Lilian Blankson Chats With Afro-Soul Crooner, Efya
If I could recreate her into a cartoon character, she would be a cross between a cape toting Power Puff Girl and Jessica Rabbit, but that would only represent her “Girl Power” and “Fashionista” character traits – and Ghana’s Afro-Soul singer Jane Fara Fauzzier Afia Boafowaa Yahaya Awindor is so much more. This four-time Ghana Music Awards Best Female Vocal Performance winner got her first taste of fame as the runner-up at the 2008 Stars of the Future talent competition show. Securing a three-year recording deal from the win, she recorded her first album Unveiled, which was released solely in South Africa with winner Irene Logan under the stage name, Miss Jane. Her career took an incredible turn years later when she rebranded herself in every way and became a solo act signed to One Nation Entertainment. The evolution of Miss Jane to Efya took Ghana by storm – the country was forced to take notice of this amazing talent with a mesmerizing voice that could already be heard on numerous collaborations across Africa. It wouldn’t be too long before a very confident and fashion forward Efya emerged – gracing the covers of magazines, red carpets and stages in her eclectic sense of fashion and style. Her artistic freedom and message of sexy confidence and girl power would lend its way to adversity and many assumptions, but she brushed it all off her shoulder and kept us in awe as she focused on her distinct style of music and her incredible vocals.
Originally born in Kumasi, Efya moved to Accra with her siblings at a young age in order to fulfill her mother’s film making aspirations. Her exposure to that world introduced her to life behind the camera – directing, voiceovers, editing and the world of acting. Following up with a degree in Theatre and Music at the University of Legon, Efya’s destiny as a star began to unfold – unleashing a confident and very clearly talented artist with a passion for soulful jazz music. As tours and performances began to pour in, Efya traveled the world and exposed New York, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and more to her soulful style and brand of music. The demand for her album after over eight very successful singles was overwhelming and she would pacify her fans with the 2013 release of her T.I.N.T. Mixtape (acronym for This Is Not The Album.) This pacification would only last for a short period. Today, her die-hard fans across the world wait on baited breath for the July release of her first formal album – the deeply personal, Love Genesis. The music is just one of many stops on Efya’s journey to absolute stardom. There is an impending clothing line, a carefully designed music school, a state of the art production outlet and even piano and voice lessons. Efya is meticulously crafting the steps to make herself unstoppable in every aspect of the arts and of course, music.
I recently had a very intimate conversation with Ms. Awindor and I listened with keen interest as she shared her world, her hopes and all of her dreams with me. I was in awe, impressed and excited. There is a lot more to the former Miss Jane, who has becomes today’s Efya, than meets the eye – or even ear for that matter. Just this year alone, she’s been nominated for numerous awards including Five World Music Awards and an MTV African Music Award for Best Female – surely, this is a testament to her achievements and her craft. If you weren’t already a fan, by the time you discover what she’s all about, you will have no choice but to respect and admire her brand, her will, and her tenacity. Now more than ever, Efya has solidified my belief that very truly – AFRICAN GIRLS ROCK!
“I received a standing ovation and that almost made me cry on stage, but I held back the tears. That moment taught me that I can actually live out my African dreams, reach the highest height and become successful. It was an unforgettable moment for me – very humbling and very, very moving.”
Efya (July, 2014)
Design233: Efya! It’s been FOREVER. First and foremost, I want to congratulate you on all the awards that you have been nominated for – particularly the 5 World Music Awards which is an incredible feat. I am so proud and happy for you. I have been watching from a distance and you are truly living the life of a successful artist – multiple nominations, concerts, Awards Shows etc. How do you maintain your sanity and stay grounded through it all?
Efya: Hey Mama – thank you so much! It has been a while and it’s been really crazy! Well… I don’t think I am ever that sane – amidst it all there is a lot of craziness, but because of how much I want this music thing to be successful, I stay focused on the big picture and go hard after what I want. It’s still crazy – the crazy never stops, but I just keep pushing.
D233: I always like to start from the beginning – you discovered your voice at the age of six and by singing in church but when do you think was the actual moment when you realized that the business of performance was your true calling?
E: It was definitely in 2008 after the Stars of The Future competition that I came to see that music was something that I could do professionally. Before then, singing was just like a hobby and something that I liked to do mainly in church. After the competition though, I realized that it was actually a life option for me.
D233: We know your past and your evolution from Miss Jane to Efya. What did Miss Jane teach Efya and how is Efya going to learn from the lessons Miss Jane exposed her to?
E: Miss Jane definitely taught Efya that to do music successfully at this level, you need a strong team behind you. Before then, Miss Jane was doing everything all by herself. As Efya, I was able to get signed by a record label and that made the branding process a lot easier. I had to go through Miss Jane to realize that Efya would be this kind of artist and choose this type of music and become a true professional in every sense of the word.
