Raw, hearty, genuine, gorgeous. Cocoa Sarai is a lot of things. Her music is gentle on your ears and hard on your hips. And her most notable hit, “Raining in my Room,” is a soulful, well-written tribute to pain and survival that honors the artist in her truest form – a brilliant poet turned soulful songwriter turned beautiful vocalist. But, there is much more to Cocoa Sarai than a big hit, witty words and a pretty face. We sat down with the powerhouse to dig a little deeper…
What’s your AMMO?
The life around me. Color. Energy.
Tell us about the significance of your name. Where does it come from?
Sarai is my middle name. My grandma gave me that name. It’s Hebrew. It’s in the Bible. Cocoa comes from chocolate. My mom used to call me ‘Chocolate’ all my life. My real name is Tia Myrie, but people confused me with singer Teairra Mari, or they would say my name incorrectly, so I decided to change it. I asked my mom what she thought about me changing it to “Sarai.” She wanted me to use “Chocolate.” And one day one of my engineers said ‘Why don’t you use ‘Cocoa Sarai?’” I didn’t like it. But when my single got printed, the official copy had ‘Cocoa Sarai’ on it, and that was my name from that day on. So I just got used it, and now I love it.
How has Brooklyn affected your music? Do you live there now?
I’m from Bed Stuy, and I still live in Brooklyn. [The borough] has absolutely influenced my music. My mom used to play Wu-Tang in the house all the time. She was a big fan of hip-hop. But she also listened to the Bee Gees, Tremaine Hawkins, Bebe and Cece Winans, and reggae music – because I’m Jamaican. We listened to a lot of stuff. But hip-hop was a big thing. Many of my friends are rappers. So it was a natural thing. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it started or came from, because I was groomed and raised in it. But the raw, ruggedness of my music and the texture of my voice – these things have all been inspired and influenced by Brooklyn.
You’re a vocal powerhouse with an old soul sound, but your music is vibrant and current. Is this intentional? How would you describe your music?
It’s not intentional. It’s very natural. I have the old influences of Billie Holiday, Prince, etc., but I also like a certain type of knock, because I know what I like to dance and to move to. So my sound is a natural mixture of the jazz, soul and gospel that I have been exposed to over the years, along with my natural instincts to like a certain [type of] beat – and I just write to it. And the sound of my voice – I can’t control that. I write for other people, too, but if their voice is a lot clearer and smoother, [the music] will have a totally different feel. But the writing is still the same.
You’re a songwriter as well as a performer. Where do you draw inspiration for your songs?
It could be one word on a poster on the train. A sentence I overhear in a conversation. I remember overhearing a woman say once, ‘If I could take a pill to make me stop loving him, I would.’ And that eventually turned into a song on my album called “Side Effects.” So my life, the things around me, a kid playing in the park, a really sunny day that no one seems to be outside enjoying…literally everything influences me. I’m poet before I’m a songwriter, so the natural instinct to observe and then write is a big part of my creative process – the biggest part.
Do you still write poetry? Or have your poems turned into songs?
Yes. I absolutely still write poems. It’s easier for me to write poems than songs. Songs have structure. My poems are therapy – I can just write everything I’m feeling, until I want to stop. I’ve been writing poetry since I was nine or ten, and I still write. Sometimes my poems turn into songs. Or I’ll take one particular line from a poem and write a song around it.
Do you prefer one skill to the other (writing vs. singing)?
That’s like asking if [I] like breathing or hearing better. I absolutely love both. Equally. But I like performing better than both of them. It’s fun. The work is done – the song is written, the vocals are laid. I just get to interact with the people. It’s an awesome challenge every single time. It’s a lot of fun to put a show together – the moves, the clothes, the hair, the interaction. I love it.
Have you always wanted to be a vocalist?
Yeah. Since I was two or three. I never was in a space where I didn’t think I was a vocalist. I started in church. In kindergarten, they would ask me ‘Do you want to be a singer when you grow up?’ And I would say, ‘Well, I’m already a singer.’ My family is in music, as well. So it always felt like it was a natural part of my life from the beginning.
It’s just the beginning for you. But, has there been a moment so far in your career that has paled in comparison to the others? One that keeps you going through the rough times?
Yes, two. One involves a specific internal goal, and the other involving fans. One – performing at Madison Square Garden. I wanted to sing at the Garden all my life. I used to tell my mom ‘I’m gonna be there one day.’ A year before I sang at the Garden, I stood across from it outside crying like ‘I’m never gonna get there, I’m never gonna make it.’ A year later, I sang the National Anthem there to a sold-out house. And the sounds of the screams of the people – I’ll never forget that. That was incredible. The second, two days after my mom died, I put out “Raining in my Room” and I had a show at Webster Hall (in New York City). The fans showed me so much love and support. My mom loved that song. And when I performed it, I cried through the whole thing, and the fans cried with me – the whole audience. It was a very surreal experience. Those two experiences remind me of why I do it. One – that dreams do come true. And two – that there are people that love my music enough to support it, and to support me. I had other artists mother’s reaching out to me. It was an overwhelming amount of love- hundreds of people. That was amazing.
What’s next for Cocoa Sarai?
I just wrote a screenplay with another artist, Rich Lowe. It’s called The Many Colors. It’s a musical, it’s a comedy, it’s a love story, and there’s drama – it’s everything in one. I’m extremely proud of it. Hopefully it will be in theaters soon. I’ll also be shooting music videos for the album soon, and I’m headlining at SOBs (204 Varick Street New York, NY) on August 15th for Soul Village. I’m excited about that.
For more from Cocoa Sarai go to, cocoasarai.com