Are her musical gifts enriched by color synesthesia? Join me for an introduction to a new star born in our midst.
(Note: Willa Blog Post Review is a YouTube playlist of all 24 videos shown or linked in this blog post, in the order presented, including the music, news and interviews. It is a one-stop source of all the video material presented here.)
I found Willa Amai while looking for covers of the 1993 song What’s Up by Linda Perry and 4 Non Blondes
. It is a song that I would scream at the top of my lungs, as it says, if I could sing. (Image above snipped from Willa’s music video of What’s Up
The song offers no solution. Not a clue. It just says how things feel, and how they don’t make sense, and how we ache because of it, trying to keep the faith, wanting to hope, despite the impenetrable insanity of the inhuman side of humanity.
The song cries out loud from the heart for revolution, the only solution. As do I, at times in tears, wishing I knew how to start it, finding that all I have is a song short on hope.
It sings, “And I tried, oh my God did I try, I try all the time, in this institution. And I pray, oh my God do I pray, I pray every single day for a revolution!”
The line demands a middle finger thrust to the sky in revolt.
Perry’s What’s Up screams to be screamed and we should scream it together in response to the lunacy of our time. That’s what audiences do at live performances of the song. They scream it together.
“Our time” is a time that I would not be able to cope with except for special helpers that have graced my path, including music and wild nature. Music immersion is a type of nature immersion, an immersion in the best of human nature. Nature immersion inspires appreciation for art and artists, musical and otherwise. Nature immersion inspires reasoning and creativity. Nature and art are the places to start looking for a way out, a reformation. Rather, not looking for anything in nature and art, but letting them work in us. The questing ache that they can arouse can inspire more than we knew could exist, or a real hope in its possibility. The only trouble with holding hope in possibility is that evil does it, too. When we let go, it wins. For every ounce of soil dug by the dark side’s clinging to power we must dig up two ounces.
Willa is a digger. You’ll know it as you get to know her here.
“BY THE CAMPFIRE IN THE TREES OVER THE WATER.” From my “Escape to Taylor Pond” June 15-16, 2022. In my 19 hours there, the rest of the world didn’t exist. Did not think about it or feel it at all. Without striving to, I just naturally thought about and felt only what was going on in my immersion in that place. This included fooling around making visual noise with the camera, not expecting to have any use for the results, but having fun with it as a creative outlet, and as a way to look closely at what was there, what I WAS there. Time shifted from liquid to gel. I am my best self in the woods.
There are not many professional covers of the song, but all the ones I found were great. It’s hard to mess up, no matter how you do it. Like singing This Land is Your Land.
None of them beat the Linda Perry original, but Lady Gaga’s
is probably the best of them, in terms of following Perry’s style, aided by Gaga’s semi-sardonic rabid punky bitch jumping up and down screaming. Hers is a cover that makes it hers. Willa does that, too, as we shall see, with no screaming. Willa screams in whispers.
knocks the air out of the room (and sparks a wiggle in your giggle) in her performance of it
at the Wembly Arena in London. I think there’s a sisterhood between Willa, Pink, Gaga and Perry (they have each performed What’s Up
in duets with Perry).
There may be a sisterhood between Perry and all who love the song. I suspect that within a certain small circle of musicians, a cover of this song is a right of passage. What would I know, being neither musician nor sister? Hey, sometimes you let things under your skin, then they cook things up from within.
Eleanor’s music video
is nice for its instrumental simplicity and harmonica. Otherwise, it does the job, paying due homage to Perry without distortion.
I love musicians, especially women, who make order and beauty out of raw, aimless, senseless power without taming it, bringing their wild souls to reckon with it, to fructify the soil of it, and let it flourish as skill and style in a song uniquely expressed with their entire body, mind, heart and soul. This is one of those songs. Willa is one of those singer-songwriter-musicians.
Guys can do it, too, but not as much fun to witness, and lacking the strange twisting of the innards that leaves air not enough to breath when you scream it with the women. As for guys, I do like the version by LIZOT & waybackwhen
for its seeming toy-slapping at being somber with a playfully gnarly attitude in the music.
Anyone sensitive to what’s going on feels this song’s bittersweet sting even if they never heard it, and instinctively cheers for it to be played again.
Enter the hero of this story, teenager Willa Amai, admired by Linda Perry, who at least once performed the song live with Willa
. Perry met Willa when she was 12 years old, and became her mentor and producer. Willa’s own cover of the Perry song (coming soon to this verbiage) is better than the duet performance with Perry.
Willa transforms the song into a slow, oozing weight worming its way through the heart. She makes me want to break something unfamiliar just to get inside it, then find out it’s my own heart. Art can show you what’s going on inside you, tap into your inner goodness, strength and beauty, and make them surge up to the surface. Likewise with nature immersion.
