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Musician Anita Aysola will perform during the Alliance Theatre's Club Hertz Live concert series.

Anita Aysola considers it a gift to return with Alliance Theatre Club Hertz gig

Anita Aysola wears just about every hat in the great haberdashery of life. She’s a singer, songwriter and classically trained pianist who can belt the blues, jam the jazz and rock a raga like nobody’s business. With degrees from the University of Michigan and Harvard in math and education, respectively, she also teaches math and music at the Paideia School and has been laying down roots in the local arts and political organizing scenes since she and her family moved to Atlanta in 2013.

This Sunday, Aysola will take the stage as part of the extended, star-studded lineup for Alliance Theatre’s month-long Club Hertz Live concert series, underway now through December 24. The idea of the series is to present rising and more established Atlanta performers and musicians in a relaxed lounge atmosphere. This includes a different act every night, with weekend matinee shows, ranging from comedy to cabaret, country to funk, and just about everything in between.

After not performing since the pandemic hit, Aysola says of Sunday’s concert, “Hopefully, it’ll feel like a reunion of some sort that will feel good during the holiday season.” (Photo by Tiffany Walling McGarity)

We recently spoke with Aysola, ahead of Sunday’s show, about getting back in front of a live audience for the first time since February 2020 and much more.

ArtsATL: When did you first pinpoint that music was something you wanted to pursue professionally?

Anita Aysola: Music has been such a powerful and important part of my life for as long as I can remember. From a very young age, I felt deeply connected to it. My parents told me I started singing before I started speaking. In high school, music was a catharsis and release, and I could just sit at the piano and get lost.

ArtsATL: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Aysola: I discovered Tori Amos in high school and was definitely inspired by her. I was (also) listening to Fiona Apple and kind of grew up with ‘90s grunge. I grew up studying classical and fell in love with Rachmaninoff and Chopin and Indian classical music.

Moving forward, I continued to discover more influences, like Norah Jones. I’m often compared to her — it’s interesting because when she first emerged, I didn’t even realize that she was half Indian and was Ravi Shankar’s daughter. There was something that sounded so familiar, and people automatically started comparing her to me, and, to me, that was the biggest compliment. I loved that she was different from anything I had heard before — it was affirming and validating.

ArtsATL: Tell me about your songwriting process. Do you start with a melody? An idea? An inspiration?

Aysola: All of the above. I’d say that when I first started writing songs, I always started at the piano. It was a chord progression or a melodic idea or a melodic hook. Over time, I would start to put lyrics to it until it would click. Then, over time, I began to change it up. At times, I would start with a lyrical idea or a melody that had a lyric, and I would go to the piano afterward and put the singing together. Sometimes just a title, like this one song that ended up being more comedic. I was having a conversation with one of my friends and found out from her that my ex-boyfriend got married. So, I just blurted, “Dodged a Bullet,” and we were cracking up.

I still want to keep growing as a writer. In recent years, in some of my work, I was inspired by what was going on in the world; I felt like that was tugging at me.

ArtsATL: Tell me about your growing-up experience. Then, what was the path that led you to Atlanta?

Aysola: I was born in India. We eventually moved to Michigan, and that’s where I grew up, spent my formative years, and then went to the University of Michigan for my undergrad. Then Chicago for about eight years or so and then did my master’s degree over at Harvard and then moved to D.C. I’ve lived in a lot of places.

I met my husband in D.C., and we moved to Houston after getting married, then moved over here for his work. By the time we moved to Atlanta in 2013, my daughter was just a few years old. I’m a daughter of immigrants, and my husband is (from an immigrant family) as well, and we were used to the idea that our family is home more than a place. But what was cool was that it was nice to be here for a longer span of time. My son was born here. I started to meet more and more musicians in the Atlanta music community, and that was just delightful. I feel like it’s a really welcoming music community.

ArtsATL: What do you like the most about it?

Aysola: I think there are just amazing people here — people like Ruby Velle, who’s just this powerhouse singer and such an Atlanta fixture. The 2020 election was very inspirational. Georgia is such a powerful, exciting place to be. That was a moment where it struck me that this is my home now. That means a lot to me, especially as an Indian American. Growing up, a sense of belonging has been something I’ve struggled with, just given my race. Sometimes you feel like you’re not even a part of the conversation. I feel like I belong, and I belong here. 

ArtsATL: How has teaching shaped your path as an artist?

Aysola: In a way, teaching is a performance. You have to put aside whatever is going on for you and be there for those students. I think that does carry through as an artist because you have to deliver and do right by everyone who shows up for you. So, I think teaching has given me strength to go out on the stage.

At Paideia, I started the songwriting program and just really enjoyed watching these kids develop their art and their songs. When you are teaching, you want to be able to do what you’re asking of your students, so I want to be an example. If I’m asking for my students to write a song in a month, I want to be able to do that, too. 

ArtsATL: How are you shaping this Sunday’s show? What can people expect?

Aysola: This is the first time since the pandemic hit that I will be performing live for an audience. When this opportunity emerged, I appreciated the (Alliance’s) level of safety precautions. I wanted to take on a show that would be safe for my band, my family and me. It was also an exciting way to get back to the stage with such a unique and different opportunity. A lot of people have not seen me perform live in a couple of years, so hopefully, it’ll feel like a reunion of some sort that will feel good during the holiday season.

(A full list of Alliance Theatre health protocols, including the requirement for everyone age 12 years and older to present proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, can be found HERE.)

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Alexis Hauk has written and edited for numerous newspapers, alt-weeklies, trade publications and national magazines including Time, the AtlanticMental Floss, Uproxx and Washingtonian magazine. Having grown up in Decatur, Alexis returned to Atlanta in 2018 after a decade living in Boston, Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles. By day, she works in health communications. By night, she enjoys covering the arts and being Batman.

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