When you think of a woman originally from Africa, country music probably isn't the first genre that pops into your head. But Ghana-born singer-songwriter Nya Jade prides herself on doing the unexpected. Her debut album My Denial won critical favor for its refreshing blend of rock, soul, and pop elements, and immediately landed on VH1's Top 20 Albums list. She’s performed with such world-class acts as the Donnas, Evanescence, Ben Kweller and Maroon 5, and reportedly wowed the side stage audience for Dave Matthews Band with her dynamic live set. In an LA Times cover story following My Denial’s release, Ann Powers said of Nya, “[she’s] in the running as the latest voice of multicultural bohemian self-empowerment.”
Nya's gift for freely traversing artistic boundaries was partially inspired by her transient youth. Her doctor father traveled frequently for his work with UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS, and as a result, Nya grew up in such exotic locales like The Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Her childhood in the Caribbean exposed her to a diverse range of music, from calypso and reggae to salsa and classic R&B. "My doors were always open," she recalls, "and a whole bunch of different influences came in to expand my musical palette."
Lately, an early love of country music has returned to center stage, as Nya harkens back to her time in Alberta Canada, where she spent childhood summers listening to country bands at the Calgary Stampede. "All the fiddle playing and boot stomping made a deep impression," she reminisced in a recent interview. She also recalls eagerly poring over her parents' eclectic record collection to find Alabama, The Judds and Jim Reeves.
Today, Nya counts Blake Shelton, The Zac Brown Band and Lady Antebellum among her primary influences. But it was seeing Darius Rucker reinvent himself as a country artist that gave her the biggest jolt of inspiration in years. "I'm a huge Hootie & The Blowfish fan," she says. "So it was amazing to watch him take on country music and soar to the top of the charts! His success makes me feel like I can grab the baton and carve a place for myself in the genre."
As the San Francisco-based singer seeks a foothold in the world of country music, some might bite their fingernails. But for Nya, striking out on her own into new territory is nothing new – it’s what she excels at. A veritable jack of all trades, she has independently produced videos that have aired on VH1-Soul, BET-J and MTV-U, and is a not-so-secret nerd with a master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University. Nya has recorded with LA producer (and Grammy Award-winning engineer), ToneDef (Green Day, Santana, Black Eyed Peas, Outkast) as well as Grammy Award-winning producer Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon). She has also been a guest on NPR’s Sound Check with John Schaefer, appeared at VH1's San Francisco Save The Music function with British soul singer Joss Stone, and was once the finish line entertainment for the Nike Women's Marathon, an event with 20,000 participants.
On the heels of the birth of her first child, last year (2013) - a beautiful girl – Nya has been experiencing an overwhelming surge of creativity. After writing six new songs in a month, she called her longtime producer ToneDef, and let him know that she was ready to return to the studio. Together, they selected the strongest four tracks, and when the time came to record, ToneDef enlisted a prominent cast of Nashville session musicians, including several who have toured and recorded with country music titans Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. "I couldn't believe my luck," says Nya of the process. "I was blown away. I feel like they understood me implicitly."
The result is a new EP of vibrant songs rooted in Nashville authenticity, and infused with the soul-pop textures that Nya lives and breathes – giving it a sound and energy that is all her own. Now she is ready to share her love of country music with the rest of the world. Look out, because as USA Today says, Nya Jade is a "young female troubadour worth keeping your eyes and ears on."