AYA – Vocalist, Actress

AYA - Vocalist, Actress

AYA – Vocalist, Actress

Into the space between the jazzy torch songs of old, and a fresh homegrown infusion of earthy self-penned compositions, comes A STATE OF AYA.

The artist behind the album is Aya – and is her sonic “state of mind” that she is showcasing on her debut solo album. The often jubilant, fun and sweetly sophisticated jazz sounds allow her distinct vocals to shine – unveiling a scintillating new talent on South African scene.

A truly lively album – from the jaunty, sax-punctuated sounds of ‘Shame On You’ (Ngiyakudabukela) to the soul-stirring, Gospel-drenched magnificence of ‘Ngcwele’ and the elegant ‘Japanese Blue’, A STATE OF AYA maps out the musical ground that this prodigiously talented individual occupies.

Says Aya: “The album is a representation of my identity, the music I love, the songs that have influenced me, my direction and the dreams that I hold.”

It’s not going to be long before Aya imprints herself into the lives of music fans around the country and beyond – a destiny that she’s long-known is where her own personal state of being lies.

Born Ayanda Mpama, the 23-year-old has been waiting in the wings for several years, ready to make an impression on the recording industry. Aya’s work in stage performance, numerous intimate live gigs in Durban and a degree in Music and Drama from the University of Natal (now the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal) have all assisted Aya in shaping the musical vision that is contained in her debut album.

That Aya’s sweet, soulful voice may be familiar to South Africans can be put down to her selection as a Top 10 Idols finalist in 2005. Says Aya: “That was an experience but not something that I am holding onto. The real benefit of the Idols experience was connecting with Dave Thompson who has helped nurture my recording career.”

Indeed, Thompson knew right from the moment he first heard Aya sing that hers was a special talent – and when Aya moved to Johannesburg, the A & R and Marketing head of Sony BMG wasted no time in inking a deal with the artist.

Right from the onset, Aya wanted a “fresh, jazzy sound – close to the old standards but relevant to who I am as well as the audience that I am playing to.”

Fine-tuning the sound that appears on A STATE OF AYA was no easy task. “I’m a diverse kind of girl – I think in both Zulu and English, I was born in Swaziland, lived in Zambia and spent much of my childhood in Durban and I am as much an urban girl as a rural one so that needed to be reflected in the music,” she exclaims, her trademark laugh rippling around her words.

In conversation, Aya is magnetic – unafraid to voice her opinions, singularly focused and full of what can only be described as a thoroughly engaging zest for life. Whether it’s recounting stories of living in a rural community for several weeks, or the downside of plying your singing trade in a restaurant where people are there for the food, Aya is capable of holding the attention of her listener.

But, she confesses, it’s in the studio and on the stage that she really comes alive. “I could not have waited much longer for this moment,” she says, “and am eternally grateful that I was able to find the right people to work with in creating an album that I am so very proud of.”

Aya found “a wonderful” creative collaborator in Crighton Goodwill who both produced and co-wrote the material on the album. “I attempt to play the piano so most of my songs were melodies and lyrics that existed in my head. Crighton came in with the strong musicality and arrangement ideas and was able to flesh out these ideas. It was amazing feeling – it is like seeing a baby that grows and all of a sudden becomes a person that is alive and fully-formed and strong.”

Several of the songs were sourced from an international publisher, including ‘I Don’t Want To See You Cry’ and ‘Japanese Blue’, a gentle, inspirational song that Aya says is one of her favourites on the album.

Those that Aya and Goodwill wrote deal primarily with issues of gender and relationships – in particular, a woman’s role in the world on songs like ‘Ntombi’ and ‘As A Woman’. It’s not surprising considering Aya is an only child who spent most of her childhood in with her mother – her father having died in 1992. “We are very close – we talk at least three times a day so I guess a lot of my lyrics that revolve around lyrics are down to her as a role-model.”

Given Aya’s academic background, it is not surprising to find that the thread that connects the songs on the album is a sense of sophistication; a jazziness that is underpinned by a soulfulness that only comes from a place of authenticity.

Aya’s very natural ability to switch between English and Zulu only adds to the album’s appeal. “I know just instinctively which words need to be conveyed in which language and I do think that the choice adds to the impact of the lyrics and the songs,” she says.

Listening to A STATE OF AYA confirms this: one of the album’s standout tracks, ‘Thula Nhiliziyo Yami’ is an organic mix of English and Zulu, its understated beauty enhanced by a piano melody and horn playing that once again signifies the album’s retro mood.

The composition, ‘Everyday’ is another gem that provides the perfect platform for Aya to let her spirit fly through a song whose simplicity is part of its charm.

Aya’s ability to convey emotions, like love gone wrong on the ballad ‘I Don’t Want To See You Cry’, is a highpoint of A STATE OF AYA yet her innate feel for a song means she never veers into histrionics, preferring instead to let subtle intonation bring the message home.

Authentic, fresh, full of young life yet imbued with a sense of history, and with just enough sophistication to take it across generations, A STATE OF AYA is bound to be an integral part of the collection of South Africa’s discerning music lovers.

Aya intends supporting the release of her debut with a slate of live performances – and she is up for the challenge of winning over audiences. “If I can do it in front of a supper crowd and on national television in the pretty weird scenario that was Idols, then I think that I can convince an audience who appreciates fine music that mine is well worth the listen,” she says.

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