my mistakes, like, “You deserve better than this.”
It’s refreshing to see a West African artist be so outspoken in their music.
I think it’s important for women to do that kind of thing. Men can be so careless with their lyrics. They can even be disrespectful to women and there’s no backlash. So, being outspoken as a woman, even if there is backlash, I see right through it. I’m not going to let scrutiny affect what I’m trying to do.
What’s the “Wondergirl” sound?
I rely on melodies a lot. I lay down the melodies first, then the lyrics follow. I do feel like my music carries a message. It’s free, it’s liberating, it’s against misogynistic men, and it’s fun. I guess the best word to describe it is “Afro-fusion” because it’s more alternative than mainstream Afrobeats music.
Ghanaian music is going global on a scale we haven’t seen before. How does it feel to be a part of this movement?
It’s exciting to see the world appreciating our rock stars. Seeing this happen, even in my career, opened my eyes to see that more is possible in music than ever before. We’re no longer just dealing with wanting to pop off in Ghana and Nigeria. Now, we know that people around the world are listening.
And you’re independent, right?
Yeah, I’m independent. I have management, I have people on my team, but I don’t have a label or anything. I’m taking my own strides.
Is being with a label something you look forward to or do you prefer the independent route?
I really like the independent route, but I’m not saying no to a label. I’m saying no now because I want to understand the business more and grow my fan base. There are certain things I want to feel accomplished over before a label comes. I want to be grounded in what I’m doing and see how far I can actually go on my own.
Your biggest hit so far has been “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY” with Amaarae and Kali Uchis, which has become surrounded by controversy. You recently blew the lid off the problematic business and creative ownership behind the music. Why was it so important for you to use your platform to stick up for yourself?
With where things were headed, people keep telling me, “Why would you burn that bridge?” I mean, is it really burning a bridge if I’m not being respected as an artist?
I think it was definitely a big-artist-small-artist kind of vibe. But that’s not me. I’m not going to act like that small artist. That’s what it is that ultimately made me speak up. The situation is not resolved. My team is still on it. If things go right, I think I would be cool mending that relationship, because prior to everything, [Amaarae] was doing dope shit. I wanted to work with her. I just don’t understand why it had to be this way.
It’s so sad, especially with the song that it is.
It’s an empowerment song! It’s supposed to be about women getting their money. I couldn’t believe it. I’m singing about getting paid, but I’m not getting paid.
How has the transition been for you, from being an independent artist trying to make a name for herself to having huge mainstream success?
It’s been surprising. I try to maintain my energy, whether things go bad or really good. When things go good people look at you like, “Okay, what can she do next? She did it one time, can she do it again?”
I’m just trying to stay in the headspace of when I first dropped WONDERGIRL, which was, “I don’t know how this is going to go, but I’m hopeful, and I’m just creating what I genuinely love and enjoy.”
I’m not controlled by what people expect from me. Just because “SAD GIRLZ LUV MONEY” was successful doesn’t mean I need to replicate that sound. I’m going to stay in my creative space and do what feels natural. I’m just trying to enjoy the process and hold it down.
Could you tell me about your new EP, Mahogany St.? What’s the vibe of this?
I don’t think it’s as alternative as my other music. Obviously, it’s Moliy, but I wanted it to sound more Ghanaian than anything. Real Afro drums and strings, you know? Mahogany Street is a street in my neighborhood in Accra. I don’t think a lot of people realize I’m Ghanaian so that’s the main thing. I want to be proud of where I’m from, and I want this project to make that mark for me as a Ghanaian artist.
You’ve achieved and experienced so much in a short amount of time. What advice would you give people coming into the industry, especially women?
Your energy has to be right. You always need to be in a good headspace. Feel positive and grateful, regardless if things are moving or they’re not. Be your own number one fan before anyone else cheers you on. Be confident in yourself and have an intention.
Obviously, because I was able to do it in such a short amount of time, my experience is different. But what I would say from my experience is you should do a lot of collaborations. Be in people’s DMs. Be shameless. Go for what you want consistently. It will work.
By Sarah Osei for Audiomack