Not just in this song, but in much of her work, appearance and personal style, the way she moves her eyes and lips, the way she winces in the hard parts of the songs, Willa reminds me of someone special from a long time ago, so acutely that it hurts, but I don’t want her to stop.
So, finally! What you all came here to see! Willa Amai sings What’s Up:
They are not allowing Willa’s What’s Up
video to play embedded on other sites, so you’ll have to click over to it in YouTube: https://youtu.be/MgUrM-vYg5w
. Or click this image that I snipped from the video:
She drops an interesting twist into the video that you don’t expect. It expands the range of the question, “What’s going on” to a question cried simultaneously around the world.
Who is Willa Amai? I’d prefer she speak for herself in the videos below, but first, an oddity that she has in common with my grand-niece: when she was 14, she looked like a college student. At 17, like grad school. Scary stuff. And in Willa’s case, in interviews at 14, she spoke with the mind of a far older person. I suppose some folks would say she’s “an old soul.” I just think she’s an exceptional exemplar of the species. She is now 18.
Pay attention. She is going to take over the world, any minute now. Thanks in large part to Linda Perry.
You’ll find several favorites in my Willa Amai Playlist
. If you have another favorite Amai song, tell me and I’ll add it to the list, no questions asked.
“Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people may eat,
we will be there – we must be there.”
You’ve probably heard of founder Chef José Andrés, first rising to global attention for his work in Haiti’s disastrous 2010 earthquake. Now his organization is truly among the first and best of the world’s humanitarian rescue and aid organizations.
Read his origin story here, and give him two minutes of your time for this video:
They issue a simple yet profound message. Where people need food, we will be there. Reconstruction and recovery from disaster begins with people who are fed. Eat. We’ll be back tomorrow with more food until you can do it on your own.
Imagine how the global food crisis caused by Russia in Ukraine affects programs like this, making it hard to get the food they need to share with others.
Take a step deeper into it: imagine working in one of the World Central Kitchens and being struck by a Russian missile. Or being on one of their trains blown up? WCK is not just feeding people after the disaster. They are in the heart of the disaster, risking their lives every day to feed people.
June 15, 2022: Russian missile destroys World Central Kitchen train in Ukraine (2 minute news report)
Apr 18, 2022: Ukrainian restaurant partnering with World Central Kitchen hit by missile (2:40)
Please don’t skip over these. Look and listen. This is our world as it is. How do we build what it takes, internally as individuals and together as a society, to recover from it and make a better way?
Apr 8, 2022: World Central Kitchen’s CEO Narrowly Missed the Kramatorsk Bombing | Amanpour and Company (3:13)
Christiane Amanpour is one of the premier journalists of our time.
Apr 8, 2022: World Central Kitchen Ramps Up Response To Ukraine War (5:11)
Note that the founder of World Central Kitchen, Chef Andres, is ON THE GROUND IN THE WAR ZONE. The boss, getting down in the dirt and digging for hope to have an opportunity to feed people.
Hmm. I wonder if I would go half-way around the world into the worst war of my lifetime and feed people. For free. A volunteer.
YOU CAN HELP WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN — YOU CAN HELP UKRAINE AND COUNTLESS OTHER PLACES IN DESPERATE NEED OF YOUR HELP — HERE: https://donate.wck.org/give/236738/#!/donation/checkout
Try it. You’ll feel good.
A lake, three miles long, 90 feet deep, surrounded by thousands of acres of state forest preserve, mountains, valleys, brooks and rivers, all in my neighborhood. Look across the water and see the bombs exploding and the flames and smoke rising from Ukraine, where they, too have places like this, vast, beautiful, spectacular natural resources. I hiked the 1.3 mile in and sat at this remote, scenic, silent (except for loons) lakefront campsite through the night, never realizing I had forgotten all about Ukraine and the world. I was lost in the peace, marveling at it all, feeding sticks into a campfire. I look now at this scene, at my desk, and I see the world again. I see the blood and pain under the billowing smoke and roaring flame. It’s not for me to walk away. I go there to be here. I go there to be here. I will keep going until I am fully here, all of me, the best of me, to begin. Again.
Back to Willa’s website and some of her songs (quoting from willaamai.com):
At nine years old, Willa Amai began her journey writing songs about heartbreaks she had yet to experience, losses she had never felt, and social injustices she didn’t even know existed. With eclectic inspirations – from Regina Spektor records played during bath time to the poetry books her parents read to her – this Los Angeles native quickly amassed a body of work revealing lyrical complexity far beyond her years. She also created imaginative melodies, something she partly attributes to synesthesia (a neurological phenomenon in which one sense triggers the perception of another sense, like seeing letters and words as color).
I guess her “I Guess” is my favorite Willa original.
