Vana Liya

Genre-busting female pop reggae/dancehall artist of color Vana Liya releases single “Gold” in advance of her upcoming debut album Little Kahuna on Sept. 3rd via  LAW Records

The daughter of immigrants from Guyana, genre-defying pop reggae/dancehall artist Vana Liya made a serendipitous recent arrival on the national music scene in recent years after several of her covers of popular reggae songs went viral, gaining her the support and encouragement of top reggae artists and eventually leading to a record deal with L.A.-based LAW Records as their first-ever female solo artist. 

As a young female artist of color in the heavily male-dominated world of reggae and dancehall, Vana has quickly earned a rare respect and a reputation among many of her well-established musical peers as a solid collaborator who always brings a fresh take and positive energy to the mix with her distinct yet not easily classifiable “island” vibe.

With two such collaborations (“Come Away” featuring Half Pint and “Round n Round” featuring Pepper) released as singles and reaching 508k cumulative Spotify streams in just the last few months, Vana has demonstrated an affinity for bridging the future sounds of an evolving mixed-genre with the iconic roots that have influenced her — while also foreshadowing the broad stylistic eclecticism and bold subject matter that can be expected on her upcoming debut album Little Kahuna (out Sept 3, 2021 on LAW Records).  

Produced by multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and Stick Figure member Johnny Cosmic, the album, in its entirety, pays homage to LAW’s free spirit of collaboration between major and emerging artists. Yet, while previous singles released earlier this Spring carried heavy hitting artist-features, Vana’s third single to drop this year, “Gold” follows on that hype-wave of momentum while celebrating a deeply personal renaissance she has been undergoing in her evolution as an artist. 

“Gold” is a song that relates a central theme of  Little Kahuna; it’s a song about coming into her own as a songwriter and realizing that she might be the little fish, but she’s swimming with the big fish just fine. 

“ ‘Gold’ is a song I wrote to myself,” reflects Vana. “I used to be in a dark mental space and music really pried me out of that situation. So if there’s anyone out there feeling like they aren’t good enough, ‘Gold’ is a reminder that they are. Music gets me through the motions and I think it does that for a lot of people. I try to give 100% of myself in my music in the hopes of creating a genuine product and being able to connect with people.” 

The album’s eighth track and second single “Round n Round” featuring iconic American reggae rock legends Pepper, relates another pivotal moment in the coming of age of an artist, as Vana sings about that mystifying mix of loneliness and wanderlust familiar to the timeless wayfaring traveler and roving artists who stray far from home to follow their muse across the globe. 

The track features Vana’s raw, sweet, and ethereal vocals cascading over a meandering electronic reggae groove, and paired with Pepper frontman Kaleo Wassman’s iconically bold lyrical delivery. For Vana, having a Pepper feature on the track was a no-brainer, especially considering the song’s subject matter and the fact that Pepper’s music was instrumental in helping her overcome anxiety as a teenager.

“I remember one time when I was driving,” reflects Vana, “I heard Pepper’s ‘Sitting on the Curb’ and was like, ‘This is a really happy song so next time I have an anxiety attack, I’m gonna listen to this song.’ And that’s literally how I got over the anxiety. I just put the headphones on and play it over and over and over again. This feature is such a big deal to me because Pepper is such a big part of me …and the fact that that song was about touring and feeling okay when you’re not okay kind of made for the perfect storm. As soon as I wrote it, I just heard Kaleo’s voice on the song. He did his little soft thing and then he did his hard Pepper thing where he raps, so I feel like I got the best of both worlds with his feature!”

While much of her work falls into the reggae category, Vana asserts she is not a straight-up reggae artist. For example, on the album’s 6th track and its first single released earlier this Spring “Come Away” featuring Jamaican dancehall and reggae legend Half Pint, she was successful in demonstrating an authentic stylistic eclecticism by creating a track that has a reggae basis but is, in essence,  more of a heavy pop-reggae tune that even manifests elements of trance.

While youthful and chill with a danceable downtempo groove, “Come Away” showcases Vana’s versatility to create beyond the bounds of genre, both in terms of music and subject matter, as the track’s ominous lyrics conjure poetic and uneasy scenes of the strange times we’re living in, characterized by new forms of racial violence and political injustice

“Come Away” had originally been constructed by Vana and Johnny as a reggae-pop club track before Half Pint was asked to collaborate on it. Yet when Half Pint sent the stems with a section of the vocals back with the lyrical tagline ‘come away from the land of the sinking sands,’ Vana was so blown away by those foreboding words, almost premonitory of the racial and political strife yet to come in 2020, that she decided to scrap everything she’d written and go with the more heavy-hitting, politically relevant storyline.

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