Twenty-six-year-old Kennya Velasquez, better known as K'nya, credits Mexican-American icon Selena Quintanilla for inspiring her to find her voice.
"The joy in Selena's face, passion when she sang, and just watching her have fun when she danced," Velasquez says, "I didn't feel like she was performing; I felt like it was her way of life."
It wasn't an easy path for Velasquez, who was born in New Jersey to a Nicaraguan and Honduran family. She moved to Miami at the age of 14 and remembers being terribly shy and crippled by stage fright during her early years as a singer. She kept her talent a secret until her sister overheard her and encouraged her to sing more often. Slowly, Velasquez gained more confidence and began singing in school talent shows.
When she decided to make a career of singing, she started off posting covers and mashups on Instagram. Velasquez combined popular songs such as SZA's "Love Galore" and Drake's "Passion Fruit" to gain followers. Her cover of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" garnered more than 10,000 views and caught the attention of her now-creative director Primo De Leon. Together, the pair formulated K'nya's first EP, Civic Thoughts, which features soft instrumentals that complement Velasquez's warm vocals. "Purple," Velasquez's favorite track on the record, sets the tone for the EP.
"It has a deeper meaning to it than the romantic feel you might get. It's about life," she says.
Inspiration for the EP's title came from her trusty Honda Civic. Inside her car, Velasquez found she was able to write and concentrate on her music. Besides her love of singing, Velasquez enjoys the writing process; she always carries a personal journal and thesaurus for whenever inspiration hits.
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As her career continues to grow, Velasquez has found support through collaborating with local artists and venues such as 1FiveTwo, the singer Void, and the rapper Baby Ling. She feels humbled and grateful for the opportunities that have come her way, but it wasn't as easy to convince her parents of her new career. They wanted her to attend college and earn a degree.
"They weren't aware of how the music industry works. It was just kinda reiterating and letting them know this is what I want to do," she says.
According to Velasquez, her parents' mistrust stemmed from her lack of effort in taking her singing seriously in the beginning. She eventually convinced them that singing was her passion and that her path wouldn't change. Velasquez plans to attend Miami Dade College to finish that part of her education. She believes the discipline needed to graduate will also help her in the future, especially in her songwriting.
"I will always love music. It's in me; I am a writer," she says. "If I have the opportunity, the passion, and the talent that I got from God to be able to portray and to convey it to people, I'm going to do it."