Interview: Ayana Soyini: Femcee 2.0
by Couch Sessions
Ayana Soyini – Vibin’
Yes. It’s true. I’m guilty as charged: losing faith in female MCs. The materialistic sex kitten scantily clad in a bikini and a mink flanked by her all male entourage who double simultaneously as her pimp and protector stole my love for the female phenom and never gave it back. The Female MC’s ability to paint her reality yielded stories–stories that dissected sexism & misogyny, examined the black female experience with racism and color politics, and ultimately, located her in society as victor and victim while never diminishing her beauty, ambition, or support for her family. Now, do not misconstrue the intent of the latter. Female MCs of yore aligned themselves with family but not always in the traditional “women belong in the kitchen” way; but rather in that “I am a proud beautiful intelligent sexy black woman who loves my sister mother brother father daughter son and lover with all of me. AND I love me” kind of way.
Enter Ayana Soyini.
This artivist (artist & activist) is releasing Remix Sessions, her second self-produced EP, via her own imprint Goldeneyes Entertainment. The release will appear as a Digital Album on iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody & Napster. “The songs on Remix Sessions focus on re-imagining the music and words of the songs previously found on The Khamouflage Project EP, which were personal topics and reflections about life written over a number of years.” Her first self-produced indie debut The Khamouflage Project EP was released in 2001, highlighting her love affair with Hip Hop, funk, dancehall, reggae, & soul. The affair continues.
COUCH SESSIONS (CS): Thanks so much for this opportunity! Thanks for visiting The Couch. How are you?
Ayana Soyini (AS): I’m good. Thanks for having me.
CS: On your track “Vibin,” you mention that you’re a rebel girl. What is a rebel girl?
AS: The songs on Remix Sessions are actually very old songs. They’re new to the public, but they’re old. I wrote them many years ago. I’m from New York & I spent a lot of time on the lower East Side. At one point & time I was into the rock music scene…so when I was writing it (“Vibin’”) I was approaching it from that perspective. That whole female empowerment, girl power thing.
CS: I checked you out on Sway & Tech’s “The Wake Up Show,” & listening to your work, it seems you love of telling stories. If you’re the storyteller, who, then, are you trying to reach & why?
AS: Anyone that’s willing to listen. I don’t really have a demographic. I’m kinda just relaying stories from my own experiences & the experiences of friends. You know…just things that I’ve seen or witnessed. I’m just taking life and translating that into art and giving it to the people.
CS: You founded Goldeneyes Entertainment LLC in 1997. Congratulations on over ten years of running your own show. You’ve state that your main goal is “to bring unique, original and creative artistic projects to the masses.” There’s a saying that most rap/hip-hop artists want street credibility, but white kids money. Is there some credence to this statement, and are you challenging it by bringing your art to the masses?
AS: Yeah…1997 is when I started running this crazy ride [laughs]. Well…I can understand the whole dichotomy of wanting to be credible in the streets [while] wanting to get paid at the same time , and there is some credibility to that statement . But, ultimately it’s taken me some years to get to this viewpoint, I think that [wanting to be credible in the streets while wanting to get paid] limiting . As an artist, my main goal is to express myself. I’ve found in the course of expressing myself, the street crowd is not always checking for it [laughs]. It’s usually that person who grew up in the suburbs & kinda had a more cushy lifestyle…not necessarily wealthy per say, but didn’t really have to struggle. You know…they just had it a little bit better…that’s [who’s] listening to me. If you would’ve asked me this question maybe ten years ago, my answer probably would have been different. Now, when I say “bring it to the masses,” it means bringing it to whomever wants to listen to it. I’ve found that–especially since I’ve been promoting my music internationally [the mass] I’m referring to is people from all walks of life. It’s amazing! I feel that if I stay true to expressing who I am and what’s in my soul, then that will connect with people. Not to be cliché , but [your work] really starts to transcend racial barriers, gender barriers, financial barriers. It just transcends all of that when you start dealing with things on the level of the soul.
CS: I totally agree! I played your music for my co-workers and some of my friends and those that were interested were those that I consider not to be “street savvy” [laughs]. I’m not sure if it’s how we train our ears or the messages we‘re used to hearing, but those were the people that were really feelin’ you. But, you know…you have to kind of retrain people or introduce them to something else.
AS: That’s interesting [because] my background is such that…I’m kind of what some of my Jamaican friends would call a “halfway tree,” in that I didn’t grow up in the projects or was poor per say. My family was middle class, but at the same time I was still connected to the streets, the hood, the ghetto—whatever you wanna call it. My music is more live-sounding, sounds a little more musical. I think a lot of it has to do with the sounds and instruments I use. When it’s my own production, those who are, like you said, not as street savvy as most, gravitate toward me. But, when I record over other people’s tracks that are more traditionally street, the street crowd usually gravitates toward me.
CS: I could find my space within your music. I’m not out of pocket in that…um…“Soyini World.”
