Aleeia Abraham did not start off wanting to be a singer. It was college that brought it all together.
“I was originally a liberal arts major when I took this random voice class,” she said. “My teacher was like `Wow, do you want to be a singer,’ and I was like `uh…okay!’ “
That, Abraham says, is when she started taking things more seriously and decided to try recording some songs.
After graduation from Queensborough Community College, Abraham, a 5-foot-4-inch petite powerhouse who used to belt out random tunes in music classrooms, became Leeia Music, a singer and songwriter gaining recognition by winning radio competitions, hosting a cable television show and performing at popular music festivals.
Though she now has a publicist, a booking manager and an agent, Leeia has done a lot of her artist development on her own.
And her hard work has been paying off. She has performed at popular festivals such as the “Irie Jamboree ’09″ and “Reggae in Symphony,” which featured established reggae artists such as Sean Paul, Freddie McGregor, Shaggy and T.O.K. She was the winning vocalist in the New York “Reggae Rising Stars” music competition hosted by the Ken Williams Show on radio station 93.5 WVIP. She was also the winner of the 7th Annual Reggae Jam Talent Search contest hosted by Dave Judah of the same station.
She occasionally hosts for the cable program “Style Masters TV,” for which she has interviewed stars such as Grammy Award winner Freddie McGregor and actor Laman Rucker. Leeia has made cameo performances in television productions such as the VH1 series, “The Salt and Pepa Show,” music videos such as the “I Know” video by Jay-Z and more recently, the movie “Beware The Gonzo” (starring Jesse McCartney, Amy Sedaris, and Campbell Scott ), according to Leeia’s MySpace biography.
Leeia’s main genres of music are reggae fusion and R&B. She mixes traditional and dancehall reggae with variations of contemporary and soul R&B music, or whatever fits her mood. She’ll touch on rock when singing with her band in live performances.
The 26-year-old Queens native received an Associates of Science in Fine Arts and Performance in Music from Queensborough Community College in Bayside, Queens, graduating in 2007 after three years at the school.
While she remembers learning about ear training and music theory, Queensborough gave her something more than an education. “School gave me the confidence more than anything else,” she said. “I still know what a minor second is and all that, but honestly, it just really gave me the confidence and a platform to expand my voice.” She performed at small concerts at the school and bonded with other musicians, which she didn’t get to do outside school because none of her friends sang or played an instrument.
“Queensborough helped me realize that I wanted to be a singer because I didn’t know before I went to Queensborough that I wanted to be a singer,” Leeia said. “I guess I knew that I liked singing, but I guess I didn’t know I was allowed to pursue it.”
With school showing her the possibilities of a music career, she began the journey to becoming Leeia Music.
She first recorded in Lyrically Armed Studio in Queens Village, then at Hiltop Studio in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area in Brooklyn. Leeia said the most important aspect of a studio for her is the engineer. “I don’t like working with engineers who press the button and are like, `Are you done?’ I like working with an engineer that has input because they have ears and they can hear stuff that I can’t hear.”
Leeia puts on a lot of her own shows. In the summertime, she was doing two shows a day on the weekends in places such as Sounds Of Brazil (S.O.B.’s) in Lower Manhattan and Sputnik in Brooklyn. Now as things slow down, she does more like two shows a month. She has performed in venues such as Club Atrium in Georgia and Club Moonlite in Michigan as well as various venues like La Clave in New York.
People also call her up and ask her to perform or sometimes she catches wind of a particular show.
“Sometimes I stalk shows,” Leeia said. “I take my CDs to shows and pretend that I was supposed to perform the whole time and slowly, but surely, they’ll let me get on stage. Then I get to impress the right people.”
With her own shows, she’s had to do everything from getting the venue to talking to the proper media outlets and getting all the equipment.
“It’s definitely harder putting on a show than starring in it, but it something that I like to do,” Leeia said. “I can do what I want and put on some of my favorite up-coming artists where we can pool our resources, our fans and really get to out on the best show possible.”
Leeia does have help with putting on her shows. Rohan Rudford, Leeia’s bass player and musical director, does all the arrangements for songs and designs the flow of the show, determining how to start the show and how to end it. When Leeia is not performing with the band, he also advises her on what songs she should sing depending on the audience and venue.
Rudford met Leeia when he responded to her ad on craigslist.org, while she was looking to put together a band. They kept e-mailing back and forth. Rudford remembers his first impression of Leeia.
“She pointed me to some of her stuff that she was doing, that she already had been working on solo and I kind of liked what I saw,” Rudford said. “She had a lot of drive about her. She had videos, songs and she was really trying to work on her own.”
Rudford had his own do-it-yourself approach, and that link attracted him to Leeia’s vision.
“It’s kind of cool to work with someone who is already doing stuff on her own because then what I’m doing plus what she is doing,” Rudford said. “… We had the first rehearsal and the rest was history.”
Rudford and Leeia have been working together for about a year. He enjoys working with her and knows that her music will get somewhere.
“She doesn’t have a diva mentality,” said Rudford.”She’s focus, she’s motivated. She’s always working, always hustling, always doing something to promote the brand. It’s easy to work with her, it’s cool.” He envisions a bright future.
Leeia is no stranger to radio. She has been able to get her songs to stations like WVIP 93.5, the biggest reggae station in New York.
“I stalk radio DJs and get myself familiar with them,” she said. “Some stations are harder to get to than others. I haven’t been able to penetrate the Hot 97 market yet, but with 93.5, once the door was opened, it was pretty much open.”
Leeia favors music videos. “Music videos take you to the next level. It makes you look more developed like, `Okay, she’s serious about this,’ “ she said.
With videos, she has had to worry about getting everything from the extras to the location. She especially had to worry about coming up with a concept.
“You can tell them that ‘I want a spaceship and some kangaroos,’ “ Leeia said, explaining that it’s necessary to find a concept the director can actually carry out.
For her videos, Leeia has worked with Los Angeles director Kevin Porter, who works with acts such as Limp Bizkit and does feature films in addition to music videos.
“Leeia was a pleasure,” said Porter. “I work with a lot of artists who don’t know who they are and so when you shoot them, they’re uncertain and they are just guessing on how they want to come across.”
Leeia, he said, “has a very, very concrete way and she knows who she is … I just let Leeia be Leeia and just shoot her way.”
More to do
Leeia is pleased with how her music career is going so far, but realizes that she has a long way to go.
“This takes work. For the average artist, it takes years,” she said. “I haven’t put in enough time yet. Two years is not enough at all.”
Her music has been taking off though. Her track “Ups and Downs” will be featured in the upcoming movie “Don’t Blame The Lettuce,” a relationship drama by writer and director David Jones.
Leeia’s life has become all about music. Though she didn’t know that she always wanted to be a singer, she does know what she feels about music.
” Music is…me. That’s what I do,” she said. “I gotta love it or forget it, I’m wasting my life.”