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Toya Delazy pumps up the volume

‘Pump It On’ isn’t just four minutes of pop genius. The irrepressible summer anthem also heralds the arrival of Toya Delazy – as if from nowhere.

But it’s been a long journey from a convent primary school via Howard College’s Jazz program to the South African pop charts.

She remembers playing the triangle in Grade 1 – “and the shaker if i was lucky – that was an upgrade” – but what she really wanted was to get behind the piano.

“We used to perform during the assembly,” she remembers. “Those that were good could play the piano and then we’d sing. So I’d always wanted to play the piano – one day I wanted to be that person. So I couldn’t wait to be nine years old to start piano lessons.”

Further inspiration came from a surprising source – the Whoopi Goldberg film ‘Sister Act’.

“I was in a Roman Catholic school with nuns so what else could we possibly watch but ‘Sister Act’, and thank goodness Lauryn Hill is in there so I could enjoy her singing and her voice,” she remembers. “It was something I’d never heard before and I loved it so I’ve always carried it with me.”

But for all the inspiration provided in the convent, there wasn’t much exposure to pop music – a trend which continued at her conservative high-school in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

“Basically girls wore dresses, boys wore pants, you didn’t flirt, you didn’t listen to outside music – it was more like hymns and stuff like that. So that part of my life inspired me a lot to write my own music, because if I’m writing it and it’s mine, it can’t be bad,” she recalls.

“So I started there, playing piano and writing songs.”

She also started singing.

“The thing is I never knew I could sing. I never tried to sing because I was shy and that’s silly. So the only time I really actually started singing was after I lost my mom, which is sad because I wouldn’t sing for her – I was too shy,” she remembers.

“Because of what I was going through, I just needed to let it out and started singing, and singing the songs I wrote instead of giving them to other people. I found out I could sing, and I’m glad I did so,” she says.

Now signed to Sony Music, she’s working on her debut album, ‘Due Drop’, tentatively scheduled for release in April 2012. But don’t expect 10 songs that sound just like ‘Pump It On’.

“The album is going to be like a lucky packet actually – there’s going to be so much good stuff in there,” she says proudly. “‘Pump It On’ is edgy, other songs are soulful and relaxed and you can hear some keys, and others are rock hard, but they all maintain my energy. You’ll still feel it’s Toya Delazy,” she promises.

“I call my genre JEP – jazz electro-hop pop – so you’ll feel all those elements in the music.”

Helping her create that sound in the studio has been the team behind Jax Panik.

“They definitely pushed me out the box because as much as I was singing, I was still holding on and shy. They were like: ‘Child, just release it’,” she says. “They helped me chisel myself out.”

But the songs are still very much her own.

“Coming from my conservative background, one thing it did instil in me is positivity, wanting people to grow. So with my music I want people to be entertained and I also want them to take something with subliminally, something positive that will make you happy.

“Because these songs make me happy – that’s why I’m sharing them with the world – and they got me through some times. I didn’t just write them – they’re a whole experience. And I know there are people out there that go through the same things.

“So when I write songs there are some where I’ll go crazy and have some fun, but there will always be something you can take away with you – whether it makes you happy or makes you dance.”

  • This article originally appeared on EntertainmentAfrica.com.

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