Ayanna Witter-Johnson's beautiful voice captivated us right from the start. Her raw passion is only matched by her incredible talents, and she's bound to take the world by storm any day now. Her track "Black Panther," which was minimalistic in style and largely dependent on her magnificent voice (as one of our editor's remarked, marked emotion and energy in a way that's often hard to find in today's singers.
While her name has only recently come into the spotlight, her CV is vast and long. She's done scoring for productions, received a MOBO Award in 2012 and received a scholarship to study music at the Manhattan School of Music, and that's not even the half of her amazing accomplishments. She's got a soulful voice, and "Black Panther" had us pining for more.
This somehow magically ended with a chance opportunity to get to talk to her, and of course, we at EARMILK jumped at the opportunity.
EARMILK: Hey Ayanna, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. You were/are on tour with Anoushka Shankar, how has tour life been so far? How do you unwind from the hectic tour schedule?
Ayanna Witter-Johnson: You are most welcome! Being on the road with Anoushka has been the most incredible experience on so many levels. We toured the US and Canada and now we’re in India and I’ve learned so much about what it means to be a team player, how to care for my voice, appreciating all my opportunities to grow musically and spiritually. It’s most certainly a life changing experience and to unwind, I like to have a hot bath or sit in a hot tub, turn up the volume and dance to my favourite songs and spend time with friends and family.
EM: You also have your debut EP coming up, titled Black Panther. I heard you’re a cellist, and you’re seen playing the piano in the visuals for the track of the same name. Has music always been a part of your life? What other instruments do you play?
AWJ: I started playing the piano at 4 years old and before that, I had apparently learned all the words to albums by Sweet Honey In the Rock and Terence Trent D’Arby, and was singing along at the live shows. So yes, music has always been a part of my life and I’ve been a performer from an early age. Other than the piano, cello and singing, I play a cowbell (with my right foot) and half a recorder (the left hand!).
EM: Let’s discuss a little bit more about your upcoming EP. How many tracks are coming out on this release? What was your overall vision with this work?
AWJ: There are four songs on the EP and the concept was to capture the essential of my journey, both ancestrally and emotionally. Acknowledging the freedom that comes from understanding my past and accepting my emotions in the present in order to appreciate the beautiful connection and compassion that we can have for one another as fellow human beings.
EM: How would you describe your own style and sound? Who are your biggest inspirations?
AWJ: I would describe my style and sound as acoustic soul with one foot in the blues and the other in classical music. My biggest inspirations are Maya Angelou, Nina Simone, Bach, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Sojourner Truth, Stravinsky, Michael Jackson, Jill Scott and Sting.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLyk7Jst9Bk
EM: Do you have a process when it comes to making music? How do you get into your creative zone?
AWJ: In general, my creative process starts with an idea, a feeling or a story I want to express and I explore those ideas lyrically with an instrument and craft a song from either a melodic, lyric or a rhythmic impulse. Getting into my creative zone is like living in the flow. My state of mind has to be positive and open about life in general or else the inner critic tends to take over and stop me releasing my raw ideas. That means, taking care of my health physically and mentally and getting a good balance between work and play so that work is also a form of play and not pressure.
EM: What can we expect from you in the upcoming year? Any releases or show dates we should pencil into our calendar?
AWJ: 2014 is such an exciting year for me. Full of new collaborations, bespoke concerts and new recordings. On the 11th of January at LSO St. Luke’s I will be premiering a remix of Black Panther for chamber orchestra with players from the London Symphony Orchestra.
EM: If you had to give one advice to people who want to make music, what would you tell them?
AWJ: My advice would be to sing and learn an instrument. Make sure that you have a good instrument to practice at home, an excellent teacher and that the whole process is fun, regardless of what instrument you choose. You may change if one doesn’t suit you and you may also pick up more than one. I also suggest listening to as wide a range of music as possible and seeing as much live music as possible. It’s important to watch other master musicians and to learn from them in a performance situation. At whatever stage of your musical development, you can have compositional ideas and it’s important to notate/record them as best as you can and to share those ideas with others.
For being a musician has meant that I am committed to becoming the best human being I can be. Playing music has given me the tools, to look beyond the superficial and to interact with others on a heartfelt emotional level that transcends what the eye can see. And that’s why I feel it’s key to share your music with others at all points on your journey.
Thanks so much Ayanna, we can't wait to see what is next!