Ayanna Witter Johnson THE Definition Of Eclectic Soul Wows Hometown Audience
Ayanna Witter Johnson is THE definition of eclectic soul - a singer, songwriter, cellist, composer, producer and arranger with phenomenal musical prowess, mesmerising vocals, uncompromising lyrics and mastery of the cello.
With her unique blend of classically infused jazz, reggae and soul, Ayanna presented a night of song and storytelling that unapologetically imprints her unique musical signature into her music. Her debut album ‘Roadrunner’ from 2019, and her EP ‘Rise Up’ released earlier this year paid tribute to her Jamaican roots, with its authentic urban grittiness against the backdrop of her incredible musicality, her music does not disappoint. Neither did her stunning and moving show at King’s Place disappoint, with its aptly titled theme ‘Home Town Roots’, the born and raised Londoner, Ayanna uncovered the hidden stories of her hometown through the lens of her Jamaican heritage.
It was truly breath-taking to see Ayanna perform with her cello which she has named Reuben, playing with a bow, using it percussively as well strumming it like an upright bass on album tracks ‘Roadrunner’, ‘Rise Up’, ‘Nothing Less’, ‘Playground’ and ‘Unconditionally’ an ode to her mother, who was present in the audience.
It was joyous to watch her share her memories of her childhood and her connection with Jamaica, skill-fully engaging us singing along with her on ‘Hill and Gully’. She graced the stage with such power and elegance, with her captivating and graceful dancing to her ‘Rise Up Riddim’ EP track, a stunning instrumental classical meets reggae riddim, with a projected video seeing a row of statuesque Ayannas stepping and strutting around a row of cellos.
The show, with its mesmerising visual projections, shared the powerful imagery of black history and cultural identity to perfectly combine with Ayanna’s music and her lively and endearing humour that instantly had the audience with her, with whoops of delight and cheering throughout.
Ayanna was accompanied by Romarna Campbell on Percussion, Tania Ilyashova on Keys. The special guests blew us all away, as the mighty Nitin Sawhney came on to accompany Ayanna on piano on his stunning ‘Immigrants’ recent album track ‘Movement – Variation II’, it was moving and meaningful to watch. Followed by a second special guest, acclaimed jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss followed to provide the beatboxing and vocals for Ayanna’s EP track ‘Declaration Of Rights’, which was preceded by some recorded narration from celebrated black culture academic Mykaell Riley and ‘lovers rock’ vocalist Carrol Thompson. This was a fresh reimagining of the classic Abysinnians track which saw Ayanna use her virtuousic tap, strum and bow to her cello, her soulful voice taking a reggae lilt to perfectly combine with Cleveland’s jazz harmonies.
She ended the evening with a stunning stripped back cover of Bee Gees’ ‘How deep is your love’, and the love for Ayanna that night was so deep, but as they say ‘leave them wanting more!’.