D233: I have listened to your studio recordings, watched you perform live and also heard you do jazz like renditions of Whitney Houston and I have to say that your talent is unquestionable. You always bring your own unique style to anything that you do. Does this quality come with effort or does it just spew out of you organically?
E: For me, I think my music is really organic. It’s what I do. Since I was a child, I just sang from my heart and I have never received any formal vocal training – I just kept singing and singing and learned along the way until my raw talent became better and better. Now I’d like to go to music school and get some voice training and study the formal way to compose music and learn to play the piano so I can broaden my horizons and become an even stronger musician.
D233: Have you always wanted to be a star, or like most, do you just love to sing and would prefer to do just that without the limitations of the structure AKA The Music Business?
E: I do love to just sing, but I won’t lie – I actually love being a star. It makes you feel like you are doing something special and significant. People tell you how much your music affects them and that moves and inspires me. It eventually gets to a stage where the status helps to significantly change people’s lives. I will be able to help my family and close friends and make an impact in the community. For example, I would love to build a really great music school in my country to support talented individuals who would also like to pursue music professionally.
D233: When I watch you perform live, I feel like you transport me to another plain field. You are amazing. Performing live – especially in New York – is very very difficult because not only are you coming from a different continent with an alternate palate for music, but technically, live performances reveal all the flaws and all – no equipment to fix pitch challenges or clean up any vocal errors. Is live performance truly your thing?
E: Live performance is definitely my thing. I like the way you get to completely change and improvise the music that people have heard a particular way on a track, and transform it to something totally fresh and new. When you experience me live, you will notice that I sometimes love to change the set. I can have as many as three different renditions of just one song to keep it exciting for the fans. Live music is magical in that regard.
D233: If you could choose any genre of music to focus on – regardless of its commercial value, what would it be and why?
E: I’d probably do some jazz – soulful jazz music to me is just timeless – it will always live. Hip-Hop as a genre for example, comes and goes. We have our legends like Biggie and Pac who will always remain classic, but today’s hip-hop music does not live forever – the music my generation is making will last a few months, and then it’s gone. Jazz on the contrary, is timeless and I would like to make music that lives and will continue to live long after I am gone.
D233: Where do you draw inspiration from and what artists do you listen to when you really want to take your vocal delivery to the next level?
E: Everyone around me inspires me – My Mom and even my brothers – they are young and they have such wonderful creative minds and it’s crazy the thoughts and ideas that they have. I listen to music all the time to keep me inspired as well. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Jhené Aiko and Drake. I am also listening to Laura Mvula and Quadron and some Frank Ocean – he brought about this musical transformation when Weekend came out. Then I have my staples – Adele, Beyoncé, Rihanna, India Arie and Jill Scott. I am inspired by their style and how they are able to change it – they don’t lose themselves when they change their genres – they still remain the same artists vocally and that’s something I would love to master as well.
D233: In a fairly short period of time, you have become an international star – performing around the world: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, the States – the list goes on – and you’re also being aggressively sought after for collaborations. When you look back to that little girl at six years old, did you ever see or think that all of this would be your reality?
E: I never saw or even imagined any of this happening. I wanted to be a film producer initially because when I went to university, I studied film directing. I actually still want to make films and plan to start that process in like two years. With my company One Nation, I want to have a full house production outfit where we have editors, audio techs, camera operators and all the works. My goal is to create really awesome musicals, theatre productions and film. Believe me, it’s coming…
D233: Let’s talk about the collaborations – there have been tons. I happen to love the songs you do with Sarkodie – “I’m In Love With You” is definitely up there with Kojo Antwi’s “Odo A Me Do Wu Nti” in my books. Who do you think you collaborate best with and why?
E: I would definitely say Sarkodie – we are on each other’s albums and have some incredible music that people have not even heard yet. When we get together, we create magic because we are musically inclined and connected. I like to make music with people that I connect with and he is definitely on the top of the list. It’s very natural with us, we flow really well together and it turns out great.
D233: Describe to me your songwriting/recording process. What gets you to that point where you move listeners to tears?
E: Most of the time, I start with words, but I sometimes begin with the beat. I get a lot of beats sent to me – shout out to all the producers who support me. I hear the beat and figure out what I think the song should sound like and it comes together that way. Sometimes I go to the studio and I create beats from scratch with my producer and we begin the creative process that way. I just also recently discovered that I am a pretty dope beat maker myself. I was experimenting with my garage band and created some crazy beats LOL! But I don’t think I really want to do that. I already have too much to do so I will leave the beat making for the producers and focus on my music and other projects.
