Artist Stories, Stories

Amy Ayanda: The Breathtaking Balance of Being a Musician & a Mom

Amy Ayanda
Image by Kent Andreasen

With the amount of music currently available to us as collective music consumers, it can become depressingly easy for us to forget how much time goes towards the production of some of our favourite singles, EPs and albums. However, this creation has not occurred in a vacuum. This forgetfulness is a clear symptom of the increase in access to music production software and the resulting increase in the rate of music being produced and released.

This is immensely positive, but it can mean that those of us who purely interact with music from a consumptive point of view can become apathetic towards the time and energy that musicians put towards their craft – particularly those who really make the effort to go beyond the basic sharing of a SoundCloud link to their social media accounts.

Then again, this is the current state of affairs. Musicians have to accept this. They have to play the game. However, for almost any aspiring musician, accepting a reality and working within its constraints from writing, recording, producing, mixing and mastering; to marketing, publishing and releasing; to rehearsing, performing and touring; all takes place before another reality is ever taken into account: being a parent.

Two years after the release of her debut EP, Ports, produced by close friend Thor Rixon , Amy Ayanda makes her musical return with Ab Ovo. Her time in between the two releases has been spent playing live shows (including CTEMF 2017), writing new music, painting and giving birth and raising her daughter Frances (a.k.a ‘Frankie’). With the aid of her production team, comprising of domestic partner Dean Berger and friend Daniel Breiter, Amy has shifted her music into a more refined space where her vocals and lyrics are the focal point. The production also feels more raw and emotional than before, while still practicing restraint and allowing the vocals to lead.

“It’s really been so great working with Dean and Dan. They’re both so passionate about music and the process behind making it. I haven’t really had to be involved in the production process at all which allows me to focus on my writing and singing. I find the music so beautiful though. I love it so much, even to the point where I love getting to the end of the tracks when my singing is done and I can just listen to the music,” Amy tells me with a chuckle at her home in Plumstead in the southern suburbs of Cape Town.

“We actually recorded a full length album at Red Bull [Studios]. We had Hyroine in on one of the tracks, Eve Rakow, and Nicci [Push Push] too. I really wanted it to be this thing with all these amazing womxn on, like this big ambitious idea. But then I realised how much work all of that would require versus the fact that we, as a group, hadn’t actually released anything yet. So it made more sense to scale down first and do what we could handle. I mean, we’ll still release those songs at some point, but the EP just made more sense to me at the time.”

My discussion with Amy and Frankie, who had shamelessly commandeered Amy’s snack of hummus on toast, naturally entered the realm of the dual effort that goes into music, while having a wonderful little human to look after.

Image by Matthew Rightford

“Ja man, the music thing is hard. It’s really hard for us, because even just rehearsing includes having to drop her off at her grandparents at five o’clock and pick her up at half past ten, because we can only rehearse once Dean gets back from work, which messes with her rhythm. But she did come with us to quite a few recording sessions at Dean’s work at The Woodstock Academy of Music. There’s a screen separating the studio and chill area, where there’s a fat sack in the corner where she could nap. Either Dean or I would sit with her and WhatsApp our thoughts on a take with her fast asleep on either of our shoulders. But often it wasn’t that easy and you’d try and put her down to join everyone, but she would always wake up. Always. But she’s also really sweet about it and she knows the songs now so she recognises the process and what’s going on.”

At this point Frankie takes a tumble, and in Amy’s swift and calm move to her aid she remarks, “Sorry, that hummus party got a bit out of control didn’t it bubs?” This interlude reveals a remarkable sense of fun intrinsic to their relationship. Once Frankie had recovered from the fright of her tumble, Amy notes that before she was pregnant, she experienced intense depressive states, and that being a mom has changed her completely. “All of that anxiety that I gave energy to and that I thought meant something just doesn’t matter anymore. It’s just disappeared. Being a mom completely shifted my drive for life in this profound way that was like, ‘Okay, so you’re the reason I’m here.’ And now I can’t imagine my life without her.”

Image by Matthew Rightford

Much of the EP’s content is either directed to or written about Frankie, as well as Amy’s mother who has been fighting cancer for the past twenty years. Ab Ovo, the title of the EP, came about from a Google search that Amy undertook to find words that could clearly define the concepts of both beginning and end. “Ab Ovo” translates to “the beginning” in Latin and resonated with Amy because her father is both an admirer of Latin and a music enthusiast. The title also resonated because of the significance of the timing of the EP, where Amy finds herself in between her mother, where the concept of the end is ever present, and Frankie, whose life she is nurturing, representative of a beginning.

“It’s often so strange for me to think of the EP in a conceptual sense, because even though I can rationalise where the concept came from now, it’s not what I was thinking when I was writing the songs, you know? At the time it’s just emotions finding their way out, but I guess it can be healthy and helpful to understand where they’re coming from.”

The one song that Amy says definitely was conceptually pre-determined was ‘Mama’ (feat. Push Push), which is the most lively of the six tracks. “I wrote it with the intention of having Nicci [Push Push] feature. It’s a song about cat-calling, and pays homage to the Sylvan Esso song ‘Hey Mami’ , which is also about cat-calling. I wanted a song that was about a more collectively-womxn experience. It’s also really special to me because I saw Sylvan Esso perform in Berlin in 2015 just after I had discovered I was pregnant. The singer Amelia is so incredible and strong as a performer and watching her, through all the tears I was crying, gave me the strength to be like, ‘I can do this, I can have a baby and still pursue my dreams!’ It’s obviously been way harder than I could have expected, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The release of an EP is usually followed by a hurricane of rehearsing and performances and potentially even tours, which for Amy and Dean presents a serious challenge, but one that they’re definitely up for. “The practicing and performing is actually the fun part for me – just having time to spend with Dean and Dan and stuff like being stuck on a really bad lyric and having them tease me about it. The back and forth with Frankie is difficult and we’ve definitely considered letting music go–,” at which point Frankie dives into a short rendition of ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen and we all burst into laughter. After recovering from her laugh, Amy continues, “But if we had to stop I know we’d be miserable.”

Image by Matthew Rightford

Their upcoming shows include the Joburg edition of A Night of Talented Womxn, their EP launch at The Bioscope Cinema featuring Cape Town electronic duo WVV and DJ/producer Fortune Shumba. This will be followed by a performance at the second annual Endless Daze Festival taking place at Silwerstroom Resort in the Western Cape from 3-5 November.

Ab Ovo will be released on Thursday 26 October, preceded by a release of one of the tracks on Monday 23 October. The EP sees Amy exploring deeply personal material, while simultaneously edging closer to a sound she can own with less distinctive vocal and production influences and driven more by her writing than her having to accommodate the music.

“Music has definitely become that space where I can relax and just let the words come out. I definitely feel more attached to it – not in the sense that I worry about whether people like it or not, but more for myself and how it makes me feel.”

Update [26/10]:
Ab Ovo is now out! Listen here and to the rest of her catalogue on Soundcloud below:

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