Meet 21st Century disco-loving, British-Ghanaian recording artist, Raya Max.
Based in London, Raya writes, records and produces her own songs. Tom Jones has christened her “brilliant, absolutely brilliant!”, whilst Emeli Sandé hailed her as “fantastic [with] wonderful connection to the audience”. From touring the globe to singing in her room, Raya’s musical journey has been no easy feat but still she lives for being a shining ray of light for others. With her name meaning maximum light, Raya invests to bring back some joy into people’s lives through the medium of disco and the influence of her paternal Ghanaian heritage.
Taking influences from the greats (the likes of Stevie Wonder, Patti Labelle and Quincy Jones) to West African music and London club culture, Raya is an amalgamation of her background. Her debut single, Starlight, premiered on June 21st. Now, Raya sits down to talk with MGC over her journey to where she is today, what drives her and getting to the heart of her as an artist.
Thank you for joining me – it was a pleasure to learn about your background and performance work. How exactly did your journey in music begin, where did it all start from?
R: Pleasure to meet you! Thank you for having me!
It feels like I’ve lived my life to music, from a youngn’ to today. As a toddler wearing dungarees, with my little Afro and some shades I would bop to James Brown in the garden with my younger brother, I just loved the feel of the groove it would always make me smile.
My fascination with rhythms and melody grew when I would go to family events in Ghana set to the electric sound of drumming and multi-instrumental layers. I then started to hear hints of these rhythmic origins in popular song in the charts and it made me listen intently to sound, form and tone. I thought everybody wrote songs and stories in their mind when going about their day, I thought that was how everyone’s inner thoughts operated – to melody!
That’s a real talent to have – just thinking in songs! So I know you name a couple of influences from the greats in music, are there any home (UK or heritage) influences you would commend?
R: Yes for sure, check out Michael Kiwanuka, his tone, melody and harmony are exquisite, a real treat for the ears especially in; “Home Again”. Also check out De Frank Professionals “Afe Ato Yen Bio”, lovely hooks and use of typical Ghanaian instruments, you can’t help but smile!
That’s a great tune, the feel good nature from music around the continent is unrivalled, no question. Which genre/s would you say you most identify with and tend to lean to?
R: The energy of disco is a bit of me! From the dance culture to the flamboyant fashion, you know I just love a good time! I lean to soul for more pensive moments and for those afternoons lazing in the sun!
Soul and disco are naturally a good mix, great taste! And how has your experience been in the music industry so far? For artists signed onto big labels, especially artists of colour and women in music, it can be complicated at the best of times so I wonder how it could be for independent musicians in similar backgrounds.
R: So far how I have connected to fellow musicians and music creators which is the most exciting part, I am looking forward to continuing to expand with a boundless energy that knows no limits! Surrounding myself with wonderful and ingenious people, I believe is the way to keep pure and agile along the ever-changing road of the music industry.
You went from singing in London bars and competitions in 2014 to performing on stage for up to 10,000 people in Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas in 2017! How was this transition from smaller gigs to bigger audiences for you, having back-up dancers for the first time and finessing this leap?
R: It felt very natural I guess because it happened so slowly, over so many years. When you build momentum, and you start to perform on average 4 times a week, 48 weeks a year by the time you finally arrive at the big moments of stadiums and bigger audiences it feels like a wonderful evening of music with loads of likeminded friends! Nothing like it! Just amazing!
That’s so empowering to hear. I also love your social posts about your visits back to Ghana, as visiting your mother country is something close to the heart. Have you always felt connected to your ancestry with the Asanti tribe and is this something that subconsciously (or consciously) feeds into your work as a singer?
R: Awesome, I am so glad you enjoy them! Yes, absolutely it feels so important to channel the beauty and innovativeness of Ghanaian highlife, the use of wind instruments, horns and how melodies intertwine. The time signature to ceremonial Ghanaian percussion is different to the time signature I use in the UK but some of the rhythmic patterns you can translate, and it can tickle the ear and add that something unique to your musical creation, all while paying homage to your heritage and those who paved the way to the music we enjoy today!
Definitely, and I think its brilliant that you bring part of your heritage into your music here as well.
You take on a colourful, summery style in terms of looks and I noticed your style has shifted over the years! Do you have any particular look you go for as an artist?
R: Wow awesome question, thank you for taking notice of my evolution as an artist! I like the iconography of Pattie Labell and Aretha Franklin, lovely pastel colours, big bold shapes, eye catching fabrics and vibrant hints of 70s culture!
Two brilliant icons to admire! What would you say is the main thing that drives you, through hard times and in the music industry?
R: The key element that keeps me going in tough times are my soul sister diva friends who inspire and encourage me to keep going, to not look down but look ahead. You never know when these painful moments will come and when they do it really takes a village to get through them. Another thing I find useful is if you are really struggling to see the positive take a break from your mind and move your body, dance to music that really moves you, 3 minutes of pure escapism, even though your problems may be waiting for you on the other side you can get through them with a little groove in your step.
That's such a lovely sentiment. Are you working on anything for future release? And where do you see yourself as an artist in a couple years time?
R: Yes, I’m currently working on another single release later this year! It’s a very exciting time! I would like to have built a beautiful community of music lovers who love a good time, it will be great to get out and perform to them all over the world and create an evening of celebration through awesome music that empowers them!
Of course I have to ask, who would be your dream collaboration?
R: My dream collaboration right now would be Thundercat! What a vibe!!!
Thundercat! He is a God of bass, I absolutely love that choice!
Lastly, if you could give any advice to budding singers and music artists, what would that be?
R: My advice, hmm that’s a tough one because each creative is so unique and operates in different ways, that’s what makes the music industry so fascinating – recognise what feels right for you and surround yourself with lovely people!
You can stream ‘Starlight’ on Spotify now.