How Yola Got Started
Born on July 31, 1983, Yola was initially discouraged by her parents from pursuing music, for which she had a natural gift. Growing up in a poor family, Yola was told by her parents that music could not be financially sustainable and that she should pursue a more reliable career path. Regarding this, Yola told BBC, "We grew up on the breadline, so it's not as if music was seen as a realistic option," she said. "The probability is always with you that it won't go well."
Nevertheless, Yola continued to pursue music despite the fact that she ended up homeless for a time, living on the streets in London, and suffering from chronic voice loss due to pressure and stress from her personal life. For a while, the British singer-songwriter was a frontwoman for hire with acts like Bugz in the Attic and Duke Dumont, and eventually, she sang and co-wrote with the group Phantom Limb. She went on to tell BBC that she “literally risked everything” to pursue a career in music, a sacrifice that eventually led her to a brief stint with the wildly successful British acid jazz group Massive Attack.
After her stint with Massive Attack, Yola decided to pursue a solo career in the United States, where her soulful voice caught the attention of Dan Auerbach, a renowned musician and producer. Auerbach had previously produced albums for numerous Americana and neo-soul acts, as well as performing with The Black Keys, The Arcs, and as a solo artist.
According to Popmatters, Auerbach saw a video of Yola’s performance at a bar in Nashville, TN, and was determined to sign her to his personal label, Easy Eye Sound. Regarding the soulful British singer, Auerbach has said, “Her spirit fills the room, just like her voice…she has the ability to sing in a full roar or barely a whisper and that is a true gift.” It’s hard to ignore the success of the album in capturing Yola’s spirit in her performance. It captures you immediately.”
Breakthrough with Walk Through Fire
- Released on February 22, 2019, Yola’s debut studio album was produced by Dan Auerbach and features guest musicians Vince Gill, Molly Tuttle, Ronnie McCoury, Stuart Duncan, Charlie McCoy, and bassist Dave Roe. Songwriting for the record was a collaborative effort between Yola, Auerbach, Pat McLaughlin, Bobby Wood, John Bettis, Roger Cook, and Joe Allen.
- The deluxe edition of the album features a cover of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” a hit by British superstar Elton John.
- The album’s lead single was “Rid Out in the Country,” a track co-written by Yola, Auerbach, and Joe Allen. Regarding the song and its relationship to the other tracks on the album, Yola told The Boot, “It was a really interesting, and I think intelligent, way to do the co-writing thing. It was very much like Dan and I figured out where we were going to interact, and then another co-writer was brought in at that point. It gave the album movement, so that you can feel the strong thread as the sound changes through the record.”
- After the album’s release, it swept the Grammy Awards, going on to be nominated for “Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song, Best New Artist, and Best American Roots Performance. (for “Faraway look”). The record was also included on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 50 best albums of 2019.
- The year after the album’s release, Yola took home the UK Americana Award for UK Album of the year, and she went on to be included on The Tennessean's list of 25 essential Nashville albums of the 2010s.
Stand for Myself: Yola’s Upcoming Follow-Up Album
- For her new album, Stand for Myself, Yola once again collaborated with Dan Auerbach. The album’s sound is a combination of soul and classic pop, a shift from the Americana and roots of the first album, and she aims to show both her black feminine strength with her vulnerability and her loving connection with those around her. It truly takes advantage of eclectic musical inspirations, and it also features the work of artists like Brandi Carlile, Ruby Amanfu, and Joy Oladokun.
- So far, two singles from Stand for Myself have been released – the titular track and “Diamond Studded Shoes.” “Stand for Myself” is reminiscent of the soulful pop-rock of Black Pumas, The Black Keys, Alabama Shakes, and others.
- “Diamond Studded Shoes” has a distinctly retro sound that draws comparisons to 70s pop. The track’s instrumentation perfectly compliments Yoza’s soulful voice, and the track has a positive, optimistic message that makes the song extra singable and anthemic.
- As of 2021, Yola’s most-played track on Spotify is “Highwomen,” a track by a supergroup of the same name comprising Maren Morris, Brandi Carlisle, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby. Yola provided guest vocals on the track, but she steals the show, no questions asked. Her distinct vocals pair perfectly with the subdued Americana sound of the track, which currently has over 12 million plays on Spotify. Other notable songs include “Break the Bough” and “If I Had To Do It All Again.”