Amaka Goes With The Flow Of The Rushing Waters On Her Debut EP, ‘Oasis’


Back in March, Jessica Nwokike of R&B sister duo VanJess announced that the group would be disbanding, as Ivana had chosen to leave the group. The duo had been making music for over a decade, as YouTubers, collaborators with artists like Lucky Daye and Kaytranada, as visual auteurs and artists in their own right. Often collaborating with artists before they got their big breaks, VanJess had their fingers on the pulse of fresh new sounds and was always a step ahead of their peers. 

But when Ivana announced she was leaving VanJess – a decision that was made about eight months before the official announcement – Jessica, who is now reintroducing herself to the world as Amaka, was determined to keep going and making the music that felt right to her.

Amaka’s debut EP Oasis, which is out today (August 17th), features her sharing emotional accounts of love, capturing the thrill of letting go and moving with the flow. Taking inspiration from the movements of rushing ocean waters, as well as afro-fusion dance sounds, Amaka has teamed up with Kaytranada to produce a genre-defying solo debut.

Take a listen to “Oasis” here.

Contributor Alex Gonzalez catches up with Amaka just weeks before Oasis’ release. With a new stage name and a recent release from her RCA deal, Amaka is ready to fly freely.

TRNB: After Ivana decided to step away from VanJess, what motivated you to keep making music?

AMAKA: Honestly, I think it was really just the confidence in myself I developed at that time. I don’t think I always had blind faith in my own abilities and being ready. Having so much more to say and show as an artist, I think that’s really what made me want to keep pushing forward. If I didn’t have that, I probably would have given up.

Kaytranada is someone you’ve worked with for years. How would you describe your chemistry working with him?

Effortless, I think, is the best word. It’s always incredibly fun. It always feels innovative– like music nerds literally saying, ’What happens when you reference all sorts of music goodness and  go into the studio?’ That’s always what comes out of it.

In addition to your first solo EP, Oasis is also your first project since leaving RCA. Now that you’re an independent artist, how do you plan to navigate your sound and aesthetic? What are avenues you’d like to explore?

I think being independent, you have the ability to be as bold and free as you want. And that is really the benefit of it – you really can do what you want. So why not do it boldly? Why not actually bend the rules as much as you can? Because it’s really the only opportunity you get to do that. Being on labels and such, there’s always an element of control behind it. You might want to really shoot all the way and they say, ‘Okay, let’s only shoot halfway,’ and things like that.

Since you’ve been making music, the landscape has changed. You and Ivana got your start on YouTube, you released your albums Silk Canvas and Homegrown at the height of the streaming era, and now TikTok is where a lot of music discovery is taking place. How have you managed to keep up with various platforms as they’ve evolved?

I think that rather than saying, ‘Okay, I’ve officially caught up with everything, I’ve got a handle on it,’ it’s also about accepting that nobody actually has it all figured out. Social media is changing even more rapidly than it used to. You think you have a handle on it, and then a new app pops up and it’s quite overwhelming. I think all you can really do to quote-unquote “keep up” with it is do the opposite. Just be yourself and try to create as true to yourself as possible–not based on others, not based on anxiety. I’ve seen that a lot lately. I’ve been really listening to a lot of what people have to say about even just the ways people put out content. A lot of times people put out content through anxiety and feeling this need of ‘Okay, let me do this because I think this is what I need to do.’

How do you usually like to write your songs? Do you use your Notes app? Pen and paper? Freestyle in the booth?

I use the Notes app and voice memos. Sometimes, I will freestyle in the booth, but only when I feel like I have something in my head. I have ADHD, so I’m all over the place, you know.  I find that when I go on the mic, I’m not really able to sit down and be like, ‘Okay, this part, this part, this part’ easily for some reason. So usually, I’ll at least figure out where I’m trying to go with voice memos and notes. And then from there, I can hone in more. 

Which song is your particular favorite?

It changes, but my actual favorite is “Unfamiliar.” The way that the lyrics came, itt was from me hearing Kay talk about an experience he had throwing a party, and that gave me the inspiration to write the lyrics, from a perspective that I think a lot of people can relate to–when you’re at a party and you want to leave. Oftentimes, I have the best time with people I’m familiar with. So when I’m in a space and nobody looks familiar, I feel overwhelmed and I just want to leave and be with my friends and the people that I love the most.

I think my favorite song on the EP is ‘Undercover.’ It just feels like a cozy, winding-down anthem after a fun night out. What did your songwriting and production process entail for this song?

I was randomly inspired by ‘Spanish Guitar’ by Toni Braxton. It’s not based on a true story, but [I wanted to write about] someone that’s dating a famous singer or something, and just make that into a song about sex. I thought that would just be an interesting perspective to write from. So that’s how it started and then everything was just, you know, trying different things. In the hook, I was thinking about that song, “Oochie Wally Wally” [by Nas]. I don’t know why that was in my head, but it just kind of built from there. 

What was the hardest song to write for this EP?

Not hard, but the one I thought about the most was “Oasis.” Just because l really wanted it to be fresh. And like lyrically, I tried to challenge myself to just be more interesting with what I was saying – interesting, but still familiar. I tried to paint the picture as much as possible. I was like, ‘What does that word, ‘Oasis’ really say to me? I wanted to play so much on the water metaphor.

When I listen to the EP from beginning to end, it feels like a movie. Visuals have always been a big part of the VanJess universe. Can we expect visuals for Oasis?

Yes, definitely. Slowly but surely. Obviously, as you know, I’m independent, so I don’t have the budget to make the massive videos right now. But we’re getting there. However, there are some cute visuals in the works. I’m still playing with this AI stuff. I created this really amazing visualizer for “Leave It Behind” with an artist named Elliot Sellers. And I want to tap into that world more with the graphics and the visuals.

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