Performing on stage means different things to different artists, which Zyah Belle understands as well as anyone.
The Vallejo, Calif. native recently completed a stint on Alex Isley Marigold visit, taking the stage in four national cities. She will return to opening act duties later this fall when she hits the road with India Shawn.
Belle refers to the stage as a salute, a platform in which she awakens whatever emotion she evokes during the process of writing and recording the music being performed.
She takes extreme pleasure in watching the crowd and seeing fan reactions to new and unfamiliar tracks, some for the first time. Belle sees the stage as a serious place for those who can call themselves artists.
“If you can’t connect your music to people live, I don’t think you can really call yourself an artist,” Belle says. “Performance is my immediate opportunity to connect with people. I make music to connect with people.
It’s a late August afternoon, and Belle is sitting on Zoom, against a fluffy blue sky backdrop. She’s dressed casually for a night alone, wearing a sleeveless green Nike tank top. Her time is not limited, but she cannot hide her eagerness to talk about Yam Grierhis first full album, now available.
Fierce, confident and abnormal – this is how Belle wants you to recognize Yam Grierthe title of the album which is partly inspired by Pam Grieran actress who became a strong and highly sexualized icon from prominent 70s Blaxploitation roles (crafty brown and Coffy). Belle combined it with her nickname Yam, given by a friend.
“The character behind Yam Grier is entirely inspired by women to be reckoned with, be it women in my personal life — my mom, my aunts,” Belle says boldly. “It’s just the extra zhuzh that black women have. You cannot recreate it. It’s the original. That’s the plan.
Besides Pam Grier, Belle names Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, Anita Baker, Diana Ross, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott as black heroes. “I’m really inspired by divas,” she says. “I’m inspired by women who have shown themselves authentically and have mastered who they are, there’s no denying who they are when they’re on stage or on the big screen.”
Yam Grier is the continuation of his 2021 project, Who’s listening anyway. Belle spent the first part of recording the new album, a quicker turnaround than previous releases. Her urge to return to the lab was hard to contain, sitting on Who’s listening anywaywhich she self-produced during confinement.
“I was thrilled to have the opportunity to come in and create something new,” Belle says. “A lot of creative energy was bubbling up, so I wanted to get into this studio really quickly and really keep the momentum going.
Ranked R&B spoke to Zyah Belle about her new album Yam Grier. We also asked him how to push R&B forward, returning to the studio for new music and more.
Belle knows the frustrations of being in a position where your career seems to stagnate. “I felt defeated. I felt too old. I felt let down by people who said they would help me but didn’t. I doubted my artist and my talent,” she said. wrote on Instagram last November when she announced Who’s listening anyway.
Fortunately, since she signed Guin Recordsthe in-house boutique label that released Yam Grier, Belle no longer knows these worries. She has the resources to take her career to new heights, including a new direction. For the first time, Belle can focus solely on being the artist.
“It means a lot to be able to take certain things off your plate. It gives me more room to have the experience that I had while recording this project, feeling so free to create this music that it expresses. “I couldn’t have felt that way if I didn’t have that kind of support.”
Inside Yam Grier
Yam Grier is Belle’s fourth project since 2016 but her first for Guin Records. She and her circle of collaborators swirled ideas daily from a consolidation of songs that moved her in different ways.
No one entered the studio with a definite direction to take Yam Grierwhich was a refreshing approach for Belle.
“We just liked throwing paint on the wall in this process,” she says. “Whenever you have the pressure as an artist to come into the studio and say to yourself, ‘I want to do something awesome,’ often you come away with something crazy because you’re putting too much pressure on yourself.”
This was certainly not the case with “DND”, the first single from Yam Grier. Released in June, the loose dance groove features a scene where she blocks out distractions, specifically an unwanted man who can’t stop blowing his line.
She says “DND” reflects where she is in her life as an artist and as a woman. “I am a DND girl. I am absolutely in a place to prioritize my peace,” she said.
