Hitting the right note: Musician finds groove in Community Design program

- October 25, 2019

First-year student Zamani Millar says Dal's Community Design program fits her desire for an area of study that's both creative and practical. (Provided photo)
First-year student Zamani Millar says Dal's Community Design program fits her desire for an area of study that's both creative and practical. (Provided photo)

As Zamani Millar adapts to life as a first-year student at Dalhousie, she's doing so on the heels of her most successful year yet as a musician.

The 18-year-old writer, producer, arranger, and vocalist picked up the Emerging Artist of the Year Award from the African Nova Scotian Music Awards in March, followed a few months later by Stingray’s Rising Star Award. International festival slots, including a well-received performance opening for R&B stars Ginuwine and Mya, added further upward momentum, as did winning an award for Best Musical Score at the FIN Atlantic Film Festival last month.

But the shift to university has been a natural and welcome next step for Zamani, who grew up in an environment steeped in both beats and books.

“Music and academics are the two biggest things in our household,” she says.

Zamani’s mother, Delvina Bernard, was a founding member of a cappella quartet Four the Moment and is currently completing a PhD. Her father, Harvi Millar, is a seasoned guitarist and a professor of statistics at Saint Mary’s University.

A good fit

Years ago, as Zamani began to consider where her own educational journey might take her, she felt strongly that her area of study should have a strong creative element to it but also be practical. Architecture and planning had always captured her imagination and seemed to satisfy both criteria, so she settled on the Faculty of Architecture and Planning’s Bachelor of Community Design program.

With an older sister already at Dal and a handful of friends from high school as well, Zamani has plenty of personal support as she navigates her first term at Dal. She says she’s thrilled to see such a diverse campus — one that embraces both her African Nova Scotian and Caribbean heritage from her mom and dad, respectively.

“I have Caribbean roots, but I’m also Nova Scotian, so I’ll be able to go back and forth between those worlds,” she says. “I think that’s important.”

Zamani has jumped headlong into campus life, taking in sports games with friends and getting to know staff and other students at the Black Student Advising Centre.

Balancing act

Balancing the demands of first-year university with those of a musical career has meant some sacrifices, such as taking a break from performing so much to focus on her studies.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t still creating new music. Whenever Zamani needs a study break, she often uses it as an opportunity to make a little music.

“I use my laptop, go in my room and program some beats,” she says. “I work a little bit at both things, so that they are happening simultaneously, so they are both getting done.”

It’s an equation Zamani sees as being beneficial over the longer term.

“When you are performing a lot, you don’t have time to make new material,” she says. “With this, I’ll be able to step back a bit, reflect, write and do my schoolwork. Then, as the summer comes next summer, I’ll be able to show what I’ve been working on.”

Listen to Zamani's music now on SoundCloud.


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