Singer-songwriter Olivia Khoury’s journey in the music industry has proven that her potential is limitless
Meet Olivia Khoury, the 24-year-old product of Montreal’s diverse music scene and F.A.C.E. Elementary & High School — a Montreal school with a prestigious arts program. She is now a third-year Concordia student in the Jazz Studies program, with a specialization in voice, and is expecting to graduate this spring. The interdisciplinary artist plays guitar, ukulele, sings, and once dabbled in oboe back in high school.
“I associate myself as a Montrealer but I’m still grappling with finding myself as Canadian, because I don’t have any roots in Quebec,” said Khoury. As a first generation Canadian, Khoury navigates her cultural identity by remaining uncommitted to any sole sound. With one parent from the Caribbean and another from Lebanon, Montreal is still home for her, as it is a world of its own. “I feel more linked to the city because it’s multicultural,” she said.
As a creative, Khoury’s biggest year of successes came in 2019, when the singer performed at les FrancoFolies event “En route pour la gloire.” As a finalist, she sang at Place des Arts in downtown Montreal and performed her French composition, “Lumières.”
Following the festival, she attended the Summer Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation workshop in Gaspésie in August 2019. As the summer came to a close, that September saw her cut a few classes to perform at the Toronto Undergraduate Jazz Festival, something she described as “an excuse to do a mini tour.”
Upon returning home, Khoury admittedly became depressed after coming off a great time in Ontario. At one point she considered dropping out of school, citing trouble doing day-to-day life. However, it was a nomination by one of her professors for the Oscar Peterson Jazz Scholarship that reinvigorated her to keep pushing through that year. At Concordia, the faculty chooses students to compete within the school for a bursary and a performing spot at the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Khoury later won the faculty competition and took home the bursary.
With the victory fresh in mind, she embarked on a one semester exchange at Kingston University in London, England. Right around then, COVID-19 hit and she was forced to return home early due to lockdown. Though locked in, she found solace in having creative pressure removed from her shoulders.
“I was relieved to not have to produce anything creatively,” she explained.
The performance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal has yet to happen because of COVID-19.
In 2020, Khoury was able to release three music videos, including two clips from the same live session at the Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill, near Concordia. As the new year begins, she is looking forward to her latest music project, latin folk band Dos Pesos. While plans for the project initially fell apart due to COVID-19 shutdowns, she still sees a light at the end of the tunnel and hopes to debut performing with the band sometime in the near future.
Alongside the paused band project, Khoury is collaborating on a new song with fellow Concordia student Emma June Huebner with the benefit of a Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA) special project grant. The song is expected to be released in early 2021 featuring a live video version filmed by Khoury’s partner, Alex Beausejour.
“It’s very folky, less jazz,” said Khoury. In her approach to the track, she appreciates the liberty that comes with creating something that is not as demanding as a full length album, but brings collaboration in a time of separation. “Both of us are feeling isolation, artistically speaking.”
With things expected to get better in 2021, Khoury is not going to shortchange her desire to continue creating, saying that “Art feels like more of a necessity than a plan.” Now in her numbered days at Concordia, Khoury is working with plenty of collaborators, such as fellow student Adrien Poulin and Khoury’s cousin, Lia Jureidini who is doing the single’s artwork.
Aside from the collaborative project, Khoury is also in the midst of planning and putting together an EP on her own terms with the help of Montreal producer Jesse Mac Cormack. Even with her eponymous first EP from 2017, Olivia Khoury, she considers this new EP in the works to be a more formal debut for her music that will require some more planning and contemplation. While planning her next project, she has mused the potential directions to take, pondering, “It feels weird for me to stick to one genre or one thing, that’s why I haven’t released another EP so soon, I’ve really been reflecting on that, what genre it is. Is it going to be jazz?”
With a resume that speaks for itself, Khoury now sits upon a growing body of work and accolades, but she is not resting on her laurels as a creative. Regardless of what 2021 holds in store for the world, if there is a certainty to be had it is that Olivia Khoury is going to continue creating.
“It’s inconceivable for me to live a life without art,” she said. With a plethora of new projects in the works in music and other forms of art, she is ready to take things as they come.
While nothing is definitive yet, Khoury is still moving forward, saying, “If music is my plan in life, music doesn’t feel like a plan, it’s always been with me, just like dance, just like being creative in general.”