Award-winning Canadian pianist and vocalist, Laila Biali has garnered international recognition for her music which she’s performed at prestigious venues spanning five continents, including Carnegie Hall in New York. She has toured with GRAMMY award winners and recorded with and supported international icon, Sting. Most recently, she was selected by CBC Radio to host the national radio show, Saturday Night Jazz. Laila divides her time between Toronto—where she lives with her musician husband Ben Wittman and their son—and New York. Currently, she is touring her new, self-titled album—LAILA BIALI— across Canada, the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia, balancing a hectic performance schedule with the entrepreneurial responsibilities of growing and managing her personal brand, and staying true to her values.
My first job ever was… As a soccer referee. I was 12-years-old and reffing games in North Vancouver — little boys right around my own son’s age now, so 7 and under. I was terrified, especially of the parents!
I chose a career in music because… I got bit by the music bug. I had been awarded a science scholarship to the University of British Columbia and had my sights set on becoming a medical practitioner, like my older sister. But then, basically on a whim, I decided to move to Toronto to study Jazz at Humber College, just for the fun of it. Needless to say, I ended up staying on the path of music.
My proudest accomplishment is… Giving birth.
My boldest move to date was… Turning down a 5-year contract I was offered by NBC to be one of the key players and singers in their on-set band for The Meredith Vieira Show, primetime television!
I surprise people when I tell them… I’m 37. I’m not sure if that’s good, or bad.
My best advice to people starting their career in the music field is… To make sure this is something they really want to pursue. It is one of the toughest industries out there, and you need to be deeply committed to staying the course. And if you love it enough, if you feel called to do it, it’ll be some of most challenging and rewarding work of your life.
Being a woman in this field is… Fun! (Seriously)
My best advice from a mentor was… To find my own unique voice, and to be unafraid of making mistakes. Often, it’s the mistakes that lead us into uncharted and exciting territory, where we can freely explore the full extent of our own authentic creative expression.
“Often, it’s the mistakes that lead us into uncharted and exciting territory, where we can freely explore the full extent of our own authentic creative expression.”
I would tell my 20-year old self… To be free. Don’t care so much what others think. (Note: That’s what I still have to tell myself today!)
My biggest setback was… The ongoing battle with depression and anxiety throughout my twenties.
I overcame it by… Leaning into the pain and fear, establishing safe and consistent relationships (especially with my now-husband), digging deeper into my faith walk, and implementing habits that would support greater wellness, from diet and exercise to sleep hygiene and Sabbath rest (which I’m terrible at, by the way).
Work/life balance is… Ever-changing. Things get busy, often too busy, but if you keep love and meaningful connection at the centre of everything you do, it’s ok for things to be a bit “unbalanced” relative to what others might call ideal or normative. If you tend towards workaholism like I do, check in with loved ones to ensure they still feel prioritized, and then carry on joyfully!
I survive a life of constant travel by… Engaging with others, even people I don’t know. Strangers can become friends when you’re on the go, even if only for a moment. Those human connections definitely brighten the journey.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I was and still am obsessed with Gilmore Girls.
I stay inspired by… Listening to wonderful stories on podcasts like the Moth, This American Life, and RadioLab, connecting with family and friends, and spending time in quiet meditation and prayer.
The future excites me because… Anything and everything is possible.
The most interesting fact about my new album is… We went into the studio having barely rehearsed the music. We tracked 21 songs and painstakingly culled the 12 we felt worked best together. There were co-writes with Royal Wood, Marc Jordan and others that didn’t make it on, and they have been set aside for future projects.
My next step is… Tour my new music around the world in 2018.