March 21 & 22, 8 p.m.
West End Cultural Centre
When Winnipeg-based pop singer-songwriter Faouzia Ouihya booked her first headlining show, the 18-year-old was unsure how quickly tickets would sell, given that she hasn’t yet released an album. She and her management team had a publicity campaign in place and were ready to push the West End Cultural Centre performance.
Turns out, that planned push wasn’t needed; her March 22 show sold out in 10 hours.
So, Ouihya and her team added a second show on March 21; that one sold out in less than two hours.
"It was totally unexpected," says Ouihya, who goes only by her first name when she performs. "I’m at school at the moment and… I had this itch just sitting at the table all day doing homework; I just really wanted to get out there and perform.
"I had never had my own headlining show, so we settled for a decent-sized venue, 400 people at the West End Cultural Centre, and we were planning on having lots of publicity and the first day it sold out in 10 hours, and then I was like, ‘No, this is crazy!’ I honestly thought it was going to take a lot longer to sell tickets... I’m just so, so excited; it couldn’t have gone any better, and I’ve been planning to make it a really good show because I want to give everyone the best show possible."
Ouihya’s modesty disguises her exceptional talent. Her deep and instantly recognizable tone, intense but controlled vibrato and the almost shocking power of her upper register combine to create a blast of sound that will knock you off your feet.
She is also an accomplished songwriter; Ouihya was the first teenager to win the top US$20,000 prize at the Unsigned Only Music Competition in the United States, beating out around 6,000 other entries from 100 countries in 2017 with her track Knock on My Door.
Earlier that year, she and Manitoba singer-songwriter Matt Epp won the grand prize at the International Songwriting Competition — the largest songwriting competition in the world — for a track they worked on together, titled The Sound. They were the first Canadians to win the top prize in the 16-year history of the competition.
Since then, the ball has just continued to roll for Ouihya. She signed to Atlantic Records in the U.S. last year, and one of her singles, This Mountain, has accumulated more than a million streams on Spotify and more than a million views on YouTube.
The latest feather in her cap is a collaboration with David Guetta, one of the world’s biggest DJs. Her soaring vocals can be heard on Battle, the second track of Guetta’s 2018 album, 7, which also features songs with music stars such as Sia, Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber and Bebe Rexha.
"I feel so honoured and blessed, because it feels so surreal, almost. When I really think about it, I’m really lucky to have these opportunities. But at the same time, it gives me a hunger to keep going and try to achieve more. 2018 was such a crazy year, and my goal at the end of every year is to outdo myself," she says.
Throughout her musical successes, Ouihya — who has spent most of her life in Carman, but was born in Casablanca, Morocco, and speaks English, French and Arabic fluently — has remained a studious teen, nearing the end of her first year as an engineering student at the University of Manitoba.
"It’s kind of cool, because I’m able to separate my music life and my personal, studious life. But at the same time, they work really well hand in hand. It’s almost like there’s Faouzia the artist and then Faouzia the engineering student, and what’s really cool about it is, with time management and help from my team, I’m able to keep a steady pace and keep going because at times it can be really difficult juggling all these things," Ouihya says.
For now, school is still a big focus. Ouihya says she doesn’t have plans to release an album in the near future, though she released a new single, a piano version of her track Exothermic, a few weeks ago and says another single is on the horizon.
She says she’s appreciative of her patient fans, who continue to support her ferociously as she builds her catalogue.
"I would just like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for supporting me on this crazy ride. You know, it takes a lot of patience for everyone involved, and having people supporting me, song release after song release, it’s crazy to me," Ouihya says.
"I’m just so thankful for it every single day. I’m very, very grateful."
Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
March 21 & 22, 8 p.m.
West End Cultural Centre
Updated on Thursday, March 21, 2019 at 11:21 AM CDT: adds video