ListN Up: Akenya (April 22, 2022)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Akenya is a multi-genre singer, pianist, composer, arranger, educator, and astrologist. She has worked with a wide array of notable artists ranging from Chance the Rapper to Mavis Staples to Esperanza Spalding to Hayley Williams. Her solo work has garnered her international attention, and she has been featured in high ranking publications such as The Chicago Tribune and The Fader. Her first commissioned chamber-orchestral work, Fear the Lamb – a tribute to the life of Emmett Till – was just released by Palaver Strings. She is currently working on her debut LP, Moon in the 4th. Her latest single, “Decay,” can be streamed everywhere.

Hello, my name is Akenya, and I’m a multi-genre singer, pianist, composer, arranger, educator, and astrologer. The reason I mention that last title is because we are actually having some very important astrological transits that make this a potent time to be thinking about and engaging with and creating art of all kinds, especially music, and that is because we are experiencing some very profound Piscean transits. Pisces is the sign that correlates to our dreams, our fantasies, and our highest creative potential — the kind of creativity that transcends and connects us to our divine selves. We just had the Jupiter-Neptune conjunction in Pisces, which is quite rare and pretty significant because both of those planets actually rule Pisces. Venus is also in Pisces, and Venus is exalted there, meaning it offers its highest function while in that sign. With that sentiment in mind, I created this playlist to really focus on and emphasize some of the most other-wordly, whimsical, and ethereal voices of all time. These are singers that have heavily influenced me in my musical development and continue to influence how I approach my musicianship and my voice. I hope you enjoy it — it was pretty hard putting it together picking just a few of some of my most profound influences, so it was really intentionally crafted and I hope you resonate with it. I hope you find it moving and poignant and magical and all of the things. Thank you.

“Que Llegue El Domingo” by Estrella Morente

I’ve had a deep love of Flamenco since I was in high school. Estrella is a part of a rich legacy of incredible Flamenco singers and musicians, most notably her father, Enrique Morente. Her voice is heart wrenching, piercing, and virtuosic. This is one of my favorite bulerías – one of the most popular Flamenco forms – that she’s ever done.

“Alamtni” by Assala

I was introduced to this Syrian powerhouse singer in high school and have been obsessed with her ever since. You can hear the legacy of Umm Kulthum embedded in her vocal inflections, yet Assala manages to offer something unique and original consistently. This is one of my all time favorite songs of hers.

“Butterfly” by Mariah Carey

There’s not enough that can be said to adequately express Mariah’s level of genius. She is one of my biggest influences ever. Not just as a vocalist, but as a composer and producer. The vocal counterpoint on the bridge of this song brings me to the brink of tears every time.

“The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston

I had to include a live performance of Whitney, because everyone knows even though her recordings are some of the most definitive of the 20th century, her live interpretations are life changing. She lives in every moment of every note. Her sustaining power is unmatched — it truly is as if she has three lungs.

“Qui Radamès verrà!.. O patria mia” from Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by Leontyne Price

Leontyne’s voice is so sublime, it’s almost emotionally unbearable to listen to. Instant tears every time. This is undoubtedly one of the most ICONIC performances (if not THE most iconic) in the entire history of opera — her farewell performance. Although it’s not shown in this clip, her ovation lasted for nearly five minutes. (Fun Fact: Did you know that Whitney Houston and Leontyne Price are cousins? It is not fair to have that much talent in one family.)

“I Know You, I Live You” by Chaka Khan

My Chicago girl, Chaka Khan! I’ve gotten to see her live twice, and it is ridiculous that her instrument has not aged AT ALL. She is still singing these insanely high songs in the original key 40 years later. This is one of her funkiest songs, in my opinion.

“My Tears Dry on Their Own” by Amy Winehouse

Although her story is tragic, her voice is undeniably pure magic. She is also one of the most solid songwriters in the modern pop lexicon. I love this stripped down performance because it shows the lyrical brilliance, and is reminiscent of how she probably composed this song — in her room on her guitar. It’s also an amazing reimagining of the chordal structure of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Very few people could have taken a song that legendary and made it their own, but Amy managed to do it seamlessly.

“Blue Skies” by Ella Fitzgerald

Ella sounds like joy to me. She epitomizes inventiveness and playfulness, all while maintaining the integrity of the compositions she interprets. This has to be one of my all time favorite scat solos from her, and that’s saying something because she’s truly the queen of vocal improvisation!

“Decay” by Akenya

I chose “Decay” not only because it’s the latest single I’ve released, but because I really think you can hear so many of my influences in it: vocally, lyrically, and compositionally. It will always be a special one in my heart, because it personifies my battle with Chronic Lyme Disease. I decided to include this live performance particularly because it was shot so beautifully. Hope you enjoy it!


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