This is a return. This is a revival. Annahstasia Enuke, known as Annahstasia, finds back to herself and her musical voice through her debut LP Revival. The LA-based artist processes insecurities, heartache, and the injustices of this world in her music. Mostly inspired by the simplicity of folk music, the musician works with few instruments. It only takes a simple guitar accompaniment, so that her soulful voice stands out even more.
Before this record, the artist felt disconnected from herself. She lost herself in other people’s music, production, and work. The insecurity of what is right and what feels right brought her to an emotional state where she wasn’t sure who she was anymore. In the most honest way, Annahstasia started discovering herself and started exploring what we can now hear when we listen to Revival.
„Anything could be folk music if it feels genuine“
Annahstasia’s musical journey started with a folk chords book that she got from a thrift store at age fifteen. She learned standard songs on guitar, including Terry Callier’s 900 Miles, and was mesmerized by the simplicity of just a voice with an instrument without much else in the performance. From this point on, her love for folk music began to flourish. Annahstasia Enuke’s first musical experiences were singing songs from her folk chords book, learning the folk anthology, and writing her own lyrics over the same chord progressions of the songs.
„The special thing about folk is being able to convey a sense of time, a sense of moment, in as light a way as possible. It is more like a naturalist concept,” says the artist. In her opinion, folk music is not a genre because every culture has its own folk music. It’s less about the simplicity of songs than it is about “telling the world who you are, where you come from, and what you are made of. It is you in the most honest and free way“.
„If pop music is made for capitalism and consumerism, then folk music is made for collectivism, for community and for love.“
At first glance, the album is very minimalistic. Annahstasia songs start with short and simple guitar riffs that run through the whole song. However, the sound gradually builds up. Through her voice and the use of other instruments, the songs grow increasingly expressive. You get the feeling that Annahstasia’s singing voice comes from deep inside her. It doesn’t take long for the listeners to get emotional too. Her short texts convey much more than one can perceive at first glance. Only after listening several times, you get a sense of the spiritual and musical depth of the album.
Trying to Carry That Weight
Power is one of the oldest songs on Revival. Annahstasia wrote a song about a boy, “which is ridiculous because,” she comments, “it was never about a boy. It was about something way bigger than that”. 2019, seven years after, the artist has gone through a developmental process where she often felt unsure about the subject of femininity. “But I’m just one woman, trying to carry that weight“ sings Annahstasia in Power. In some ways, Annahstasia lost belief in humans and this is also what the song is about.
„Everywhere that you think are safe people, the minute you think something’s safe, take advantage. They take your power away. Either through slow bloodletting, through manipulation, or just straight up getting it from you in the most violent ways.“
That is why feminity started to feel like a very dangerous and toxic place to her. She started to blame womanhood for the bad experiences she had with people instead of blaming societal structures and injustices like sexism and racism. Annahstasia ran away from home, from herself. She shaved her head, didn’t want to use she/her pronouns for a while, and changed her name to “Stars” with the idea to bury all feminine parts of herself.
Songwriting as personal as Revival can be painful and when Annahstasia returned to the song While You’re Sleeping, it hurt. The tragedy of falling in love with someone and things getting in the way of that is as timeless as a subject as is the spiritual awakening of Revival. In this respect, Power links to While You’re Sleeping, where Annahstasia describes her love for a woman. But that love is caught in a crossfire. From every angle, people are coming at her pushing her into narrow political boxes. She sings: „Like, why, why, why? It’s love. What do you think – Love is love? What’s wrong with that?“
While You’re Sleeping features Raveena Aurora a friend of the artist. When restrictions during Covid-19 were loosened, Annahstasia invited Raveena into her studio. Regardless of their friendship and commonalities, their procedures of songwriting differ. Raveena writes down her lyrics while recording and Annahstasia waits until everything is sent off to mix and master before writing it down. „Because every time I perform the song, the lyrics change slightly. And I like to leave room for that”, she explains. Raveena is more methodical and wants to know exactly what she’s going to say ahead of time. Nevertheless, the session with Raveena and the band, that Annahstasia has gathered in Los Angeles, was significant. It forced the singer to lock down on it a bit more than usual just to finish a song. The end result is a minimalistic and soothing track with guitar chord progressions accompanied by piano, harp, and strings and the two remarkable voices of Annahstasia and Raveena.
Dark Side of the Music Industry
Growing up in Los Angeles, Annahstasia got a rough overview of how the music industry works on the West Coast from a young age on. The artist got discovered through her music but was thrown into a world where folk wasn’t relevant or valued. The label tied her down for a record deal with no regard for her creative autonomy. She could not get out of that deal for seven years. So, Annahstasia made room for creativity somewhere else and went back to school. „I couldn’t do music legally, so I learned how to do papermaking and ceramics, followed by my dance performance practices”. She also got into performance art and filmmaking.
But all of that could not fill the void that the lack of musical expression left. She describes how that part of her „ was just like aching to be filled somehow, with anything. I still didn’t feel full in the way that music makes me feel full.“ Annahstasia has a fire inside that she carries with her the whole time. Expressing herself through multiple mediums, besides music, started as a survival method. Her creative practice is very important to her and she comments:
„An astrologer told me once that in a past life, I was very rich, but not at all artistically talented. I came back to this life asking to be an artist and not necessarily a rich person and I’m definitely not a rich person. So I guess what I got was art.“
“The music industry is twisted, you know. It is messed up, especially here in America”. There are no proper grants for musicians to make projects, no free cultural spaces, and only a few fellowships. The musicians have to rely on the private industry, which is determined by commercial sounds and by who turns the most profit. In addition, Black female musicians are pigeonholed. It’s not enough to sing folk – RnB or soul would be much better, as long as the stereotypes are served and the music sells well. People tried to buy into Annahstasia’s Blackness, without wanting her as a person and an individual. She has spent a lot of time trying to make something that feels pure to her; she went to a bunch of doors and they would just „slam in your face and it’s hard after the 20th ‘no’ to not feel like you are a bad musician or like you yourself are the failure, not the system itself.“
Regardless of the struggles she encountered along the way, music is and will always be Annahstasia‘s first love. Even if she doesn’t make it or can’t earn enough money with it, she will always be making music, „I probably will have to also do ceramics, also do photography, also do these things because, otherwise, I would lose my mind.“ Not only does she need these outlets to teach herself different lessons about life, but she also needs to take her mind off of the fact that this huge dream may not be feasible. The thought of it is suffocating.
Singing and making music affirm life for Annahstasia. And it does not matter if she performs in front of a thousand people or in front of twenty. But being on the stage also makes the artist question the roles she slips into – on and off stage. To her, there are two different people: „The person I am on stage oftentimes won’t show up in real life. I don’t know how to get her to show up. She doesn’t want to. She only comes out when there’s a stage to be on. She’s my superhero mode, and when I get to embody that, I feel so powerful and like I can do anything. I can heal anyone. Like, I am just letting a ray of light beam out of me and caress an entire crowd of people and hope that that light does something positive for them.“
Revival is indeed a rebirth. It is Annahstasia returning to everyday life where musical practice and the love of creating albums is her greatest passion. „Revival was like a crash course in revisiting parts of myself that I had left behind for a different time or for some day in the future. And then I realized that I can’t put aside these vulnerable pieces of me for the future. I should be investing in them now and I should be exploring them now. And so, I really put my whole heart out on the table.“
Revival is out 28. April via Sacred Bull Records.