Kiesa Rae Ellestad (born January 16, 1987), better known as Kiesza, is a Canadian singer-songwriter from Calgary, now living in Toronto. She gained fame with her hit single, Hideaway, which has been viewed over a half a billion times on YouTube.
Kiesza was born in Calgary. Her mother and grandmother were from Trinidad. Her grandmother ran a modeling agency in Toronto. Her mother wrote songs and played guitar. Her father played piano. When she was 18, her parents divorced.
When Kiesza was 16, she joined the Sail and Life Training Society (SALTS) program and later became a sailing instructor at the Glenmore Sailing School in 2007. A year later she joined the the Royal Canadian Navy reserves, along with her brother, becoming a Naval Communicator. When she went to Naval Recruit Training Boot Camp for a summer to train for the Reserves, she won “Top Shot/Marksman.” After that, she was nicknamed “Sniper”. When serving on board a ship, she taught herself to play guitar during crew singalongs.
Kiesza took part in the Miss Universe Canada pageant when she was 19. She said she competed in the pageant for her grandmother, who had a history of winning pageants. Kiesza had some reluctance, as she considered herself to be a tomboy. She did not like the focus on a narrow definition of beauty. She left behind pageantry, and focused on her musical education and career.
Kiesza has played a variety of instruments, including the piano, guitar, flute, djembe, cuatro, and the saxophone. She studied jazz piano through Mount Royal University. She took part in the Young Canadians School of the Performing Arts, performing tap and jazz dancing, as well as theatre. She also trained as a ballerina, but a knee injury at age 15 ended her ballet career.
When Kiesza was 18, her parents’ divorce caused her to write her first song, as a way of expressing her feelings. The same year, she heard a song of hers played on the radio.
Kiesza was accepted to the Selkirk College in Nelson, BC, where she studied keyboard, voice and guitar. Next, Kiesza obtained a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.
After attending Berklee, she went to New York City in 2010 to advance her music career. Although Kiesza started as mainly a folk singer, progressing more to a pop sound later on. Also in 2010, she was selected to play at the Canada Day celebrations at Trafalgar Square in London, England for 30,000 people.
In 2012, Kiesza released her a single called “Oops”, jokingly about a couple that had unprotected sex. She labelled her style of music at the time as “SteamPop”. In 2013, Kiesza was featured Norwegian band Donkeyboy’s single Triggerfinger.
In February 2014, Kiesza released the video for her new single “Hideaway” through the label Lokal Legend. It was unique, in having a single shot for the entire video, which is just over four and a half minutes. Just prior shooting the video for the song, she broke a rib. She had difficulty moving for a full month after. “Hideaway” debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart issued for April 26, 2014.
Shortly after “Hideaway” charted, Kiesza released a new video for her cover of Haddaway’s song “What Is Love”.
Kiesza’s second single, “Giant in My Heart”, premiered on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show on June 13, 2014. It entered the UK Singles Chart at number four.
Kiesza has written for various well known artists, including Rihanna, Kylie Minogue, and Icona Pop. She also worked with Loreen on her album, which was expected to be released in 2016, and co-wrote the second single “I’m in It with You”.
Car accident and recovery
Kiesza had a car accident in 2017 while she was riding in an Uber vehicle, in Toronto. Her ride was t-boned by a taxi. She he had to stay in a darkened room for six months to recover from traumatic brain injury. After a two-year break, Kiesza released a new single, “Sweet Love,” and returned to touring in June 2019.
The photo shown at the top is one of those I took of her performing at Olympic Plaza in Downtown Calgary on July 14, 2007. It was a free concert put on by the Calgary Stampede. At the time, she played mainly folk music. This was well before she became famous, while she still just went by “Kiesa Ellestad”.
© 2021 Robert Thivierge