Meet Yazz – the soulful singer-songwriter recognised for her iconic No1 hit, The Only Way Is Up, which took the charts by a storm and launched her international career. Yazz’ honest lyrics and soaring melodies have won our hearts along her 30-year singing career and have afforded the Artist various Awards including an MTV Voice/Video, The Voice, Brit Nominee, Smash Hits and NCM’s Album of the Year. Behind the stunning voice is an even more stunning heart, a story of a woman piecing together her love of people, her questions of humanity and her journey to faith, through her music.
Born and raised in London surrounded by the rhythm and diversifying culture of the 70s, Yazz had recognised by the time she was in her teens that her passion and her future lay in music, people and sharing messages.
“With my mixed-ethnic culture and low-income family background, I think I was already full of concern and a desire to change life’s difficult issues at nine or ten years old. My Father was Jamaican, and my Mother English and all around was color, sound, scents, and music. But what overshadowed was intense racial tension, contentious discrimination and the beginnings of identity issues all of which began producing a mix of questions and messages within me. The thing is, poverty and difficulties early on have it’s advantages as well as it’s disadvantages; you get to meet ‘real’ life head-on, eliminate growing up in a bubble and experience the importance of community, friendship and the value of a need for the common good and it builds dreams! Music was the vehicle that said, I’m gonna make it somehow and write about all that stuff.”
Throughout Yazz’s work, there has been a consistent desire for the genuine; her deeply honest tracks vividly reflected a young woman’s singer-songwriter journey.
“I definitely think that each of my albums has documented my journey from youth to becoming a young woman, a mother and beyond ”
In 1989 the International acclaimed No 1 Album -Wanted- found Yazz in an International arena winning awards and entering onto fame’s stage. Top ten single and album releases opened doors for a worldwide fan base crossing cultures of all ethnic backgrounds.
“The first album was written wrapped around my growing up experiences as well as the current music trends and influences. I loved it! Tracks like – ‘Get rid of the ghetto’ – ‘Stand up for your love rights’ – ‘Where has all the love gone?’ They reflected personal hurts. ‘Got to share’ was inspired after watching a documentary about apartied in South Africa. I imagined getting an African choir into the studio to authenticate the message, and we managed it! I learned two things that day: How to dance like an African and how to click in my mouth Swahili style! The classic song, ‘The only way is up’ was sent to me during the recording of the album and just summed up my heart in all my dreams to reach people with a more positive message despite life’s difficulties. The song became an anthem for people’s lives, and I am humbled at its consistent energy and joy that it brings to generations.”
2001 marked the release of her greatest hits album, ‘Yazz At Her Very Best’ which preceded an invitation to perform for Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Tribute evening live at the Royal Albert Hall.
“That was a personal milestone for me. To reach a ‘Greatest Hits’ album in any artists career is meaningful and then to sing at that revered venue was such a pleasure. I recall arriving early for rehearsals and sitting quietly in one of the lower floor seats. I was thinking about my father and how he had sat me down as a child and introduced me to their music stating ‘Child, these are two of the world’s most foremost music composers with a global audience. You need to listen and learn from their music.’ A small tear ran down as I wished he had lived to watch the evening’s performance. An unforgotten memory. It was fantastic.“
It was during these periods of her career that Yazz had begun struggling in her private personal life.
“Fame did not rest well on me. From day one I struggled as an artist balancing the attention of fame with the greed in the business affecting me both personally and professionally with the overflow in my songwriting. I was becoming aware that the god of music I had built up could not cover over a certain emptiness that was growing inside. Something was deeply missing. It was the best and worst moments of my career. By my third album, I was journeying into paths seeking out spiritual answers to the deeper philosophical questions that were burning inside of me. With all that I had achieved I continually asked the question, Why? Why is this not filling me with a sense of satisfaction, personal relationship commitment or identity significance?
Those compelling questions were the most important quests of my life which led me to avidly explore a myriad of faiths, Buddhism, New Age Philosophies, Mysticism, Gurus, countless self-help books and finally the person of Christianity. It was here that I had a profound revelation of a life about to begin a living relationship with the one qualified to answer my questions, Christ the Lord.”
In 2009 the contemporary gospel album, Running Back To You was the first work Yazz recorded after a spell away from the studio achieving her first Gospel award, NCM Radio Mic Award 2010. Followed up by the soulful, This is Love album, Yazz laughs as she says…
“My music journey has crossed many paths. My early music led me to big stages and arenas full of people and later I have found myself on different stages not just the larger ones but this time inside prisons, schools and colleges. That transition is powerful as an artist and such experiences pour out of my heart and into new music. It’s opened up new visions inside, and I am thrilled at people’s reactions to it. Any time you find your music meeting new audiences where it wouldn’t normally be found is inspiring for me, good things can happen. I have come to believe that music matters so much that it’s intrinsic to a higher quality of life and that songs that hold truth can literally change lives! I don’t know what’s coming as I journey on but I know who does and want to share that as much as I can. I think it’s where most musicians live.
I recently visited a large Prison in Northern Ireland, Mughaberry. It’s the highest security prison in Europe, and I had shared about my music journey and performed tracks to a full room of prisoners and wardens. As I said, music is powerful in meeting lives at difficult places and can be a light in their darknesses to new shores. When I returned home from the trip, I spent some time writing and then crashed asleep. I had a dream come to me about a book. I woke up and thought, ‘well I don’t know what that’s about.’ I left it to settle a while but found it just wouldn’t leave me be. The result today is a collection of short narratives, what I call ‘song narratives,’ and a small book called Pearls of Great Price. I collated stories from mostly women that I had met along my music journeys and wrote some of my own. Each story has something uniquely powerful in it, just like music.., it’s melody. I have shared some of them over time and watched how they brought something of hope or peace to other’s lives and decided to publish the result and throw it out there into the Universe! I am hoping it can learn to walk by itself and make a difference. We’ll see! It’s coming soon.”