AS: Good shit! You are welcome here.
CS: Great! So…I’m a fly on the wall. You’re in the studio aka Khamouflage Productions. What’s your process? Jam sessions/pre-written work?
AS: It’s kind of a combination of both. I am somewhat of a loner musically, so I work by myself a lot. The process could [start] so many ways. You know, I could walk down a street and an idea will pop into my head. I’ll write it down or remember it and then go back into the studio & work on it. And then that could go anywhere from starting to write lyrics first or putting them aside or just working on music and trying to develop a vibe, and then going back to it. I have a lot of ideas that I kinda jot down or record and go back to [them] years later. I think I’m the kind of artist that lives in the future, artistically. Ideas that I worked on years ago are now seeing the light of day. When it comes to my own personal process, [going back] just seems to work for me. I like to go back and see things that I wrote and then flesh that out & bring it to the people.
CS: Oh! So was that the case in regards to your track “A.I.D.S.”
AS: Exactly. It’s interesting that you bring that up because I wrote those lyrics years ago. And then a [while] into the 100K Battle for “The Wake Up Show” those were the lyrics that I used. That video blog was recorded a day after I went into the studio to record for the 100K Battle. The track I used was one of J Dilla’s beats. You know…I actually entered the 100K Battle late. It started in April and I don’t think I entered until the beginning of August. Sway & Tech were very impressed with the fact that by the time [I] got on “The Wake Up Show,” I had moved up into the top twenty in a month’s time. There was somewhere around three thousand people entered. AND I was the only female in the top 500. So we were very impressed with that [laughs]. J Dilla’s track was the right track. When I heard it, I knew I was gonna put those lyrics over [his] production. When you hear it, you’ll see why people gravitated toward it.
CS: What Ayana Soyini track is a MUST in my iPod playlist?
AS: Wow! [laughs] I don’t know if I’m the right person for that. My audience is so diverse. People that are more [in the streets] or more hood seem to gravitate toward the “Raw Elegance” remix. And I have a song off the [The Khamoflauge Project EP] that’s real grimy because it sounds so demo-ish. The track is called “Rock Steady,” and it’s just me playing an electric guitar, just spittin’ straight fire. There’s also some stuff that I recorded in previous years under the name ‘Essence’. It was hip-hop during the mid-nineties and that whole New York City underground movement. People who know me from that time usually kinda cling to that person or that artist that I was then. [laughs] So…I don’t know. It depends on who you ask.
CS: What’s one change you’d like to see occur within the walls of the Rap/Hip-hop game?
AS: I’d like to see the resurgence of females again…umm…more of a balance. When I was growing up , we had Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Roxanne Shante‘, Mone Love. We had a plethora of females in the public eye who we could kinda rock along to and sing along to and look up to. Due to industry politics and misogyny, females have kind of been relegated to the background as far as major labels go. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing because you retain a lot of power when you’re an independent operation. So, I would like to see a wave of females who are on independent labels or on labels where they have some kind of control over the operation. I’d like to see those females come to the forefront, and I’d like to be one of those people who leads the way as far as that goes.
CS: You’re quoted as saying “…the best way to predict your future is to create it.” So, Ms. Soyini, what’s in your future? Tours & upcoming projects?
AS: Right now I’m in the process of putting together a new band. It’s a step in my evolution as an artist. Once I started performing with a band again, I got spoiled [laughs]. I’m not going to do any touring until I’m confident that everything is tight because in the climate that we’re in right now, the bread & butter for an artist is by doing shows and performing. This weekend I begin working on my next project which is tentatively called “Ragga Hop.” It was a concept that I talked about in 2000, and somebody—another female artist—kinda beat me to the punch with it. I don’t want to say that she was influenced by what I did, even though she may have been. She made a little noise with it. But, I think I’m still going to put it out anyway with the same title just with my own spin on that sound. I already have a lot of it done, a lot of the pre-production stuff; so…hopefully, if all goes well, I would say by August. And maybe even before then I might leak some stuff.
CS: And lastly, where can we catch you. Twitter/Facebook/MySpace?
AS: You can definitely catch me on twitter, of course, twitter.com/ayanasoyini. I have a MySpace, www.myspace.com/ayanasoyini. And I have my own site which is www.khamouflage.com. [It’s] new, so I’m still building and adding a lot of the content.
CS: Well, Ayana, thanks so much for sitting on our couch!
And as for my guilty plea, my loss of faith in the Female MC, Ayana Soyini doesn’t seem to mind posting my bail, or at least helping me plead my case. This femcee seems to have a hold on her future and that of hip hop. If that hold is anything like her hold on the mic, rap/hip hop lovers just might wake up and disengage our current mainstream hip flop auto pilot, and instead choose to ride with the Female MC once more.
The video below is a testament to Soyini’s ability to transcend the present by reaching back to the past and yet forward to the future.
CHECK OUT SOYINI ON Sway & Tech’s “The Wake Up Show.” The freestyle is yet alive.