Hornsey cellist on her musical journey, inspirations and celebrating identity

Ayanna Witter-Johnson

Ayanna Witter-Johnson - Credit: Ayanna Witter-Johnson 

Inspired by geniuses from Vivaldi to Nina Simone, the music of Ayanna Witter-Johnson crosses genre divides. 

The Hornsey instrumentalist and singer this year released her EP Rise Up, featuring Camden rapper Akala.  

On this week’s Ham&High Podcast, Ayanna spoke about the record’s nod to Black history, culture and identity.  

She described her journey into music, which began aged three on the piano, helped along the way after a school governor at Henrietta Barnett School lent her a cello called Reuben.  

“When I was nine I wanted to give up piano,” Ayanna said. “I didn't want to practice, I was like: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’  

“And my mum said: ‘Well you are going to keep doing it, I'm going to keep paying and I want you to keep playing.’  

“So that was the end of that discussion and thank goodness she didn't give up on me... because here we are.” 

Growing up in a musical household, Ayanna points to Stevie Wonder, Anita Baker, TLC, Antonio Vivaldi, Luther Vandross and Nina Simone as some of the inspirations behind her eclectic work.  

"The pandemic has shown how incredibly important music is to everyone in society" 

"The pandemic has shown how incredibly important music is to everyone in society" - Credit: Ayanna Witter-Johnson 

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Identity is a key theme running through Rise Up, which celebrates the performer’s Jamaican culture and heritage.  

“It's an anthem for all of us to remember where we are, who we are, all the gifts we have, and to really hold each other up in keeping our dreams alive,” she said.  

“It’s for all the people that were like me growing up from a Caribbean Black household, and all the challenges that you may have experienced.  

“Living through that story and that journey I just wanted to celebrate our voices and feel inspired.” 

Ayanna Witter-Johnson 

Ayanna Witter-Johnson - Credit: Ayanna Witter-Johnson 

The songwriter said it has been “humbling” to see artists creatively adapt to the challenges of the pandemic – whether that be virtual orchestras, live streams or bedroom collaborations.   

“It’s been really, really heartwarming to see everyone just keep making art the best they can, so there's a real sense of thriving, excitement and anticipation for being back in the room with audiences soon.  

“There a lot of festivals that are back on the map this year that wouldn't have been possible last year, so it’s super encouraging and I think we'll be in a stronger position ultimately after this.” 

To listen to Rise Up visit https://lnkfi.re/oWhrFszU. For tickets to Ayanna's gig on September 18 at Kings Place click here

Subscribe to the podcast at https://podfollow.com/hamhigh/ or by searching your favoured app.

Ham&High Podcast

Ham&High Podcast - Credit: Archant