If you saw a picture of this exotic, diminutive beauty with the caption, "Vocalist from Canton," you might be thinking, "Chinese?" Well, you'd be doubly wrong. The sultry singer was actually born to Filipino parents near the lovely burg of Canton, Ohio.
To continue setting the record straight, Aya is actually the stage name of Angelica (pronounced An-je-LEEK-uh) Y. Arejola. Since moving to Cincinnati in 1994 to attend Xavier University, she has graced a number of musical projects and is currently making a splash with her self-titled solo album.
Armed with a sensual, shimmering vibrato and seductive lyrical coos, she was a natural for her first collaboration, Adherence. Their smooth Electronica landed them in the 97Xposure Top 20 in 1997 and 1999, and in the latter contest Aya's other project, Far and Away, was also selected. A handful of shows with Adherence served to whet Aya's appetite for live performance.
Her next band certainly fulfilled this desire but wasn't really what you'd call a logical progression. The female-fronted, Experi-Metal outfit Barefoot Pimp's sound was more Lacuna Coil than Evanescence, and they actually predated the popularity of either when they debuted in 2000, winning a nationwide band contest as well as numerous other awards.
"Everybody didn't expect a little girl to be fronting such a heavy band," she recalls with a giggle. "People would tell me my voice was too soft and melodic for that kind of thing, but I thought it worked out perfectly."
Aya also teamed with BP bassist Travis Taylor on the song "60 Watt Moth," which is on her CD along with one from Adherence. Several more tracks feature Aya solo, writing, programming and singing. She traces her song-crafting abilities back to early practice with her father, a musician with a home studio.
"He would record all the tracks and I would sing," she recalls. "I wrote little kid tunes with my piano, but I thought it was really cool at the time."
The disc leads with three tracks that represent her most recent incarnation, a simmering ambient Pop sound that draws on the jazzy playing of her backing band. The membership has fluxed, but drummer Brian Williamson's groove has been a consistent component.
A '90s scene veteran and SCPA grad, Williamson brings both solid underpinnings and rhythmic variety to Aya's music. These cuts also feature local phenom Lucky Spaulding, who recorded them as well. Out of all of the facets she displays on the album, these come closest to her influences, most notably Sade and The Police.
Currently, she, Williamson and guitarist Jeremy Cotton are gearing up for a series of gigs as a trio, exploring more organic, groovy territory. As in her previous bands, Aya seems tailor made for the role of chanteuse, owing to the classic beauty of her voice. And while she could probably make a good run as a female Jazz singer (of which there aren't many gigging in the area), she has no intentions of being pigeonholed or stagnating.
"I want to merge the elements and do a jazzy, Trip Hop thing. I like the idea of doing this live Bossa Nova stuff, but I want to try implementing some electronics eventually," she claims, adding, "It's easy to do that in the studio, but it's harder doing the sequencing thing live."
Another feather in Aya's cap is that she was on the 2006 Grammy ballot for Record of the Year, Best New Artist and Best Pop Collaboration. This NARAS nod stemmed from an interest taken in her by Al Gomes, founder of A&R firm Big Noise (who represent Christina Aguilera, among others). The ease with which she got herself noticed is reflective of both her talent and irrepressible enthusiasm, but also a certain charming naiveté.
"She just cold-called him one night," Williamson relates with amazement. "I think she was hoping for a voice mail, but he picked up! She ended up talking to him and sending her stuff and he liked it."
Through networking on MySpace, some R&B and Rap artists have solicited her (the good kind of solicitation) asking for her to add vocals to their tracks, another avenue she's ready to explore. They certainly won't be the last to take notice of Ms. Arejola.
AYA (ayamusic.net) and her band perform at Bar Monet every third Thursday of the month beginning Nov. 16.