Seven years ago, TOVA — whose artist moniker is an acronym of all the nicknames his family called him by during his childhood — had never considered a career in music as an option.
Born as Victor Adeolu Oriola in Nigeria, he arrived in Saskatchewan as a 17-year-old in 2015 to attend the University of Regina. By day, TOVA studied psychology and public sector governance; by night, the teenager taught himself to play piano: one note, one chord, and one melody at a time.
“I would go to the piano every evening when I had a chance and just fiddled with the keys until things sounded like I wanted,” he recalls from a Saskatoon coffee shop via Zoom, the day before his scheduled BreakOut West showcase.
Music heals. For the rising R&B artist, who now divides his time between Regina and Toronto, music was the catalyst that helped him cope with homesickness. Music also introduced the blossoming producer and songwriter to a diverse community of like-minded individuals at the university who were working on their songcraft and became both mentors and collaborators.
“Music, at its core, is about connecting with people,” he adds. “When I moved to Canada, music was one of the things that gave pattern and structure to my existence as a teenager in a country far from home. It was one of those things that I could always structure my day, my week, and my month around … music helped me stay grounded.”
For TOVA, music opened up doors to discover his community.
“Music is a universal language and is an equalizing factor,” he adds. “If you make good music, often times, regardless of where you are from, people appreciate that.”
Ever since those late evening tinkling-of-the-ivories sessions seven years ago, TOVA has honed his craft — working tirelessly to become skilled on his chosen instrument. He has also developed an ear for what sounds right in the studio by surrounding himself and collaborating with a group of fellow Saskatchewan artists, including fellow Nigerian-born and Regina-based artists like Adeoluwa Atayero and Oboise.
“I had the privilege to be a fly on the wall in many studio sessions — learning and offering my advice and insight,” TOVA says. “Eventually, I got good at some aspects of making music, like production and writing, and had the benefit of doing it for other people from the safety of not having to be the face and voice of the music. One day I was challenged by a friend I was making a record with to write my own songs.”
This challenge led to TOVA’s debut single “Fleeting,” released May 15, 2020 with his first EP, Pedestal, coming six months later. Since then, TOVA’s rise has been steady. In 2021, he headlined the Regina Folk Fest and that same year was nominated for Saskatchewan R&B Artist of the Year. He also performed at The El Mocambo as part of JUNOfest last June.
His most recent accolades include his first Western Canadian Music Award nomination for 2022 R&B Artist of the Year. Though he did not take home the award, he felt it was a win to be in such incredible company and get picked as a BreakOut West feature showcase artist this week.
TOVA’s latest collection of five new songs arrived just last week. The EP Care PKG, which has already surpassed his previous stream numbers, shows the continued maturation of this singer-songwriter in such a short time. TOVA is definitely an artist on the rise, with plans to keep refining his craft and release a full-length album sometime in 2023 when the time is right.
Before hanging up, the singer gives props to the Regina music community and its growth.
“It’s a lot more diverse than when I arrived in 2015,” TOVA concludes. “That owes itself to two things. One: a testament to the city and people accepting new sounds and new faces into the music-making community. Two: it’s due to the desire and willingness of people like myself and others, that decided they were not just going to sit in the background, but arrive in a new place and contribute tangibly to the musical palette.”