This year’s Richmond Folk Festival is celebrating young artisans and musicians. “Youth Will Be Served” is the theme of the Virginia Folklife area and one of those featured is Richmond-based musician Anhayla. Virginia Currents producer Catherine Komp has more.
Learn more: See Anhayla's videos on Youtube, listen to her on Soundcloud and keep up to date on shows and events on Facebook and Twitter. Anhayla performs Saturday October 10th, 2015 at 5:00 PM at the Virginia Folklife stage of the Richmond Folk Festival. On Sunday October 11 at 1:00 PM, she joins the Church Sisters, the Ingramettes and Jeanette Williams in a Ladies Vocal Workshop at the Virginia Folklife stage.
Anhayla Rene Stanley grew up in a musical family. Her mom played piano, her dad drums and trumpet.
Anhayla: All my brothers play instruments and we were just always creative in making songs.
On road trips, they’d turn the radio off and make their own music.
Anhayla: Somebody would start a drum pattern and somebody would be a fake horn and I would always be singing and making songs.
She sang solos with the church choir and before her mother’s sermons
Anhayla: Music was a part of my life, it just was like a heartbeat. It wasn’t anything extra, it was just something we did.
While studying accounting in college, Anhayla taught herself guitar and began posting covers of R&B, rap and pop hits to Youtube. Her creativity, combined a powerful voice and presence attracted more and more fans. It didn’t take long for her videos to go viral. A few years later, she started recording her own music including her first single and EP, If I Was.
(Music: If I Was)
Anhayla: I like to describe my sound as just soul music and I borrow from so many genres, it’s hard for me to say, I am this, I am that. If you ask fans, they’ll say the same things, on some days she’s R&B. on other days, rocky, folkish. So I say call it whatever you want to call it and at the end of the day I call it soul music and I want it to touch people and make them feel inspired and happy.
Writing songs and performing them is therapeutic, says Anhayla. It can heal, transform and inspire you, especially when it tackles universal issues like love, hope and pain.
Anhayla: U.G.L.Y. is a song that’s so near and dear to my heart, because literally it was my life and my experiences that I went through.
UGLY is short for You Got to Love Yourself. It’s a lesson Anhayla says she learned over time. First, getting comfortable with more than 20 inches of scars from a car accident and surgeries on her back and legs. And then, as she became a star on Youtube, figuring out a way to deal with unavoidable trolls and stinging comments.
Anhayla: When I first got on Youtube people were so harsh to my exterior, everything that didn’t have to do with music people would comment about, my hair, my skin, anything. So I wrote that song one night, I remember I was in tears in my dorm room because there was so much that was affecting me with the comments so I wrote this song as a response.
The song also led Anhayla to organize Girls Nite Out. The annual event uses music and dance to encourage positivity and self-esteem for girls ages 5 to 18.
Anhayla: I never want young girls listening to my music to think that they’re alone. I can say to them, I’ve been through it, it gets easier. And now, you don’t ever “arrive” as people say, you still go through spurts of insecurity but U.G.L.Y. has changed my life and I know it’s helped so many other people.
This year has brought more successes, including a commercial for AT&T, being a featured artist by the Virginia Lottery and the new single Spaceship.
Anhayla: Spaceship is just like when you find that person and you don’t know what to say. Usually when you meet a person, you go through things before you become an cool item. So it’s just recalling moments, it’s saying let’s forget about the titles, let’s forget about all the worldly things and let’s go to another dimension where all those things don’t matter, you know, classism, racism, nothing matters - you can just be yourself.
Anhayla is backed by a group of seasoned musicians. Drummer and music director Lamar Moore, bassist Zion Charity, guitarist John Van Nest and her brothers, Marcus Stanley on keyboards and Eric Stanley on violin.
Anhayla: We just have a lot of fun on stage. Everyone who plays with me is a professional musician, they have their own sound, they have their own greatness. When we get on stage, everybody knows the song, but everybody has the freedom to play and express themselves… Music shouldn’t be constricted, it shouldn’t be A, B, C, we have to do it this way. That’s what makes me have fun on stage, the freedom, feeling like you can fly, invincible, nothing matters at this time, nothing about my bank account, nothing - no bad things, no sad things, just the music and the people.
There’s been times, says Anhayla, that wasn’t sure if she should continue on a musical path; but she stuck with it, worked hard and is seeing growth and change.
Anhayla: I love singing and I love music but I realize there’s so many other people out here who do music so if you’re striving to be the best singer, you’re going to be striving for a long time. So for me I am striving to be the best artist I can be for myself and write the best songs I can for the people who listen to my music.
Anhayla performs Saturday October 10th, 2015 at 5:00 PM at the Virginia Folklife stage. On Sunday October 11 at 1:00 PM, she joins the Church Sisters, the Ingramettes and Jeanette Williams in a Ladies Vocal Workshop. For Virginia Currents, this is Catherine Komp, WCVE News.