Toronto pop singer Yonah Piatt – who works with the same industry people who helped propel Justin Bieber to superstardom – is changing musical direction.
Piatt, who goes by Yonah, has been writing songs and recording since he was nine years old. Now 15, he’s bringing his talent to the world of Jewish music.
“I hope to stay away from singing about girls and switch to singing about more inspirational things,” he said in an email interview.
“I’ve decided to go into Jewish music because I want to inspire people with my music. I want to show people, especially teenagers, that I’ve been in one world but I’m also part of another.”
Two years ago, when Yonah recorded in Atlanta and Los Angeles, he became disillusioned with the superficiality of the pop-music world. “There’s so much fake stuff going on. That’s life today. I hope I can be more real for people,” Yonah said.
His Jewish roots mean a lot to him, he noted. After taking an online ancestry test, he was surprised to learn how many Jews are related to him.
“Wow! I’m related to these people with such a strong history and I’m embarrassing their memory,” he remembers thinking. “That’s basically what motivated me to change my direction.”
For his initial foray into Jewish music, Yonah plans to record some cover tunes. He’s working on an a cappella song by Shwekey, a prolific Hasidic recording artist.
But it isn’t easy transitioning to a new musical style. “I am used to a certain genre of music so I don’t know if I can change my style of singing,” he said.
He’s still learning about the Jewish music industry, too. “I haven’t quite caught on to how things work yet compared to mainstream music,” he said. “I did go to Israel last May and met with Dovid Lowy, who is a great Jewish artist, and saw his studio. He talked to me about creating music to praise ha-Shem. That sort of stuck with me.”
Yonah continues to take singing lessons with his mentor, “Mama” Jan Smith, an Atlanta-based producer and vocal coach who’s worked with Bieber, Drake, Usher, Nicki Minaj and Shania Twain. She’s accepted Yonah’s change of musical direction.
“She is very respectful of people’s choices,” he said. “She’s also always there for me. She told me once that if I stopped singing and just wanted to say hi, I could. She will always be there. We never talk about religion. We talk about business and the industry.”
Looking back at his recordings, Yonah said his favourite is “Born to Be Somebody”, originally sung by Bieber. Yonah’s version was recorded by Smith in her studio in 2016.
It was after seeing Never Say Never, the 2011 film about Bieber’s rise to stardom, that Yonah, who had shown exceptional musical ability since he was a toddler, decided to become a singer. He saw the movie with his grandmother, a Bieber fan, and his mother.
“There was one point in the movie and I just leaned over to my mother and said, ‘I want to do what Justin did.’ That’s when I started doing covers and putting them on YouTube,” Yonah said.
Yonah’s experience in the pop-music world may sound like dream come true for a young artist. But it wasn’t always easy. One of the challenges he had to face was puberty at the age of 11.
“My voice changed almost overnight on me. It’s like being in a band for four years playing the trumpet, and on the day before the big performance, you get stuck with the guitar. The notes are the same, but how you play your instrument is totally different. I’m still not used to how I’m supposed to hit the notes. Super frustrating,” Yonah told the Torchlight Talent website in 2014. As shown by his subsequent recordings, puberty failed to stall his singing career.
A target of bullies when he was in Grade 7 at a public school, he once suffered a concussion from being beaten. “I just know that bullying is really horrible. I’ve been there. It’s not easy being Jewish sometimes,” Yonah said.
Since then, he’s become an advocate for anti-bullying. “I try to help other kids on Twitter or Instagram who have problems,” Yonah said. “My mom helps me sort things out when it gets to the serious stuff like wanting to commit suicide.”