It should go without saying that knowing thyself ain’t easy. In other words, soul-searching demands action, movement, and even then, there’s the whole mess around finding it. Looking at your reflection, without pause, without shame—traumas and battles incorporated—can be a challenge that many may never have to take on in a lifetime. But if you do, it might help you reason through some things. You may even end up in a conversation, hand to phone, sounding a good deal like Canadian artist Haviah Mighty.
“It’s been a lot of mental growth and shifting in an effort to make me into a more well-rounded individual,” the Toronto native says. “I’m lucky in a way that makes it hard to recognize that I could have died.”
Mighty says this, not to be dramatic, but to acknowledge her truth following a recent health scare. She’s in an admittingly different place. And like a good section of us, the year 2020 was expected to be a time of upward trajectories until it wasn’t. She’d won Canada’s esteemed Polaris Prize in 2019 with her full-length album, 13th Floor, making her the first Black woman to achieve it. Smaller venues began to shift into bigger stages—each space becoming a container for her lyricism about Blackness, dopeness, and personal identity. She was also a guest on the seminal Sway in the Morning hosted by Sway Calloway to kick off the beginning of 2020—that is, until the rest of the year happened.
Insert the all-too-common tales about the vice grip of a pandemic—and there you have it. Haviah, like so many, experienced the forced stillness of a moment; fewer shows, doors closed. And in many ways, her latest mixtape, Stock Exchange (out Nov. 12), became an expression of that experience over time.
Featuring global L.A.-based artist Old Man Saxton, Jalen Santoy from North Carolina, Latin Grammy winner Mala Rodriquez, and Toronto artist TOBi, among others, it’s a record of emotional beats from an artist who seems more comfortable in herself than she’s ever been. And it’s perhaps why Haviah Mighty has so much more to say, not just about her music but about who she’s become.
I want to be intentional about asking how you’ve been doing since 2020, given all that we’ve gone through.
I’ve been relatively good in terms of the work with opportunities with shows coming back around. Over the last month, it’s been chaotic. I have a health concern that I’m dealing with and it was really unexpected. It’s one of those scenarios that can really impact everything else. I’ve had to cancel, postpone and I’ve lost a lot of money as a result. I’m still trying to figure out how to make sure that I’m perfectly healthy so I can get back to it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky to be in the position I’m in where there shouldn’t be any long-term effects from the scare, but it’s a lucky but also unlucky situation. I’m just trying to practice gratitude and optimism at this point.
And I won’t pry. It does make me want to ask how 2020 and beyond may have informed your artistry itself. The year 2019 was an active year. You had the 13th Floor album, you won the Polaris Music Prize, and you were on Sway in the Morning. Then the pandemic happens and things slow down.
My interview with Sway In The Morning actually happened before the shutdowns happened. The momentum was active, I was in L.A., and that’s when I found out we were heading into a pandemic. It didn’t feel real in my mind so I walked around as if things were normal. [Editor’s note: This was before any lockdown restrictions were put in place.] Two weeks later, I’m back home doing a show in Vancouver and two days later, it was a ghost town. The year 2020 was supposed to be the momentum period, but I had to really learn how to pivot my entire year.
I started putting out singles that were intended to be released during the period of a month. That was the rollout. Just a few tracks. There was never an intended theme, but it began to become this thing around the perception of value. I recognized that I was dealing with the difficult mental stress of feeling validated by the art I was putting out, based on likes, streams, and how many shares I received. It was starting to impact how I felt about myself during a particular month until it started to happen every month. It felt like a recurring feeling that became a theme. That’s how the title Stock Exchange became a title, with each song—call it an asset, stock, or bond—how it was perceived digitally in this time of few human interactions became what my business was worth. I struggled with that, but I also spent 2020 creating a separation between the business that has nothing to do with my worth as an individual. My songs came to represent that change.
“My hope in terms of Stock Exchange is that listeners themselves understand a bit of that line around valuing themselves. We live in a time when that’s difficult for a lot of people to see themselves as a commodity to themselves rather than to the world.”
One consistent thing about your work is that you don’t avoid what’s around you when you easily can. Some Black creatives I talk to view a confrontation with politics as a personal responsibility. How do you personally see it?
For me, it’s a way of life. It’s difficult to talk about experiences without touching the political spectrum. I can’t be quiet about what I see. Unfortunately, some may have a tendency to associate me with certain themes, and then comes the expectation to upkeep the expectation. I try to stay away from that. At the end of the day, I’m a musician on the audible curation of sharing ideas that are impactful and enjoyable for others. I don’t label myself an activist, but what I talk about can toe the line of that, which I get. It’s an interesting place to be in.
I used to worry about how things would be perceived. Today, if we sit down and we smoke a spliff, the topics from my album 13th Floor may come up naturally. That can be an extension of what bothers me. I remember growing up having the urge to talk about topics that most would shy away from. It’s hard to know how other people see things, but for me, it’s a part of my music because the most impactful messages come from a deep passion that may, or may not affect the world.
