Catch up with classical violinist and singer Ezinma and listen to her latest single, "Spacemajik", from her forthcoming EP, I Am Ezinma.
What got you interested in music?
Ezinma: I started when I had just turned four. I lived in Nebraska originally and my school was a Montessori school on a farm and they had Suzuki violin groups, so my friends all had these little violins and I really wanted one and I'm not sure why; I didn't really know much about the violin and my parent's aren't musicians or anything and I don't think they thought it would stick, but I loved it and I just kept playing it and, now, here I am. It started very young for me.
Which musicians would you say that you have been influenced by?
Oh man, there's so many, so many [laughs]. I'm mixed, so my dad's Guyanese and my mom is white so, on my mom's side, I listened to a lot of Americana like Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie, Joan Baez, a lot of folk type stuff, and then, on my dad's side, I listened to a lot of reggae, funk, soul and then, on my own, I've always loved electronica - and of course classical music - but I've really been exposed to all music and it's really cool. It's very, very cool and I like it all; I love folk, I love country, I love hip hop - I don't know too many people who can say that they can appreciate all genres.
Who's in your playlist now?
That's a tough question. Right now I've been listening to a lot of hip hop actually, because I've been doing a lot of hip hop violin covers, and I'm trying to really think hard and find new artists that I think are really cool. I also love a lot of symphonic stuff, so people like Jamie xx, I love. Who else have I been listening to? It's tough remembering stuff like that and it's just kind of an eclectic combination. Also, because of streaming, I feel like I have less of a relationship with what I'm listening to because now they put up a playlist for you - and I love the playlist - but I don't know who these people are. I remember when I would buy a CD and be like, this is who I'm listening to [laughs].
How would you describe your sound?
I think the one word I would use to describe how I experience sound is symphonic. I like layers, I like lots of textures, I like a swirling soundscape, and I think that's because I come from orchestras and I come from playing symphonies. When I listen to music - and the music I love the most - it's the music that has these layers of different instrumentation and different sound and, of course, it can still be minimal and very beautiful and still have that complexity, but I think that would be the biggest influence and the one word that I would use to describe how I write my music and what I love in music.
What were your inspirations behind your new single, "Spacemajik"?
Well, I wrote it in Berlin actually. It was at a time when I was listening to a lot of instrumental electronica and I had been in London prior to Berlin and at The National Gallery there they had this really amazing exhibit where they would take famous artwork and ask musicians to create a score based on the artwork. It was incredible and there were all different types of artists; there was violin, there was a pianist and an oboe, and then the last exhibit was my favorite, Jamie xx, and he had done an impressionist work - by Monet or something, I don't remember who the painter was - and it was these spacey sounds coming from all over to mash into the ambiguous nature of the painting and I just was thinking about this for months - I mean, I still go back to it - and it was so incredible; the idea that I could use sound to create the landscape or create the painting, as he did. So, I just felt like messing around and it all stems really just from one note. It's a very simple song and it grows as an instrumental and then I added the lyrics later - first, I like to start with the instrumentation and then the lyrics come later - but I'd just broken up with a boyfriend, a very dear person to me, and I felt the need to paint what that was like, this farewell and ambivalence; I mean, I was very sad of course, but I was also happy in a sense. I thought the instrumentation matched that story.
Could you tell us more about your forthcoming EP, I Am Ezinma?
Each track on the EP is pretty different and I think, for me, what I was doing in that time was I was really experimenting and I was really finding myself because I had just left conservatory and I felt like I had lost my grounding in a sense, because there's normally somebody telling you what to do, what to play, how to play it, and I was on my own. Because of that musical exploration, each track is really different and has very different influences and I love them all. "Disco Bitch" is a very 'Coolio' type vibe, kind of, like a dance/'70s retro throwback; "Kiasma" is based on a violin concerto and is a very UK house vibe, but very minimal lyrics, lots of violin; "Unraveled" is more of a pop tune, "Unraveled" is actually inspired by another classical piece; "I Rise" is a ballad about my life story, again based on another classical piece. They're lots of different influences and they all come across very different, stylistically. Of course, it's all the same in that it's my sound expression, but it's all very different sides. I think that's really cool and the EP is called I Am Ezinma and the point of the EP is, this is who I am. I'm not just a classical violinist, I'm not just an electronic musician, I'm all of these things, so I find it really fitting that each track is so individual.
How would you sum up I Am Ezinma in one sentence?
I Am Ezinma is a declaration of who I am artistically.
What do you hope your listeners are able to take away from your music?
I've never really thought of that. There are lots of things I want them to be able to take away, but I think, what I am learning now, more than ever, is that music is about being true to who you are 100% and I think, for a lot of artists who grow up in newer genres or who are just making their own stuff from the get-go, that's probably a realization that they may take for granted. For me, coming from a world where, yes, you should sound like yourself, but there are certain phrasing rules and there's all these rules, rules, rules, I think, for me to break away and say, yes, you can come from that tradition, but you can also use that to create something new and something relevant and something that everybody will want to listen to. What I always like to do with all of my music, everything I've ever written, is I always throw in little tidbits from Beethoven or Mozart or Maazel and people don't really know it's there, but what I find fascinating is that people still love this music, even though they may not be going to the concert hall or the opera house. What I want people to take away from my music is, yes, I can be a classical artist, but, yes, I can can also be relevant today, no matter your skin color, no matter your background, your class, whatever; the point is, let's just make music, regardless of genre. I think that's the biggest thing. I'm finding genre to be very riveting and I want to break that barrier. Instrumentalists in a lot of pop music, I feel people don't pay attention to them, it's usually the singers - and, yes, I'm a singer, but I'm also an instrumentalist - and I think that other layer of musicianship needs to be more celebrated.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Another really big thing, especially in my videos that I've been putting up is, for me, a big part of my story is race and growing up as a mixed race person in Nebraska, as a classical violinist, and a really important thing for me is knowing that when I put up my videos, I hope to challenge stereotypes of what it means to be a black woman in America. The fact that I'm a classical violinist, you know, just last night, this guy was like, 'what do you do?,' and I'm like, 'oh, violinist,' and he's like, 'what? No, you don't look like-' and that's what I want to challenge. I don't look - air quotes - like a violinist, but I want to break down those barriers. I want everybody to know that they can do these types of things - classical violinist, ballet, whatever - that they now feel are for them. Specifically, I think of children of color and that's a big part of my work, is teaching kids in Harlem, playing classical violin on YouTube with trap music, and letting people know that there is more to blackness than just this one stereotype.