I wept the first time I heard it.
I have a grip on it now. I can listen with a smile.
A little broken, but I guess we all are.
She knows this about us, this teenager, this sign of hope in the world.
Listen closely. See what she says to you that is not in the words.
You’ll just have to listen very closely to the words (slow down the player speed in YouTube Settings if it helps), because I can’t find a text copy of the lyrics.
In American Songwriter; Willa Amai Drops a Track-by-Track Advance of ‘I Can Go To Bed Whenever,’ Willa wrote:
“I Guess” is a sort of reassurance for myself, if I’m honest. The song uses each verse to describe a different type of character I imagined in my head, all of whom had a beautiful exterior but broken interior. I use the choruses, then, to talk about how “we’re all a little broken”, and go in between reassurance that it’s normal to have cracks and ragged edges and describing characters I hope listeners can relate to.
The song also has the most pronounced acoustic guitar, which I felt was so fitting for the reality and tempered optimism the lyrics promote. I wanted there to be a sense of presence when people listen; as if, when you turn the song on, you’re instantly transported into the room with me.
Recording this song, even though it doesn’t sonically sound the most upbeat, makes me feel the most positively about the people and world around me.
… Since contributing the spellbinding “Scars” to the Served Like a Girl soundtrack in 2017, Willa has captivated audiences with songs like her stripped-back and beautiful cover of Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”, garnering over 6M YouTube views and over a million streams following its feature in a Cannes Lion and Clio Award-winning TV spot for QuickBooks. … Esquire Magazine calls her breathtaking rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” (recorded with Dolly for the talent-filled ‘Dumplin’ soundtrack) “truly exceptional, one of the few moments that an accompanying voice keeps up with Parton’s.” Parton also remarked that “It’s truly refreshing working with young talent like Willa”.
… Through the years, Willa broadened her sonic palette by taking up guitar and ukulele, self-recording all her material via her computer’s Photo Booth app. At 12-years-old, Amai met multi-platinum, Grammy Award-nominated producer Linda Perry (P!nk, Adele, Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera), … When Willa showed up with 6 songs that were emotionally well past her years, Perry realized there was much more to this young musician and took her under her wing. Spending the next two years refining her craft, recording demos, expanding her songwriting, putting a band together, playing live, she signed with the label/publishing/management company Perry co-founded. In her cover of “What’s Up”, the smash-hit originally released by Linda Perry’s 4 Non-Blondes, Willa delivers a captivating rendition of the iconic song, adding a very relevant, modern meaning to “What’s going on!” Willa slowly and powerfully conveys the message of intolerance in the institution, a frustration that still resonates almost thirty years later. The music video was shot, styled, and directed by Willa’s peers, all no older than 18.
Amai recently performed live for Rock ‘N’ Relief, at Dodger Stadium in LA, with the Silversun Pickups, Miguel, Foo Fighters, and others. Amazon Music, Twitch, Rolling Stone and Comcast Cable live-streamed the benefit to millions for Sean Penn’s non-profit CORE, providing COVID testing and vaccines since 2020 without government aid. Amai is also an ambassador for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), advocating education, and helping NAMI expand a national mental health movement that builds better lives. [She speaks openly of her anxiety disorder.]
Then again, maybe this is my favorite Willa Amai song, for now.
Agh! She does SO remind me of someone who will never know it.
I Can Go To Bed Whenever is Willa’s eagerly awaited first album, produced by Perry and recorded in Los Angeles at Perry’s Greenleaf Studios. As she’s immersed herself in the making of this debut album, Willa has felt her songwriting expand and evolve. “There are so many little things that I never paid attention to before – like the space between words, and the power of silence,” she says. “Now that I’m aware of those things, it feels like my songs have more weight to them.” At the same time, she’s also kept up with the instinct-driven process behind her refreshingly unaffected songwriting. “When I’m writing it’s almost like I’m turning on a radio,” she says. “It might take a few songs to find a station that comes through, but once I do find it, it’s just right. It’s like the song already exists, and my job is to pull it out of the air and into the world.” For Willa, the act of bringing songs to life has always served a certain emotional purpose. “I feel like my mind is always going a mile a minute, and music’s like an escape from that – a way to slow down and breathe because time doesn’t move when I’m writing,”
“Time doesn’t move when I’m writing,” she says. Creativity rises from stillness and immersion. If more Americans could be still and immersed in nature, more often and for longer sessions, like artists they would reshape “the institution” and make a new and better world. Willa is in it, calling us to join the art of being.
See my What’s Up Playlist
of all versions of What’s Up
linked to in this post, and a few others.
It has been a pleasure to gather these thoughts, songs and information to introduce this new star. Thanks for being there to make it even more worthwhile.
Glory to Ukraine!