Japanese-American singer-songwriter Aya Safiya reveals her diverse and deeply complex identity in her singing and songwriting, bringing awareness to issues both inter- and intra-personal, while inspiring the value of self-expression, art, and beauty.
Aya’s hauntingly powerful yet exquisitely ethereal voice serves to emphasise this important message, highlighted by minimal electronic production, captivating the listener and emphasising the emotional vulnerability in each track she records and releases.
Last month Aya released her second EP, My Other Half; through it she explores new grounds, while incorporating her Japanese-American roots.
After the release, we had the opportunity to ask Aya a number of questions, where she spoke to us about her music background, the lasting influence of The Beatles, and her new EP.
Tell us more about yourself. For people who may not have listened to your music before, how would you describe yourself?
Hi! My name is Aya and I’m an indie-pop artist and singer-songwriter. I trained in traditional world music, with a focus in Greek and Balkan, but with my pop music I intentionally set that background aside and am fully dedicated to expressing the pop side of me. I write my songs in both English and Japanese, my mother tongue, but sonically the music leans much more heavily towards current American pop rather than J-Pop.
I was raised in the Bay Area by hippie-generation parents, dad from Central California, and mom from Tokyo, Japan. I’m currently leaving New York and all my NY dreams behind, because of the COVID situation, back to the Bay, and hopefully moving to Los Angeles when the time is right to experience the music scene there.
Have you always wanted to be a musician? Were you musical growing up? Do you come from a musical family?
My parents are both musicians, so growing up music was just my norm. I was ecstatic every time my dad bought me a new instrument, or I started some type of music or dance lesson, but it was definitely something that was handed down to me rather than something I wanted independently. I did become more and more passionate about music as I grew older though.
Wanting to do music as a career is another story. It was always a dream, but I struggled and still struggle with having faith in succeeding. My dad was a professional street musician until I came along and then made it a hobby while he worked as a technical writer, and for my mom music was always a hobby. I’ve definitely felt the hardships of being a musician by profession, but it’s become my biggest passion and I can’t think of dedicating my whole life to anything else.
Did you have any musical influences when you were growing up?
I had SO many musical influences growing up I wouldn’t be able to list everything here, but the first music I ever chose to listen to when I was about 7 was The Beatles, and I would say they definitely helped shape my identity and musical taste. They have such a diverse catalogue and I loved pretty much all their songs, but my favourites happened to be the darker, weirder songs that seemed to have hidden messages and therefore had a lot of space for interpretation and imagination. I’ve come to feel that in art, that space of freedom for the audience is the most important thing. The art must have enough information to spark inspiration in the audience, but also needs enough space to let that inspiration turn into creativity.
Who influences and inspires you? Why?
One person who truly inspires me is Balkan music singer, Eva Salina. In the Balkan music realm she’s been my very favourite singer since I was a little girl. I actually studied with her on and off for more than a decade, and my favourite class I’ve taken with her was a singing performance class. Even with my pop-singer-songwriter career, I’m able to apply the lessons from that class, and in general her authentically creative style inspires me every time I see and hear her perform.
What are you currently listening to now?
My “AsianAmerica” playlist! A couple months ago I made a Spotify playlist called AsianAmerica, a playlist of music mostly by Asian-American artists and some other artists that fit the theme of: The Asian diaspora in American music. Currently I’m working on a shorter version of the playlist to make a mix for Happy Family Night Market’s Happy Family Radio, so I’m listening through it as I work. I’m also slowly updating it by exploring and adding new artists I discover.
If you had the chance to perform or collaborate with another artist, who would it be?
In general I LOVE collaborating with other artists. It is most definitely one of the main reasons why I make music. While compiling my AsianAmerica playlist, I discovered a lot of amazing Asian-American and Asian-Canadian artists and kind of got me on this hype of wanting to find more unity in this community. I would love to collaborate with artists like Lyrics Born, Ruby Ibarra, and Sylo Nozra.
Are there particular themes that you write about that you always go back to or any sort of favourite topics you like to write about?
My songs are generally emotional, whether they are intense or subtly melancholy, and often centered around relationships. Many of the songs that made it onto my newest EP, My Other Half also has a theme of place and home.
In addition, a common character in my songs is water. 4 out of the 5 songs on My Other Half sing about either lakes or rain, and I’m sure it’s because I usually write songs on rainy days. I’m sure those of you living with others during this quarantine have felt some of this, but it is incredibly overwhelming to be stuck 24/7 in a house with other people, with no quiet moments! It was difficult trying to write songs in this environment, and the most recent song I wrote, ‘Anata ga Tonari ni Irunara’ was written in my room while I blasted the Spotify playlist: Waterfalls, Rivers and Creeks.
What’s your songwriting style? Do you have a particular style that you write all of your songs with?
My songs are very lyrical. I feel like a big part of why I write music is because I have strong feelings, eccentric thoughts, and vivid imaginations, and I want to express and have them received by others. So, I would say my songwriting heavily centers around the lyrics, in both content and phonetics. I give great attention to the phonetics of the lyrics and can get perfectionistic about finding the words with the best sentiment and sound combination. I love assonance! and have a lot of fun experimenting and coming up with new ones. Also, the simpler the better. When a songwriter comes up with a new and original, yet minimal and relatable lyric, that is what I consider genius. So that’s definitely what I strive for.
What can we expect from you in the future? What are your plans for the rest of 2020, going into 2021?
In July I released my newest EP, My Other Half, and I plan to have an official virtual EP release concert for it. As I am in the midst of a cross country move, I haven’t been able to predict when my home studio will be ready enough for me to start live-stream concerts again, but it should happen in the next couple months. Also, now that I’ve released two EPs I’m excited about the idea of producing and releasing an LP next. If you stay in touch via social media or if you join my email-list, I’ll be sure to keep you informed about it all!