With a recently launched album of jazzy covers called Pearls, even more new music on the way, and an active Instagram presence that sees her musing on everything from financial independence to journalling, one thing is clear: Aisyah Aziz wants to be seen and heard.
But to get to this savvy, stylish, outspoken version of herself, the Singapore singer-songwriter had to lose her voice. Literally.
Between 2017 and 2018, there was an almost year-long stretch when the head-turning singer could not even talk, much less croon a tune. “I was in the space of transitioning from the old me to the new me,” says Aisyah, now 27. “And I think the uncertainty manifested as anxiety. I could not speak in long sentences, and it hurt so much that I could not even sing for 15 seconds for Instagram videos. I felt like I was losing myself.”
This took place during a time when her musical style was evolving. “I was surrounded by [people] who were not from my world – they were more liberal Malays and more Westernised people, while I came from the conservative side. It was an unfamiliar space for me to be in, but I chose to be there because I felt like it was going to make me grow,” says the Singapore chanteuse, who got her big break when she took part in Malaysian singing competition Akademi Fantasia in 2013.
It took her multiple sessions of speech therapy – and a liberal dose of music from the late Amy Winehouse – for her to literally find her voice again. “Amy Winehouse truly got me out of the rut. She sings her heartbreak in songs, but she also claps back at the b***h. She is a jazz queen, but she is so badass, she does whatever she wants. I remember just binge listening to her every damn day, and one day waking up and actually singing in the toilet,” she says.
In many ways, this realisation marked a turning point for Aisyah, who decided she would grow as a singer and evolve as a person on her own terms. “I have to stand up for myself and speak up, which is something I didn’t use to do,” she says.
That the singer has finally found her voice can only be a gift to us all, for it truly is a joy to hear – a rich, ethereal yet soulful sound that melds old-school divas such as Anita Sarawak and Ella Fitzgerald with Gen Z muses including Doja Cat and Kali Uchis. Says Aisyah: “I can hear how my voice changes every single time I find a new reference, and how it becomes a part of me eventually, very old-school, but also modern and edgy.”
Wear it and work it
One aspect of her self-discovery involved finding her own sense of personal style. These days, the affable and chatty singer is known as a versatile style chameleon, equally at home rocking trendy athleisure as she is serving looks in luxury labels.
However, at the beginning of her career, when she had to participate in singing competitions to get noticed, the reality was not so stylish. “During some competitions, the styling was so bad it affected my confidence. To cope, I would look in the mirror and imagine that I was wearing a beautiful dress, and that I had flawless hair and makeup. From then on, I would always just find a way to work it,” she shares.
Today, she continues to bring that same spunky attitude to her #ootds. “I try to do things differently, perhaps by wearing something a different way or putting on a top backwards.” And now that she is an old hand at getting styled for shoots and appearances, she has also found a way to add a dash of her own personality to her looks. “I communicate with stylists in a way that is collaborative, especially with accessories – that is where my input comes in.”
She brings the same collaborative spirit to her music as she continues to flex her songwriting muscles. She started out singing covers, so Aisyah says that writing songs was not something that came to her naturally at first.
But meeting her songwriting partner Harun Amirrul Rasyid Mohame opened her mind to new possibilities. “He is a poet; he is my twin flame,” she enthuses. “He fixes my songs and enhances them.” The duo worked together for her EP Sugar, which she released in 2020 after leaving her record label.
Her bid to be independent was nerve-racking, she acknowledges, but a necessary step in her journey towards finding herself. “I needed to do my own thing so that if anything happened, I only have myself to blame because I am sick of blaming other people and feeling like s**t about it,” she says.
She realised that her expectations of being with a record label had been influenced by her brother Aliff Aziz, who shot to fame in Malaysia in the noughties. “He was a phenomenon when he burst onto the scene, but I began to see that it was his journey. I cannot do the same thing and expect the same outcome because we are different,” she muses.
To her surprise, Sugar found its own niche among her fans. “The numbers were not great compared to when I was at labels, because there was no money to boost my stuff, but they were organic numbers from people who truly wanted to listen to my songs. Through this, I learnt to be more confident and to write more,” she says.
Her habit of journalling, which she picked up last year during the pandemic, has also taken her deeper into her love for songwriting. “Some magic was happening. I would put on some binaural beats and write. And sometimes, there would be a whole new paragraph of poetry. It has been intense and meditative, but it has also given me so much clarity. I no longer bottle my tension up,” she raves.
This process also helped unlock her feelings when she wrote Spirits Anew, one of three original songs that debuted during the National Day celebrations this year. “I am glad that we are moving towards giving more recognition to [local] songwriters because we are brilliant, truly. [It’s good to] let the world see what we are about,” she says.
Up next, she is ready to unveil who she really is to the world. She will be launching a new EP that showcases the “truly genuine” side to her early next year. “My aspiration is to be completely myself and be seen for that. I wish to explore the Asian flavour and put it out there into the world,” she shares.
“I don’t want to be the biggest superstar in the world; I don’t think that is my calling. My purpose is to find myself and to inspire that in others, so that they can find themselves too.”
5 things Aisyah loves
1. She practises yoga at home
“[The extremely popular] Yoga With Adriene on Youtube was a saviour. I did not like yoga classes initially because they were so competitive, so I decided to practise it at home, and it changed my life. She made me appreciate myself more and learn to take my time with my practice.”
2. She obsesses about foods in phases
“My food cravings come in phases, and when I have an obsession I will eat it over and over until I am sick of it, then I’ll move on to the next thing. [But my] nasi ayam, mala and nasi lemak phases – these never end!”
3. She loves thrifting
“Recently, I’m into Onitsuka Tiger and Gucci, but what I really enjoy is thrifting. Salvation Army and Lucky Plaza have a great vibe.”
4. She values financial independence
“I have been providing for myself since I was 17, and it feels really great. My mum taught us to be independent from a young age and it is truly empowering.”
5. If she weren’t a singer, she would be a diving instructor
“I love the life aquatic and even though I can’t dive yet, I love the whole vibe of the underwater world. When this (Covid-19) is over, I want to pick it up, and go to Tioman and Pulau Redang.”