Atlanta singer-songwriter Anita Aysola explains why activism is central to her music

Anita Aysola mixes jazz, blues, rock-and-roll with traditional Indian influences. (Tiffany Walling McGarity)

Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Anita Aysola is a musical mixologist, blending jazz and blues with classic rock and traditional Indian influence in her music. This Saturday, Nov. 19, she’ll share the stage with Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics at Wild Heaven West End Brewery.

Aysola joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about her multicultural heritage and passion for advocacy through music.

Interview highlights follow below.

An American child of Indian immigrants, in love with music:

“I definitely feel that my music now is a reflection of somewhat of my unique upbringing,” said Aysola. “I studied classical piano starting at age five, and also started studying Indian classical vocals from almost equally as young of an age, and grew up in an Indian household with very traditional Indian family influences there, and Indian music all the time. But then I also had all of these American influences in my life… loving popular music, falling in love with jazz and blues, and along the way, all these influences came together when I started to write.”

“For a long time, I felt neither American nor Indian; neither fully in one place or the other, and maybe felt like an outsider here for some time. And over time, I grew to really accept that I was this blend of different backgrounds, and that was actually what makes me very American. I can feel very much a part of the American landscape and what that means, and contribute to it, and have pride in that contribution.”

On owning her drive toward politically messaged music:

“I was, in many ways, a shy, quiet type of person, and as I emerged and grew into adulthood, I recognized the importance of my voice and the importance of my participation in government,” said Aysola. “I didn’t expect it to really emerge in my music. In fact, one of my songs, ‘Tourist in Every Town,’ I wrote it years ago, and I wrote it for my mother. She’s an Indian immigrant, and came over here, had American children, essentially, and there was a long period where we had to grow to understand each other… There got to be a certain point where [media] rhetoric got to be anti-immigrant, and suddenly these explorations I was having, or just being who I was, felt like a political statement.”

“That really came to a head about three years ago in Georgia, when the ‘Heartbeat Bill’ passed, HB481,” Aysola recounted. “I call my senators, I call my representatives, I vote, I try to vote in every single election, every primary, every local; and I still felt so helpless with what was going on… I really felt so strongly about this cause and about women’s rights and human rights, and what was happening was really upsetting to me, and so I channeled that and wrote the song ‘Heartbeat,’ and that was a really important and powerful moment for me where I realized that activism was going to show up in my music, and I had to allow it, and not be afraid of it.”

What sharing a stage with fellow South-Asian-American songwriter Ruby Velle means to Aysola:

“It’s pretty rare in Atlanta to see South Asian-fronted bands and acts, so to actually create an evening that is deliberately celebrating that is really meaningful. And to me, over the last few years, there seems to be so much more awareness of Indian cultural heritage here in America, and even just the way we talk about Diwali now, the way it’s now a school holiday at some schools… [It’s] such a sharp contrast to how I grew up, when there wasn’t a lot of awareness of my heritage or where I came from, and it wasn’t even discussed. And so now, to have come such a long way from that to all the way on the other end where I feel like the Indian-American and the South Asian population in America are very much recognized as part of the American fabric now, that makes me so happy.”

Anita Aysola will perform alongside Ruby Velle and Soulphonics at Wild Heaven West End Brewery on Nov. 19. Tickets and more information are available here.