D233: You sing about love and emotions quite often. What’s your definition of love and why do you think your fans are so connected to your music?
E: I am not sure that I really know exactly what love is because I am still learning myself. Experience will teach you that what you think you know about love and life may not be accurate. What I feel for my family is love. I like to make them happy and I feel this deep joy inside when I am able to provide for them and give them happiness. When they support me in all that I do – that also signifies love to me. Love is cool in all its different forms except for all the heart break stuff which really sucks. I think the reality of love is in my music – I have been really heartbroken before and it comes across; the fans hear it, relate and connect. Though I am supposed to be a star to them, they can tell that I am real and very human and they understand my pain because I wear my emotions in my songs. Love is life. We love our jobs, family, our kids, our lives and so on. Love is about expressing my life through and in my music – I think the fans really get that.
D233: What do you think about these female African artists – Tiwa Savage & Lira? I put you in the same category when it comes to passion and delivery.
E: I think they are awesome – I have loved Lira since I was young because she has been around for a while and has created an amazing brand for herself. I love Tiwa and her amazing voice and stage presence. She and I are really good friends and it’s great to know that I can talk to her and ask for pointers on how to advance my career and other things. I love girl power and that’s why I have a great relationship with African female artists. They become big sisters who spoil me and buy me stuff like red bottom shoes and other gifts that make me feel so special. I just love and respect them so much and I am honored that you consider me to be in the same league with them.
D233: So Awards – there are so many. How does it feel to have won awards without even releasing a formal album yet? Which of your Awards or nominations means the most to you and why?
E: I am really grateful and appreciate each and every one of them because it really signifies being acknowledged for something I work so hard for. I want to go out with a bang and do well for my country. The Best Female Vocalist category is so significant to me. I won Best Female Vocalist four times in a row this year and didn’t expect that. Music is hard work and there are so many times when the industry judges you and makes you question if it’s even worth it at all. I have had a lot of down times when I get really discouraged, but I always get to find out that despite it all, this is what I am meant to do and the nominations and awards validate that. The whole process and eventually winning, inspires me greatly and keeps me going. It really convinces me that I was actually born to do this so I keep fighting for Ghana and for my fans all over the world. We wake up each day and we win – it makes it all worthwhile.
D233: Share with me what you consider to be one of the most humbling moments that has impacted you as an artist and your career overall.
E: In 2013, I got to perform at the first ever African Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards and I performed my then new single entitled “Life.” It’s a song that talks about life and my belief in my music and in African music overall. I received a standing ovation and that almost made me cry on stage, but I held back the tears. That moment taught me that I can actually live out my African dreams, reach the highest height and become successful. It was an unforgettable moment for me – very humbling and very very moving. There were people there who didn’t even know who I was, they thought I was just some random girl who was a singer from Ghana. They tweeted about my performance and began to research me to access my music. It was so humbling and inspiring. The people there were so impressed by me and after that performance, I started getting booked for a lot of private and big shows – for example I did three private shows for the Asantehene – the biggest king in Ghana, and I got to meet former President Obasanjo (from Nigeria,) and other dignitaries and personalities that I admire and respect. Music has afforded me the privilege and outlet to experience so much and I am so grateful for the journey that it has taken me on.
D233: You are beautiful Efya – FLAWLESS and you have a very eclectic sense of style. You’ve done a lot of modeling – from covers and features to the likes of Glitz Fashion Week. Are Fashion & Style your second passion or is it just a cool hobby?
E: Awww, thank you so much. I do LOVE to look good – that’s for sure. I LOVE fashion. I love it so much that I am putting together a clothing line. It is going to be a fun casual line – not formal couture, and it will be for both male and female fashion enthusiasts. The line is going be called Gingam: The Clothing Line, so that is an exciting project that I am working on and want to get out there, but let me emphasize once again that I love fashion and I love to look good! Gingam, by the way, is a term that me and my girls made up. It basically means you are bad ass, and it inspires you to wake up every morning, feel good about yourself, and go hard in everything that you do.
D233: I know you love timeless fashion as well as vintage pieces. Who are some of your favorite Fashion Designers and Icons?
E: My goodness, there are TONS! Rihanna – I love her! Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and I love Dolce & Gabbana, but in Africa, I am Isigo, Christie Brown, Duaba Serwa, and a new label called Nina Bakers-Wood, Ophelia Crossland, – and so much more that I absolutely love. Fashion is EVERYTHING to me!
D233: What do you look for in your sense of style? I have seen you do head wraps, braids, go blond, red, and everything in between. What is the driving force in your world of fashion?
