May 21 2013 Latest news:
by Flora Drury
Friday, October 12, 2012
When Ayanna Witter-Johnson attended her first piano lesson aged four near Turnpike Lane, no one thought that she would be picking her outfit for the MOBO Awards 23 years later.
In November the singer-songwriter and cellist will travel from her Hornsey home to Liverpool, in the running to win Best Jazz Act.
Success would be the latest accolade in what has been an impressive career for the 27-year-old, who grew up in Hornsey, and describes her sound as “contemporary soul with a foundation in blues, jazz and classical”.
She has performed with legendary South African trumpeter and activist Hugh Masekela, is the featured composer on the London Symphony Orchestra’s Soundhub scheme 2012-13 and has a PRSF Women Make Music Award to her name.
There is also the significant achievement of becoming the first non-American to win the Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York.
She was one of only a few to win with an original piece, while completing a Master’s degree in composition at the Manhattan School of Music.
Witter-Johnson believes it was her original composition, one “rooted in American history”, that impressed judges.
She said: “For me, it was a big deal because I performed my own song. Most people do Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey.”
Yet the win she admits was slightly controversial partly because she should not have entered.
Her non-American status prohibited her from taking part in the competition. Did no one notice her accent?
“They did,” Witter-Johnson laughs. “When they announced me on stage they said, ‘All the way from Britain’.”
The former Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts pupil, who has settled in N8, releases an album of original work – a follow-up to 2011 EP Truthfully – in 2013, with a tour.
But this is merely the start of her evolving career.
“I imagine this is my foundation. I envisage more collaboration with other art forms, more conceptual albums, working with theatres, dancers and scores for films.
“I would love to tour as many countries as I can while I am still young and free. That’s my aim.
“I really like to be in front of an audience, being able to capture my ideas in as true and authentic a way as possible.”
n To vote for Witter-Johnson go to http://mobo.com/voting. For more visit www.ayannamusic.com.