Brisbane’s Aya-Rosa has just released her debut EP, 21 Grams. The songs on this EP came to life during a five-year period of intensive soul-searching and exploring as Aya-Rosa travelled around the world, busking, playing bars, restaurants (and the odd radio show) from Rome to New Orleans, the Sahara Desert to the Peruvian Amazon. Tomatrax caught up with Aya-Rosa to talk about her music!
What inspired you to become a musician?
As a listener, I’ve been addicted to music from the beginning. When I was a kid I always wanted to be a ‘singer’ but I gave up that dream sometime in high-school. To be honest, it was only five years ago that I learned to play guitar and started to sing and write my own songs. At the time I had no idea what I might be capable of… I was at a small festival watching this chick serenade the people around the fire, turned to a friend of mine and said enviously “I wish I could do that”. His response was overwhelmingly optimistic, like, “you CAN do that!” and the next day I had my first guitar lesson. Following that, I was travelling around Australia and the guitar soon became my best friend. I started writing my own songs and busking with them… throughout this journey people have always been pretty encouraging which is what really inspired me to take things a little more seriously and record something to share on a larger scale.
Where did the name Aya-Rosa come from?
It took me a long time to decide on a name… “Aya-Rosa” came to me last year when was living in the Amazon Jungle in Peru. This was my fourth trip there due to my ongoing fascination with the Shipibo tribe and their inspiring relationship to music.
In a nutshell, they believe that the world was literally “sung” into existence and use music in day-to-day life to create, heal and celebrate the life experience. They also work with particular ‘master-plants’ such as Ayahuasca, which has been an important teacher for me over the years.
Anyway, there I was, right in the thick of some deep personal transformation pending the release of this EP and the name came to me as a way of inspiring me to recognise the responsibility that comes with songwriting and really embody my ideals as a musician. To me, “Aya” symbolises my highest potential and to keep things real with myself, while “Rosa” (Spanish for rose) is a reminder to sing and share songs from my heart.
You’ve just released your debut EP, what’s it like to have it out?
A great relief! It’s funny because we recorded most of the EP in 10 days and I initially had the idea to release it before my trip to the Amazon last year… but this is also my first EP and I’ve had to learn a lot behind the scenes (such as patience – it took more than 10 months just to get the artwork together).
What made you pick 21 Grams as the title track?
The title of the song/EP refers to the ancient Egyptian belief that a human soul weighs 21 Grams. At face value, the songs on this EP might only appear to be about romantic relationships. However, the fullness of it all to me is multidimensional and goes beyond romance into the more philosophical realms of being human, finding satisfaction in life and learning to co-exist in harmony. For me, the song 21 Grams is all about taking stock of this, with compassion and self-awareness. The final cut of the song also felt brighter and more optimistic than the others and I wanted to leave my listeners with more of that positive, reflective vibe.
What was the inspiration behind the EPs cover?
I wanted an image that symbolised the cosmic interplay between life and death, and the paradoxes of ugliness and beauty, pleasure and pain… I had the idea of an animal skull contrasted with colourful, blooming flowers and wanted to incorporate sacred geometry that reflected some of the mysticism associated with the title. So, I commissioned my friends Ashleigh Brooke Ralph and Nina Omelchenko to pioneer the design and I think they did a brilliant job.
The songs on the EP were inspired over a 5 year journey around the world, what inspired this journey?
I’ve always been a head-strong wanderlust, obsessed with personal development and experiences that reach beyond the usual western experience. Once I figured out how to do it all pretty cheaply (busking, camping and hitchhiking my way around) I found it hard to stop. It seemed the more I travelled, the more I heard about other amazing places I wanted to visit and I was always meeting incredible people along the road that made the journey extra special.
What was your favourite place you visited?
Mmm, what a hard question! I don’t have an absolute favourite, but the first place that comes to mind is Sinai, Egypt – where the desert meets the Red Sea. As you can probably tell by now, Egypt fascinates me and what I found on those shores was beyond anything I ever imagined. There, I’d go snorkelling ever day (the ocean is rich in sea life with turtles and octopi living amongst the vibrant coral), the sunsets were always incredible and at night, the desert really felt like home. I loved wandering out into the rocky canyons, beneath the starry sky, feeling the warmth of the earth around me, comforted by the gusty wind. Other nights I’d spend around small fires, surrounded by kindred spirits, passing the guitar around and drinking tea with the local Bedouins … really, you could taste the magic in the air.
What was it like to travel and play around the Sahara Desert?
Incredible… heart opening… inspiring… Morocco was another place that has always called to me. I’ve always been enchanted by the music and mystical energy of the culture. In 2014 I was lucky enough to be invited on a 2,000km road trip around Morocco with an amazing friend who grew up there. I think that gave me a truer taste of the culture than I could have found alone or on a tour. I remember the first time those red dunes came into sight. We’d been driving all day and parked our caravan right where the red sand engulfed the end of the road. The days were unbearably hot, so when the sun went down I really wanted to make the most of it. So, I stayed up well into the early hours of the morning, dancing barefoot and singing to the moon.
Is there anywhere else you’ve wanted to visit but are yet to?
Iceland is pretty high on my radar. I love the mountains, moss and forest… I’ve seen pictures of the landscapes and feel drawn to immerse myself there. The cultural folklore also sounds pretty interesting, not to mention the fact that Bjork’s from there!
Do you ever listen to your own music?
Sure, it comes with the territory doesn’t it? J
What other music do you listen to?
So much! My collection is vast and varied. Just to name a few, I am a huge fan of Laura Marling, Devendra Banhart, Hindi Zahra, Feist, Fever Ray, Cat Power, The Doors, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Chris Isaak, Led Zepplin, Nina Simone, James Simon and Melody Gardot…
Now that your EP is out what do you plan on doing next?
I’m relocating the to Melbourne this year and planning to record some new songs. I’m also really interested in collaborating with more musicians, perhaps even lending my vocals to some electronic tracks… so, we’ll see!