E: I want to have as much fun as I possibly can with fashion. I don’t like being put in a box so I express myself as much as I can through my looks and fashion choices. I want to experience all the great different looks and styles and just be free which is why you see so much versatility with my image. My mood sometimes dictates my look – so you’ll see me going from straight hair to curls to different colors and twists and braids. My stylists always bring great ideas to the table, and we make it work in the best way we can. But quite honestly, there are just no limits to my sense and overall scope of fashion.
D233: I know you studied Theatre at Legon and I strongly believe that you would make an amazing actress. You did such a great job with the acting in the “I’m In Love With You”, and especially with the “I’m In Love With Your Girlfriend” music videos. How serious are you about acting? Has that ever been a consideration or is music the sole focus right now?
E: Well, I did experiment a bit with the acting thing when I did a cameo appearance for one Yvonne Nelson’s movies, “Single and Married,” but I think I prefer being behind the scenes. I grew up in a film school and that gave me a lot of exposure to the world and culture of filmmaking. I started doing voice overs at a young age and began editing at the age of 17. I really love being behind the scenes, but as long as it’s fun and different, I would love to be a part of any project that may come up.
D233: I also read that you’ve had some training in ballet and dance? It seems like you are surrounded by every aspect of the arts. There is music, fashion, modeling, acting, and dance – then your Mom is a well-respected filmmaker. Who exactly is Efya the artist – where does she start and end?
E: Yes, I have a dance background and the arts do truly surround me. Efya is a little bit of Jane – the past and future. Jane is doing what she wanted to do as a child by becoming Efya. I am doing what I wanted to do but now as a formal musician. People who knew me as a child say I am still the same – crazy and funny. When I go to my village, I am still the girl who pounds fufu and goes to the farm to help out. I never want people to think that stardom has changed me in any way.
D233: You are the official ambassador for the Awal’s Children Of The Future Foundation (ACOTF), a foundation aimed at helping victims of physical and emotional trauma, particularly orphans and street kids. Tell me what exactly you do with the Foundation and what led you to want to be involved.
E: Awal Alhassan (Possi Gee) came to me with the project – we all came together as musicians and put out a song “This is Who I Am.” The track featured me, Sarkodie, Tiffany, Yaw Siki, Chase, Ruff-N-Smooth, Mohammed, and Fritz, and all the proceeds from the song went to the kids. We support the orphaned and street kids overall. We raise funds, provide them with donations, give music lessons, and do things to make them feel like they belong. Even though we all have families I think we all know what it feels like to go through hardship or not belonging. I have a lot of close friends who are orphans so being a part of this helps me feel like I am giving back and doing something for the community. It’s really very close to my heart and makes me feel fulfilled.
D233: You move with a very large posse – I have always been personally interested to know why. Do you feel more secure having them around, or is it just an issue of loving to have a great time?
E: I can’t ride without my girls. They come to all my shows and they support me so much. I always move with my crew. My girlfriends are amazing; they have my back and have been there from day one. The click is tight and they all have a role to play when it comes to work – they help out, so they do serve a purpose as well. Generally speaking, I don’t like to go out alone unless it’s a private event, so my girls mean a lot to me.
D233: I know that the T.I.N.T. (This Is Not The Album) Mixtape came out last year. When is the Love Genesis Album coming out and why has it taken sooo long??? We are ALL waiting!
E: It’s taken so long because there has been so so much music, we did not know what to pick and what to leave out. So we did the mixtape to release all of my previously released singles and now we have created a lot of brand new music with some amazing producers. It’s a great new sound and we will have it ready to drop really soon. We are working really hard on it, and we know everyone will be pleased with the outcome.
D233: When you are all alone with your thoughts what is it that you ask God for? What is the highest high that you are aspiring to be?
E: Definitely to be great – to get to that level and never be forgotten. To be able to achieve and attain things that will allow my name and my music to remain forever. I want to always remain humble and to stay grateful to everyone no matter how big things may become for me in my career. I want to also be sustained and I ask God for the grace to always be the best person that I can be.
D233: Efya, I have waited a really long time… Am I going to absolutely love this album???
E: YES!!! You are absolutely going to love this album Mama, I promise you – from the first track to the last one. When I listen to it sometimes, I am just blown away; I can’t believe that it’s me. People tell me that it is most definitely worth the wait and will take people and the industry by storm. I am just hoping that God will bless it and allow it to go as high and as far as it can possibly go.
(Lilian) Awesome! I can’t wait and I am sure it will be all that you wish for because you have put in the hard work. I want to thank you so very much for talking to me and sharing your heart and your passion. The Design 233 Team and I think you ROCK and we wish you every bit of continued success on the album release and all your amazing aspirations – God bless Efya!
Efya: Thank you so so much Lilian – God bless your whole team, I greatly appreciate your support. I promise to never let y’all down! We go HIGHER!
Follow Efya on Twitter .