Canada’s cold winters are not the only cause for goose bumps. Just take a listen to the warm, soul stirring, melodic tones of Toronto singer Ayah and feel the hair on your arms rise as she embodies the funk and soul of legend Marvin Gaye, the poetic story telling of Jill Scott and the ability to float her voice over beats like Miss Badu. This incredible combination results in one powerful songstress by the name of Ayah.
A much needed break from the overly produced tracks we hear on the radio, Ayah’s Problem Woman has found an incredible balance of voice, instrumental, dope beats with influences of Hip Hop and R&B.
Clutch was able to catch up with our Canadian neighbor to find out more on Toronto’s music scene, what inspires her and her method to making great music.
Clutch: You’ve just released a mixtape/album called, Problem Woman. What is the concept behind the name?
Ayah: Problem Woman is inspired by Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man album that was a soundtrack for the Trouble Man Blaxploitation film. Marvin Gaye was genius. A lot of the songs on that album are instrumentals, so I wrote new songs to a couple of them and then used the rest within the mixtape. The artwork was also heavily inspired by the original Trouble Man artwork.
Clutch: There is definitely a Hip Hop element in your music. Who are some of your musical influences?
Ayah: Marvin Gaye, Common, Nas, Kanye, Erykah Badu, Andre 3000, Jill Scott, The Roots, Teedra Moses, John Legend, Alicia Keys, older Mariah, Whitney, Celine, Anita Baker, Zaki, definitely the underground scene, as well some 90’s rock. So many more!
Clutch: Where are you originally from, and how has your culture influenced your music?
Ayah: I am originally Palestinian. I was born in Jordan. I’d say the biggest influence my culture has had on me, combined with being brought up between the UAE, Toronto and Washington, to be honest, was making me who I am: allowing me to have options; to be able to adapt to different people and cultures; to want to understand the world in a very open minded fashion; to test the boundaries and be the devil’s advocate. That translates into my music because that’s who I am and so I’m able to put that into my music!
Clutch: How old were you when you decided you wanted to make singing a career?
Ayah: Around 16 I knew that I had to pursue music on a more serious level. I went to college for a couple of years after high school while working on music, but the urge to give music a real full-time chance got strong. At that point, I left school and made this my full time!
Clutch: How did your parents influence you musically?
Ayah: My parents always allowed me to express myself. They never hindered my personal progression and growth. They always let me make my mistakes, and though I may have made a lot, I also learned from them. My parents have always worked hard consistently, and so I think my drive comes from that model. My biggest support are my parents.
Clutch: You currently live in Toronto. How is the Hip Hop and R&B scene there? Is it more difficult to get the exposure you need as an artist in Canada?
Ayah: The scene is beautiful! There is so much talent in Toronto. Like anywhere, it’s over saturated. A lot of us don’t get paid enough or exposed enough. There’s only one commercial urban radio station in Toronto and even that isn’t really urban anymore! However, I feel like it makes us better because we have to think outside the box, we have to take initiative. There are no major labels out here that are willing to support local artists or spend any money on them. Not many managers that are knowledgeable or that do it full time. They say there is no market for urban music here. I say there aren’t many outlets. Instead of complaining though, (and I can be good at complaining), I just have to be proactive, create and exploit what’s available, like the internet.
Clutch: Life is a constant inspiration for artists: love, birth, loss, heartbreak. How has your life inspired this album?
Ayah: Every song starts with a feeling. Life is feeling. Hanging up a phone call, meeting someone new, love, embarrassment, etc. I mean, every human feeling that is a reaction to this life inspires every song I have ever written and will ever write.
Clutch: What helps to keep you grounded?
Ayah: The people around me. I’ve always attracted critics into my life! I like to hear what the people who truly support and love me have to say. Please never mistake critics who “hate” on you and want to bring you down with the people that love you and give you the truth! There’s a big difference.
Also, I want to stay grounded. I’ve seen what happens to people who get caught up. All of us can get caught up, but to be able to step back and observe reality is necessary.
Clutch: I know that you also write your own songs. How does your creative process work? Do the words come first, the emotion or the music?
Ayah: Either or…Lately, usually, the emotion, then either the words or music. It’s really like a revolving circle. There’s no true beginning. No right or wrong way.
Clutch: Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Ayah: Everybody I mentioned above who has inspired me. Jazzy Jeff is very dope! Dilla — I would have loved to have collaborated with him. RIP Dilla. So many people, but definitely any one who I vibe well with and who is a true musician!
Clutch: I have to say that your music video, “Pusha Man”, was adorable, especially the ending! Why did you choose that concept for the video?
Ayah: Thank you! Problem Woman was inspired by Trouble Man, a Marvin Gaye composed album, for the Blaxploitation Film, Trouble Man. When deciding to bring picture to the song, “Pusha Man”, it made sense to go back and watch Blaxploitation movies! Obviously, when watching Blaxploitation movies, you got to watch Foxy Brown and Coffee! Pam Grier was hot, strong and a problem! A good problem! It only made sense. We explored a bunch of other concepts and couldn’t find one that fit as well as this one!
Clutch: Aside from singing, are there any other goals that you are pursuing outside of music?
Ayah: I feel passionately about social work. I’m not the most active person that I feel I could be, but I try my best to do the best I can. I have worked in the Behavior Science field (in college), and then with various organizations that offer youth arts programs, such as the Remix Project. I have mentored younger females, and I always try to share with them my experiences and what ever I can.
Clutch: So, it’s a night out on the town with the girls and you’re about to hit up the club. Your outfit is fabulous, hair is on point and to finish the look off you accessorize with a HOT clutch. Tell us, what are you carrying in it? What won’t you leave home without?
Ayah: To be honest, when I’m carrying a clutch, I got my I.D., my lip gloss, my money, gum, my car keys, and my phone! I guess those are the bare necessities, but I guess I’m that kind of girl!