Take me back to when you were worried though. What changed?
When I was in college for music, I’d say, that’s when I had some fears. This was an environment surrounded by white people who didn’t understand the narrative I was bringing. Living in London, Ontario for two years was difficult as a Black woman. You’re surrounded by those who literally don’t see you. At the time, I’m putting out music, mixing, playing instruments, and I’m doing it in a place where people just don’t get it. So being careful about what I spoke about was an issue. Once I graduated, I had to break that habit from the two years in London, which took another two or three years just to find the version of myself that no longer cared. I stopped silencing my narrative.
I remember writing songs about police brutality around 2014 while saying to myself, this song is dope, but I wish I could put it out. Coming full circle, making a song like Protest, for example, feels better suited for this time and environment. While 13th Floor is when it hit me. I’m going to talk about these things. I’m not going to be scared. And I was fully prepared for it to not do well. Ironically, the last thing I expected was to win a Polaris Prize. It indicated to me that when you’re your truest self, people really see you.
“I’m lucky in a way that makes it hard to recognize that I could have died. It’s also hard to say that because it sounds so dramatic, but it’s what actually happened. So many people don’t acknowledge their traumas. We shouldn’t use avoidance. You went through this. It happened. Learn from it.”
The theme of confronting what’s real is also in the title, Stock Exchange. You’ve said it’s a play on the restrictions musicians face across the board. What are your honest feelings about navigating this industry at this particular moment?
I have a lot of emotions around it. The difficulty comes from the number of restrictions in place along with having to adapt in order to gain the access you once had. It’s especially difficult as someone going through a health concern. There’s a perception that you’re on one side, and that your decision in the name of health must align with the majority in order for your career to continue. That doesn’t just apply to music, it’s in all industries. Health decisions are being intertwined with whether or not your business can flourish. Traveling, meetings and connecting allow us to have success in the music industry. It’s a complicated time.
Maybe I’m reflecting on my own situation, but a lot of us haven’t had access to a doctor at all during this time. You’re not getting your regular dental work done, or your physicals in addition to the mental health issues. It’s interesting, especially going through what I went through, which could have been fatal. Everyone asked if it was COVID, but people forget that people are going through things that have nothing to do with a virus that’s plaguing our communities right now.
I’ve never been this sick in my life. I’ve never had something that could be life-changing. I’m really thinking about health more than I’ve ever thought about it. I’m in the hospital system, which allows me to see the flaws of a health care system. I likely wouldn’t have thought so deeply about these issues before my scare.
I appreciate you being so honest and open about this, but I have to ask, are you OK?
I’m OK. Right now, I’m on treatment and taking antibiotics, though I do plan on talking about this in more detail. For now, I’m navigating things. I want to make sure I’m through it as I discover why this happened to me. It’s one of those things where, given my age, it doesn’t feel like it should have happened. Even the doctors don’t have an idea, so at this point in time, I’m advocating for my own health as I figure it out. It’s important for me to talk about and share because doctors don’t always have the answers, and at times it’s our responsibility to find those answers. Right now, I have to make sure it doesn’t repeat, which is going to cost money. I know, it sounds vague without the details, but it isn’t something super crazy. It was just unexpected.
At the end of the day, what I went through wasn’t much compared to others in the hospital I was in. I’d be walking by looking at them, knowing that they weren’t going to get a discharge date. They’re eating terrible food, I can see another who just had brain surgery, and it just puts things into perspective. I’m going to get out of here. I can’t be stuck thinking, why me? Why not me? Why someone else? With all that in mind, I’m in a very good place. It’s changing who I am mentally in terms of my values and passions. It’s also impacting my view of what I’m seeing around us. It’s been a lot of mental growth and shifting in an effort to make me into a more well-rounded individual. I’m lucky in a way that makes it hard to recognize that I could have died. It’s also hard to say that because it sounds so dramatic, but it’s what actually happened. So many people don’t acknowledge their traumas. We shouldn’t use avoidance. You went through this. It happened. Learn from it.
I appreciate how accessible you are, which also extends to your work. You post making-of videos on your YouTube channel for just about all your songs as an example. What’s your mindset behind how you’ve been marketing yourself lately?
My mindset is that I’m still learning how to best market myself. Right now, I’m trying to toe the line of being accessible without being too accessible. And I mean that not just as an artist, but as a person in general.
So when it’s all said and done, what are your hopes when it comes to how listeners receive Stock Exchange?
My hope in terms of Stock Exchange is that listeners themselves understand a bit of that line around valuing themselves. We live in a time when that’s difficult for a lot of people to see themselves as a commodity to themselves rather than to the world.
For me, playing shows and being busy felt so validating until it went away. Then it was the question of, who am I? For a long time, people would ask me that question. And for me, my answer was a person who loved music, because it was always intertwined. Being in a pandemic, I had to learn who I was outside of the music because that’s a part of the story that wasn’t being told. It shouldn’t be a wonder why some people can’t connect because they don’t understand that story because you don’t either. It’s important to understand what that is because that’s true self-validation.