Aya's Strange Flower is a true labor of love -- and honesty. It's that rare thing, a one-of-a-kind personal vision that could never happen under the auspices of a major label in this era of the lowest common denominator. In fact, she turned down several offers from majors to get her record made her way. After having found instant underground success -- and profound musical chemistry -- with producer Jay Denes of Blue Six, his Naked Music label was the perfect place for her unique talent to grow. Naked couldn't offer the big money of the giants, but it could offer freedom -- and so Aya spent the better part of a year holed up in the studio with Jay, perfecting her 'baby'.
Strange Flower is a one-off that could only have been made by someone from as distinctive a cultural mélange as Aya -- born in London and raised by Singaporean grandparents, a teenage mother and Irish-Scottish father (both hippies at the time), she was destined to absorb disparate genres of music from birth. Early exposure to Chinese opera, Jimi Hendrix, Nick Drake, and Patrice Rushen evolved into a lifelong love affair with all transcendent music, and a belief that if music has the power to move you then its genre is irrelevant.
The record is a living document of just this philosophy. From the opening Roy Ayers inspired "Lookin' For The Sun" to the ethereal "You're Not The Only One" to the album's closer, the straight-ahead ballad "Curtain Call", the only musical convention observed is a respect for the emotional demands of the song. There was as much attention paid to keeping the arrangements free of trend-of-the-minute ornamentation as there was to honing the songs melodically and lyrically in as unaffected a manner as possible.
At the age of eighteen Aya left London for New York City, and began collaborating with Lenny Kravitz on "Thinking of You", a single from his album 5 - and with hip hop legends the Pharcyde, on their "Lab Cabin California" LP. Both went gold. Soon after, she started making tracks with Stuart Matthewman (renowned Sade guitarist and songwriter) and features on seven tunes on his upcoming Sweetback album.
Strange Flower is equal parts Soul, Pop, and Dance. It is at once familiar and new. Great care was taken to make sure that not only is it a cohesive, personal musical journey, but that nothing about it is part of the cookie-cutter culture it strives to avoid. There are strains of Pop and Soul that aficionados will most certainly recognize; yet there is nothing really retro about it. Like all truly great debut albums, Strange Flower was born at the intersection of rare talent, personal vision and artistic freedom.
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