Susan Yee

Zyah Belle

Sacramento isn’t particularly well known for its soul scene, but one of the most interesting rising artists in our city is soul musician Zyah Belle. After playing with Joseph In The Well last month, and more recently, for the first time, at Concerts In The Park, Zyah is drawing our attention. She creates beautiful soul, R&B, and jazz rhythms, punctuated and complemented by her powerful vocal abilities. Smooth and poignant, while exuding a commanding presence, Zyah’s voice floats seamlessly and sensually through sonic-scapes, incorporating elements of neo-soul, hip-hop, and even rap into her audio arsenal, bringing to mind crooners like Lauryn Hill and Ella Fitzgerald. With deeply personal and powerful lyrics, Zyah is creating a name for herself in the local music scene. She talked with us about her recent performance at Concerts In The Park, her music, spirituality, and what effect she hopes her music will have on her audience.

Zyah’s recent performance at Concerts In The Park allowed her access to a wider audience:

Concerts In The Park definitely opened some doors. The only thing I can really express is gratitude,” she says. The venue also provided a unique way for her to connect with her audience.Normally, as an artist, I’m performing in a venue where it’s darker; and I don’t get to see the audience too much. I like that (Concerts In The Park) was in the daytime. I got to look at everybody’s faces! It made it a little bit more intimate, (and) it was kind of a test to my nerves: Everyone being able to see me clearly. It was really fun!” She laughs.

Zyah’s music is strongly driven by her desire to create connections. She recalls the subject coming up after her set with Joe Kye at Harlow’s last month:

I was literally just having this conversation with Rasar and Joe. When you get off stage that’s when your work begins. When you’re on stage, you want to relax, have a drink, and just chill. But, then, you have to realize that this is a selfless thing that you’re doing; and you have to talk to people and say ‘thank you so much’ and make sure you’re being interactive and social with the people that like your music.”

Since she began recording music in 2009, Zyah has worked as part of a musical collaboration, as a solo artist, and now she is working with a band. She tells me she has been seriously recording music for the past 3 years.I have an EP that I, actually, recently re-released (in) a deluxe edition where I added two new songs and re-mastered all the songs. That was released in 2014 on Valentines Day, and that was the first solo project I did. I was a part of a (music) collective before hand, and we did some hip-hop and R&B. Then things got a little bit shaky as personalities clash when you’re in a group. I went solo (with) the “Cigars & AmarettoEP, and I found my band last year!”

Whether working in a collaboration, a band, or as a solo artist; Zyah is consistently producing beautiful sounds, deeply soul searching, and honest. But despite her many influences,  she chooses to describe her music in one word: Soul.

I would say that it’s soul. A lot of people like to say it’s neo-soul because, when they see me, they get the vibe from the tone of my music (that it’s similar) to Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill, and that type of thing. But I would like to say it’s just straight soul, because that word translates into every element of music whether it be rock, you know, or alternative or whatever.”

The music is definitely versatile and reaches across several genres.

“(The recorded music) would be described as R&B/soul, (but) if you listened to my band at Concerts In The Park, you’re gonna say it’s jazz/soul, maybe a little hip-hop in there. I was saying earlier, I’ve been rediscovering myself as an artist and (previously) had been boxing myself in just doing straight R&B.”Zyah draws from a variety of influences; growing up in the church, her mom was a choir director, introducing her to a lifelong love of music at an early age.

I kind of had no choice” she laughs. “I grew up in the church so I was able to listen to old school and neo-soul. (That) was probably the most I was able to listen to when it came to secular music. I listened to a lot of Erykah Badu and Gil Scott and Lauryn Hill, and that was the music that I stuck with. (When) I was in high school, I was doing vocal ensemble. I started getting introduced to classical music, jazz, and rock and different elements of music. I started looking at my voice as more of an instrument, then I started widening my palette.”

Her spiritual influence is definitely a part of her music that she has retained. As she tells it:

I was lucky to grow up in a church where it wasn’t so strict on religion, and it (focused) more (on) spirituality. And literally, my church embodied that phrase of ‘come as you are.’ I remember being able to go to church as a teen in literally, like, sweats and a t-shirt and still being welcomed by my pastor. He always talked about…having a connection and making sure that people see God in you by what you’re doing. So that always influences me in my music. There’s an element in my music, when I’m singing, that people can register with and relate to. It’s the reason why I do music, although I don’t do gospel music. My spirituality is definitely the reason why I do music. It’s more (of) a platform. I hope that people feel a sense of intimacy, because..

I feel like music is very intimate. I feel like that’s an element that’s lost in mainstream music. Whether somebody can directly relate to my music or not, I want them to feel like it’s something real, not something that they can’t, that’s not tangible to them like popping bottles in the club.

“You know a lot of our music is like that. It’s material; it’s stuff that we can’t relate too. We’re not driving Maseratis and wearing Ferragamo and Louis Vuitton all day. I hope (my music) is something they can connect with. Whether they’ve been through it or not, I hope they can connect with my emotion.”Check out more of Zyah’s music here. 


Photos | Susan Yee