"A soundscape of vocal layers, loops, raps and harmonies on a bed of hip-hop, jazz and soul-inspired beats.”
DNA Activation: Witch Prophet
Ayo Leilani – aka Witch Prophet – released her Polaris Prize-nominated album, DNA Activation, on her Heart Lake Records label.


Witch Prophet calls her latest sound operatic soul. Her website touts it as a “soundscape of vocal layers, loops, raps and harmonies on a bed of hip-hop, jazz and soul-inspired beats.” 

Listen to the Polaris Music Prize-nominated album – DNA Activation – and you’ll hear something warm and accessible built on a foundation of passion and insight.

In an interview with CBC Radio q host Tom Power on Wednesday, she says the recording is “a completely personal record.”

Each of the 10 musical vignettes “is named after a family member…it’s a vulnerable album where I’m sharing stories …”

Released this spring, music journalist Andrea Warner wrote for CBC Radio online that the album is one of the season’s highlights:

“DNA Activation is a wild and creative excavation of the sacred and the spiritual, and it’s as intense and personal as it is joyful and inspiring. Witch Prophet and her partner and co-producer, Sun Sun, have crafted a record full of purpose and intention. DNA Activation is a deliberately feminist queering of sonic and linguistic landscapes — the songs are a cool collective tangle of jazz, R&B, hip hop and soul sung in English, Amharic and Tigrinya — fuelled by Witch Prophet’s Ethiopian and Eritrean roots, and inspired by her own family members, mythology and bible stories. “I will not forget that power lies in me,” Witch Prophet sings, and with her aptly titled new album, she delivers on that promise.”

DNA Activation is one of 10 Canadian albums nominated for the Polaris Music Prize award which will be presented in an online ceremony Monday, October 19.

About the Polaris Prize

Since its founding in 2006 the Polaris Music Prize has courted controversy with its unpredictably fluid criteria and sometimes idiosyncratic winning choices. The $50,000 prize is awarded by jury to the best new Canadian album of the year based on artistic merit alone. 

The 10 acts on this year’s shortlist feature a gender diverse group evenly split between men and women and including seven BIPOC artists. Five of them have been shortlisted previously with three of them winning. The other five artists are all newcomers. 

The nominees are Jessie Reyez, Kaytranada, nêhiyawak, Pantayo, Backxwash, Caribou, Junia-T, Lido Pimienta, U.S. Girls, Witch Prophet. The award will be announced on October 19 and will be broadcast in Canada on CBC Gem, CBC Music’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages and at cbcmusic.ca/polaris.

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17 October 2020



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By Ryan B. Patrick / Exclaim!

Hustle, thy name is Witch Prophet. The Ontario-based artist, also known as singer-songwriter Ayo Leilani, has been relentless in forging an independent career for herself and this latest ten-track outing is no exception.

With DNA Activation — the followup to her 2018 debut The Golden Octave — Witch Prophet not so much eschews genre so much as she gives it the gasface, before proceeding to conjure up hip-hop, jazz and soul essences in a potent sonic stew. The thrust of the album is a metaphysical one: she sings of obsidian, which is truth-enhancing, which is all you need to know about where her head is at.

Teaming up with DJ Sun Sun bears sweet fruit and most of the time it goes down easy. DNA Activation is biblical and mythic in scope — with lyrics sung in English, Amharic and Tigrinya —  drawing upon her Eritrean roots and North American musical sensibilities. While “Etmet” comes off a tad too relaxed, too dreamy, the thump of “Musa,” the dissonance of “Roman” and elevated points like the keys-driven “Darshan,” the ’90s jazz-soul of “Ghidon” and the urgency of “Tesfay” carry the project over the top.

Witch Prophet is operating — artistically, conceptually and strategically — on a different plane, saying as much as she describes her drip in “Tesfay.”

DNA Activation is power and powerful, reflecting all of Witch Prophet’s musicality and passion to all those ready to receive it. Bow down to the Queen indeed.