Meet the 'Steel Sessions' Artists: Joy Ike

Posted by Gerard Longo on

What is 'Soulfolk," and what influences have combined to give Joy Ike her signature sound? We find that out and more during our Q&A with this exciting, talented artist, who performs her Steel Sessions taping at PBS39 on Fri., Aug. 14 at 4 p.m.

First, how did you find out about PBS39 Steel Sessions?
My good friend John Hufford told me about it, so I thought it was pretty excellent that he was also chosen to be one of the Steel Sessions artists.

In your opinion, why is an opportunity like Steel Sessions important for up-and-coming musicians?
For us, it feels like a nudge in the right direction – or a nod of approval. We have our fans, friends, and family who stay committed and engaged with what we’re doing, but every once in a while, getting noticed by bigger media, and making new fans through the platform it provides, really helps us to keep pursuing our art. It helps us catch our “second wind,” so to speak.

You’ve blended many different sounds and styles into your music, resulting in your own unique sound called “Soulfolk.” Explain Soulfolk to those unfamiliar with your music.
I don’t actually think Soulfolk is an official term. It’s not on Wikipedia or anything! But, I created it to describe how I feel about my sound. It’s a style that seems to bode well with folk music appreciators, and I typically find myself playing to those types of audiences. At the same time, the soulful aspect of the music lends itself to more of a Corinne Bailey Rae/Amos Lee vibe. There’s also a very strong pop sensibility that would draw quick comparisons to Sara Bareilles or Regina Spektor.

What artists have influenced you the most as a musician, from your formative years until now?
This is hard to answer, because so many artists have played an instrumental part in who I am today. I loved and listened to artists like Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan, felt something very special whenever I put John Reuben's Boy vs. The Cynic in my CD player, and always felt the most at home when listening to artists like Postal Service and Coldplay. As the years went on, I remember discovering independent artists like Brooke Waggoner and Sara Groves (my absolute favorites), Mat Kearney, B.Reith, and Zero 7. And, of course, Josh Garrels tops the list. They are all so different, but every one of them bares their soul to their listeners, and I’ve felt very attached to them.

There are so many more! Over the years, my love for music has had less to do with genre and more to do with knowing that the artists I am listening to are telling me the truth. 

You were born to Nigerian immigrants. How has Nigerian music and culture influenced your career over time?
For many years, I never realized how much my music was influenced by my heritage. But now, I realize it is a major part. As the years have gone by, family stories have begun to work themselves into my songs and storytelling. My upbringing has also influenced my tour partnership with Food for the Hungry, which happens to be working in eight African countries. But more than anything, I've realized that the percussive rhythms found in nearly everything I was exposed to as a child have worked themselves into my songs. The drums often feel like the most important element onstage. In fact, as someone who is a drummer at heart, I've been told that I play my piano as if it was a drum, and I also feel like a drummer stuck in a pianist’s body.

As you’ve combined these influences, you’ve made it difficult to pin your music to a particular genre. Explain that choice, and why it is important to you as an artist.
I guess I can best explain it by saying that it hasn’t been a choice. It’s just what came naturally. I’ve had many people in my life ask me to make music specifically for the Nigerian community. I’ve had others try and classify me as a jazz artist (i don’t even like jazz).  Then, I’ve had other people look at me and be surprised by the sound that comes out of my mouth. I’m just doing what comes naturally. I know that if what I’m making resonates with me, then it will resonate with others.

How has your versatility and diverse musical background lent itself to success on your previous work, like your most recent album, “All or Nothing?”
If I can claim any type of success, I think it has to do with surrounding myself with the right people – specifically, people who are more skilled and talented than I am. During the album-making process, I was working with a producer that stretched me quite a lot. I was also playing with bandmates whose contributions I took seriously. The result was a project that I am still proud of. I remember when the album first came out, I told people that this was the first time I’d made an album that actually sounded like what I’ve been hearing in my head all these years. It was exciting – and still is – to share those songs.

As you continue to create, how do your varied influences enable you to keep the creative process fresh and interesting?
A friend of mine recently described the music-making process as listening. He said that an artist’s greatest job is to listen. If you do more listening than talking, you will be given all the material you need. Coincidentally, I feel like that’s what I’ve been up to these days – especially since I moved to Philly a year ago. I have a lot of songs that are a product of being put in all-new situations, in a new city, with new faces and new experiences. I’ve been taking it all in, just sitting back, and watching what’s going on around me and inside me. Some really great material (I hope) is on the way. 

You’re set to tape Steel Sessions in front of a live studio audience at the PBS39 Public Media & Education Center Fri., Aug. 14 at 4:00 p.m. What can those in attendance expect from your performance?
There’s always a bit of pressure to be a little more polished and camera ready for these types of things, but I’m hoping that there is still a very earthy, relaxed vibe and that people settle into a set with both music and storytelling. My hope is that it feels more like an intimate house concert experience for those in the audience.

Anything else you’d like to add?
If people would like a sneak peek, they can visit my media page for video clips.

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