Moving at a different frequency
How TOVA Changed Lanes and Made Waves
by Isaac Adeoluwa Atayero, Contributor
On June 1, student musician TOVA took to Instagram to thank his followers and supporters for getting his debut single “Fleeting” (feat. Tami) to 3,500 streams on Spotify. It was a moment of reflection for the singer and a true testament to the difference a year can make. This time last year, the persona TOVA wasn’t in existence. In fact, everyone referred to TOVA with a different name – his given name, Victor Adeolu Oriola.
Oriola was about to enter his third year as a Psychology major at the university and had been occupying the role of student body president of University of Regina’s Student’s Union for a couple months after a landslide victory. There were many things on the mind of the new URSU executive but music making was not one of them.
“This time last year I was focused on having a successful term as URSU President and navigating the welcome week events,” Oriola said.
The focus definitely paid off because Oriola truly did have a successful term. Whether it was tackling food insecurity in the student population by increasing the number of times the URSU Pantry and URSU breakfast took place, employing the services of a Sexual Health Outreach Coordinator or even implementing a summer U-Pass, Oriola and team gave their constituents their best.
Sometimes, however, the best is not enough.
This was the case when Oriola lost the presidential race for a second term earlier this year to Gurjinder Singh Lehal. After giving so much of himself to a job that he cared so much about, Oriola had to find a way to find a new normal in his new reality. It was time for him to start a new journey with an old friend, music.
“The result of the election allowed me to focus on new projects that excite me and allowed me to reinvent myself,” he said. “Being surrounded by a lot of talented musicians that are continually striving to improve motivated me to be brave and try something I could immerse myself and channel my energy.”
Everything about Oriola’s journey as an artist has been marked with intentionality and elevation. His debut single, “Fleeting” (feat. Tami), was released on May 15 to much acclaim as the same students who used to share his election campaign posters began to share the artwork for his new song. It was a weird time for everyone.
“The music and the self expression that comes with it marked a shift from the perception that people otherwise have of me,” Oriola said. “That, by itself, is fairly dramatic in its own right and did not necessarily require any additional effort to delineate the difference between the two facets of my life.”
While TOVA’s music was well received, he joined artists all over the world in figuring out how to promote new material during a pandemic and a time of social unrest.
“While there are more important issues to be addressed than the publication of music, it is also important for us as a society to have stories portraying Black people outside of the lens of victims fighting against unjust systems,” he said. “While we should call attention to these unjust systems, it is also important for us to create a space for Black expression.”
Following the events which occurred at the time of the release, TOVA took a break from promoting “Fleeting” and worked to draw attention to social issues. He performed a cover of Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up” at the Black Lives Matter protest in Regina with a group of musicians and continued to advocate for BIPOC lives everywhere.
During this time, however, he was also putting the finishing touches on his upcoming debut EP and his latest record, “Frequency” (feat. Zweii). Creating during this time was essential to the singer/songwriter because for him it is essential to show that “there is space for Black people to succeed – to tell stories in which they are protagonists and removed from the conventional framing where they are often portrayed as people that things happen to. We need to tell stories of people doing cool and awesome things too.”
TOVA has indeed been doing awesome things. “Frequency,” which was released on August 28, has already amassed over 2,500 listens across all streaming platforms. He performed a four song set at Regina’s oldest music venue, The Exchange, and has had his music played on 91.3FM CJTR and CBC Radio One Saskatoon. While all these accomplishments are remarkable in their own right, it is his work ethic that truly stands out as exceptional.
His frequent collaborator and A-list mixing engineer, Walter Ernest, describes watching TOVA make music at Blue Door Recording as nothing short of genius.
“Not only is he an exceptional vocalist, he can hear entire orchestrations, complex rhythms and layers of harmonies in his head,” Ernest said. “His ability to bring together a room full of talented musicians to bring his vision to life is admirable. All this cannot be mentioned without saying how good of a friend and colleague he is to everyone in his path.”
As TOVA enters his final year at the U of R, he has quite a journey to look back on. Switching gears and evolving with such ease in little to no time is no easy feat but TOVA has been able to do with an air of sophistication, grace and poise. Although it is impossible to tell what TOVA will be up to in a year, one thing is for sure, he will continue to live his truth at his own frequency.