FEATURES | By Love Nguyen
Voicing her Truths Through Music
Singing is a very physical action that can release what’s stirring inside us on so many levels. The voice can signal our deepest emotions and, on a primal level, communicate fear, happiness, anger, pleasure or death. Animals like coyotes, or birds like crows, use their voices in nuanced ways to develop language. Together, our voices can move people and mountains.
Starting from our deep root chakra, then moving up through our hearts and outward from our throats, the energy of our voices takes shape from entire beings, not just at our vocal cords and mouth shapes. The sounds we express during intense moments like birth, sex, or anger are all part of a divine plan to connect us to our nature. The familiarity of a loved one’s voice, drops us into our softness — words or sounds can open our hearts to loving kindness and soothe our weariness. Voices carry memories and emotions.
After birthing her first daughter in Topanga Canyon, Shylah Ray Sunshine moved to Ojai as a lot of parents do, because there is a gentle community here that is connected to nature. “I made a living as a doula for many years and sang here and there. I learned that making certain noises in childbirth, you can really drop into the pain and ground into it.”
I ask her to emulate the sounds of a mother birthing. As she inhales, her voice, as well as her eyebrows, go higher and higher. “I learned from my midwife, that the secret when you’re in labor is to go down into some lower notes. That’s where you center. And it works.” The high-pitched sounds are like a breaking point where you hold pain and those energies. It sounds like shattering glass. Whereas, the lower sounds feels like she’s pushing back down through her root and back into Mother Earth to release. I equate it with the sounds one makes while having sex and being able to orgasm. You need to relax into it, surrender ultimately — letting go in order to fully receive. “That’s exactly it,” she affirms.
Shylah Ray sang around her house growing up, like most of us do, but she had the motivation and most importantly discipline, to teach herself piano at the age of 23, so that she could start songwriting.
Developing her own range and style, she built up the confidence to perform. She began her musical journey connecting with audiences and musical collaborators locally. She started a band with Soma Miller, Shawn Jacobson and Taylor Quinn in Upper Ojai. “We played all the venues here and then we landed a residency every Sunday night at the Deer Lodge. That kinda started my reputation for what I was capable of with performances and it was a great learning experience. Then, I started to get more gigs in Los Angeles.”
When I ask what musicians inspired her, she replies,”Reggae really saved me in high school whenever I felt depressed. I believed in the authenticity of Bob Marley to make music for the pure love of it. I see Erykah Badu as a completely genuine and whole person. “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” was a game-changing album for me. Whitney (Houston) of course, for her range was incredible.”
Shylah Ray’s love of music not only comes through in her soulful music production but her deejay sets.
During Covid in 2020, she was inspired to deejay every weekend over the summer on Instagram live. “It was a cool way to keep the vibe going.
I could see who was on there, through the comments and in a way, we felt connected. It felt good to bring people together even if it was virtually, and the music can shift the energy which could get really down and stagnant at times.”
Sheltering in place can be pleasant when reading or quietly watching a film (or two) in bed, but there is a joy to music in a room she provided that definitely uplifted the spirits.
She played ‘80s and ‘90s hip hop mostly, with tracks by Missy Elliot, Mary J Blige, Jill Scott, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Puff Daddy, Mase, Naughty by Nature, OutKast and A Tribe Called Quest as well as contemporary artists like Jidenna, Anderson Paak, Mac Miller, Drake and Kaytranada on heavy rotation. “I enjoyed having a consistency to the Saturday night sessions. People knew when and where they could tune in for some weekly fun and see me on the video stream. I would do “shout outs” to the audience and take their song requests, which made it cool and interactive.”
Before Covid, Shylah Ray produced and promoted a Radical Women’s event in Los Angeles with performances and workshops. “It’s a lot of work to put a really intentional event like that together. Eighty women came out for the first one, and it was really meaningful.”
In Miami last year, a group of women healers invited her out for a performance and workshop. “I had no idea that I had a following in Miami, which was so radical. My supporters sold out the workshop and it was so cool to experience everything with new people,” she said.
Shylah Ray offers voice lessons that not only offer vocal tips and exercises, but empowers studentst to find their expression and the worthiness to share it. You can witness her songs’ embodiment of this holistic message of acceptance and celebration.
In the video for her song, “Sacredness,” women are seen bathing and laughing together in Ojai. “I had this connection to myself as a woman more closely after my daughter’s natural birth. I didn’t bleed for like a year after while I was breastfeeding, but when it came back, I just kinda felt more grateful and aware of what it meant. So I wrote this song about it.”
Her continued self-motivation will see the release of an album and EP in 2021.
With songs like “So Far,” with the lyrics Everytime I close my eyes / I can feel it / All the things I’ve kept inside — It’s no secret / Everything could be wonderful if I would just believe it / I know I’ve got to be the one / (If a real change gon’ come)