You are currently viewing God steered me back to music, says Malacca-Portuguese international star Lyia Meta

God steered me back to music, says Malacca-Portuguese international star Lyia Meta

DEC 24, 2021: Christmas carols will start to ring throughout the Catholic churches around the world and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is likely to be one of them. This rendition of that classic carol by Malacca-born singer Lyia Meta was recorded fresh after she won two major awards – Female Vocalist of the Year and Virtual Entertainer of the Year at the Texas Sounds International Country Music Awards in Jefferson, US. Two of the many international awards she has gotten in the last five years.

But there was a time when Meta hated music and art because they reminded her of how hard it was for her folkloric artist father, who was also a singer, to put food on the table. And how she, her two siblings and mother suffered because of that.

“Somehow God steered me back to music,” she says.

Today she is an International multi award-winning singer-songwriter, song stylist and visual artist. Her songs have been played on radio stations in UK, US, Canada, Europe, Australia and India since she released her first EP This is Lyia in 2016. Her songs were also accepted by The Recording Academy in Los Angeles, making the first ballot in consideration for the 62nd, 63rd and 64th Grammy Awards®️ (2019-2021).  In June this year, she was featured in Rolling Stone magazine.

Meta is known for her fabulous glass art and impeccable religious statue restoration work.

Early years

Lyia Meta was born into a family where the arts thrived. The Nunis family sang at home, danced and entertained themselves because that was something they all loved. Like her siblings, she gravitated toward the arts and started at an early age. They lived on the small and irregular income their father brought home after spending hours selling his paintings to tourists at St Paul’s Hill, Melaka. Her mother who was a housewife was her main source of encouragement. “My mother encouraged all her children saying that what we had were “gifts from God.”

“My mum encouraged me to join the church choir, ” says Meta who moved to Kuala Lumpur years ago and now attends Church of The Risen Christ. In her early days, church was the Assumption Church in Praya Lane, Malacca.

Meta was a handful then. One time she and her brother were busily chatting away during homily and the parish priest reprimanded them. “The priest then came over to the house to complain to my mother. My mother just didn’t know what to do with me.”

“One of my regrets”

There was one other priest who saw another side of her. Father Pintado saw how talented she was in art and told her about scholarships for people of Portuguese descent at a university in Macao. He encouraged her to study art there and was willing to make all the arrangements for her.

But she was too young to understand the grand offer and the opportunities before her. Having been disillusioned by both art and music because they reminded her of the hard times she and her family went through, she steered clear of any decision that would lead her down that same path.

Meta has a gift in restoring religious statues. She turned a totally disfigured and discoloured one (far left) to one that looked brand new. This is one of the many religious statues she has restored.

Meta rejected the offer. “One of my regrets but maybe that was God’s hands gently nudging me away and toward where I was supposed to go. We grew up with very little. What we had were hand me downs, so when my grandmother gave us her four-track cartridge player because she upgraded hers to a cassette player, we were excited and kept playing all the songs over and over again.  Looking back, we didn’t have much but we were happy, almost always dancing and keeping the spirits up as we loved music. That was really our only source of entertainment.”

Mum pushes her back to music

All that stopped as Meta left her teen years and started looking for a job. She decided to focus on building a career that would generate a steady and good income. That was when she became a junior secretary for an engineering company in Melaka Raya. After two years there she had the opportunity to go to Kuala Lumpur and start a new career – after much insistence from her mother.

“My mother felt I was not going anywhere in my career. I had very little pay to manoeuvre with every month once my salary was deducted for EPF and Sosco. It wasn’t something you could plan around. In Kuala Lumpur, I was approached by an A&R (artist and repertoire) representative from a very well-known recording company. They wanted to sign me on and was excited to get started but there was only one stipulation- I had to gain some experience performing on stage and in the live circuit. So, my mother looked up an old acquaintance and together they started looking out for auditioning opportunities for me. My mother had more faith in my singing than I did. She still does.” Her father passed away years ago.

There was one audition, however, that would change Meta’s fate. That was where she met Zack Meta. He was the guitarist in a duo and he needed a vocalist as his singer was leaving for another band. “I recall wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress, that covered my knees, decent but still interesting enough. But at the audition Zack told my mum that he doesn’t require his singers to dress invitingly, and wearing my office attire of  jackets and slacks would suit just right. When mom heard that, she was ecstatic! A good Catholic boy!”

“I was only 20 years then. After one to two years of live performances, I circled back but decided not to pursue the recording deal. I believe that was God’s way of steering me onto the right path again because He knew I wasn’t prepared for it plus, I didn’t like the cookie-cutter angle they were proposing. I wanted to be myself not emulate another artist.” And part of being herself meant she did not fit into a round hole. In fact, she expanded her repertoire to include multiple genres like jazz, blues, reggae, country, rock. soul, R&B, EDM and metal.

Lyia and Zack

Left music and back again

Meta continued working with Zack and one year later they got married, much to her mum’s delight. The two continued performing until Meta decided to focus on raising her son. Five years ago, she decided to record some of the songs she had written and had kept archived.

She puts in at least three hours of practice each day and does all her writing at night because it is quieter. That was also when she did her collaboration work with artists, songwriters and producers in music in US and UK. She does most of her marketing at odd hours and working out time zones so that she can reach the right people in the industry with her music.

“I work hard. I don’t have a marketing or PR agent. I do it all on my own. You’ll need a lot of money to do an EP. There’s no short cuts and when I first started, I struggled to make it work.” She prefers to first do all the work before heading out to the studio. Zack who programmes all the music for their shows, does the ground work for all Meta’s compositions before she takes it to her producer. It also allows her more control as an artist.

When it comes to producers, she has faith in Anthony Noel Yap from Big A Productions. “He’s a Catholic too, although that isn’t the reason I work with him. I like his work ethics and he is very professional, constantly upping his game” Immense support comes from her husband too. “He is my producer and at times co-producer, repertoire manager for my live shows and a guitarist.”

Strong set of values

Meta has over the years held on to her values. “I pray all the time, in my own way, attend Sunday Mass and keep the faith.  I have always stayed connected to God, often having one-sided conversations with him.”

The husband and wife have strong ethics when it comes to their work and attitude and this has helped keep things stable in the family. “When I first started in this industry my husband told me to treat this as a job and that I should not allow ego to set in and not to succumb to the bad habits and lifestyle that often come with being a touring artist, live performer. Otherwise, I will not survive this industry. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. No swear words.” And when the pandemic hit, she made some great strides despite its crippling global effect. “I was able to collaborate with amazing artists, producers and songwriters.” A lot of the work was done over email.

This is also the third year in a row that she was in the Grammy ballot – for Best Traditional Pop Vocal, Best R&B performance, and Best Improvised Jazz Solo. “My category had Tony Bennet, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga, Dolly Parton and many more.” The Grammy ballot is where the final five are selected as nominees for the prestigious music awards.  

2022 looks promising. She will continue working with US songwriter Denise Dimin to produce another album, but before that she will be releasing an EP in January with Bob McGilpin from Nashville in Tennessee, and a single that’s been on the back burner for months with country songwriters Mike Jones and Jerry Jake. She is also working on a heavy metal album which she wrote and coproduced. However, that may take a longer while as she is concentrating on her collaboration with Dimin. “I put a few collaborations on hold as I concentrated on my last release with Dimin. I like the direction it took me.”

There was only hope and excitement in her voice when she said: “We can plan but God has His own plan.”

NOTE: This is the song Daylight which is in the final selection for Original Song 2021 at the Rome Music Video Awards. Results are not out yet.