The self-care anthem, which she describes as “timeless,” also freed Belle from surrounding her vocals with the thick mood of melancholy felt acutely in today’s R&B sound.
“It was like such a comforting song. I was like, ‘I want to release something shiny,'” she notes. “I know a lot of R&B that comes out is dark, or we like to talk about toxic relationships. I’m just not at that place in my life. I really wanted to elevate where I’m at, and I’m on it.
On “Love Me Now,” a slow, giddy song about focusing on yourself after love failures, Belle makes good use of a melody from SWV’s 1997 classic. “Rain.”
Belle sings “No more finding love in lost and found”. From that line, she says, “I felt like I was digging through the pickings.”
She adds, “I think a lot of us have known someone who has an idea of us and wants us to fit into the idea of who they think we should be. Sometimes, when you haven’t learned that lesson yet, you can just try to go for it.
Now that Belle has been through this, she hopes “Love Me Now” can offer help to anyone else who crosses her path. “Step into a place where loving myself on a certain level made me feel comfortable enough and believe that I deserve a certain level.”
“Spiritual Bath” is a soothing and serene song about cleansing after a breakup. “I’m washing away all those things that reminded me of you, even the things you may have told me about myself that weren’t true,” Belle says. “A lot of times I feel like that’s what happens when you find yourself in relationships with people who don’t help you grow, improve, or bring you peace.”
Highlight, “Make Your Plate”, co-produced by PBnJ and Dylan Wiggins, is a sign that someone put it down the day before. “I like to write from a place where I sexually celebrate myself as a woman,” she says. “I also like to write in this kind of innuendo.
Sometimes we just try to think of ways to reference certain sexual innuendos or sexual situations without being so blatant about focusing on intercourse. The song isn’t even really about sex, it’s about the consequences of that. I like to tell different aspects of stories rather than just being on the nose.
Keep R&B Alive
There isn’t a day when R&B isn’t discussed, whether positively or negatively. Commentators from all walks of life are criticizing the burgeoning genre for not being in great shape, even declaring it extinct.
But for something good to last, it has to evolve. Belle understands this and wants R&B to keep growing. However, she realizes that’s impossible unless a few key things keep happening. On the one hand, she hopes that notable publications and media outlets will continue to center editorials on up-and-coming artists like her.
Attending concerts is another solution. “A huge element of R&B is the performance itself,” says Belle. “I feel like supporting these shows and these rising artists is going to keep flowing into this genre.”
Belle releases nothing but thoughtful and enduring music, and she doesn’t want to compromise her message to ride a wave to climb the charts. “I want the music I release to be timeless and not trendy at all,” she says.
Maybe you know Belle and can’t wait to dive into Yam Grier. Or maybe you became a new fan of hers after her dates with Isley. Either way, Belle hopes the new record gives you a better understanding of who she is now.
“I want people to know Zyah Belle after listening to this project. Yam Grier is my story. It’s me injecting my story into these songs that I’ve experienced over the past few years,” she explains.
She concludes, “So I hope people feel like they’ve gotten to know me, but I also hope people also felt like they had a few anthems in there for different times in their lives. lives that they feel like they have resonated with. that music enough where it can either take them where they need to go or bring them back to a nostalgic moment.
Believe it or not, Belle already has her mind set on writing and recording new music. Truth be told, she’s “still working on something else.” Belle explains, “A lot of times it’s just about putting things together and making sense of them.”
But everything she works on going forward seems to be in the spirit of collaboration. “I’ve been really excited to work with new producers and artists.”
One of these new studio associates is Tiffany Gouché, who has worked with artists such as Lalah Hathaway, Jill Scott and Ty Dolla $ign, among others.
Belle is silent on release details and the direction of any upcoming material, which she says could culminate in “maybe an EP.” [or] another complete project. Although she struggles to create more tracks for fans to add to their favorite playlists, she is still determined to go the distance with Yam Grier.
Once she’s done touring with Shawn, Belle’s Views could be a headlining tour. “I wish it was next year,” she concludes.
Listen to Zyah Belle’s debut album Yam Grier below.