Zia Benjamin excited to be added to Jazz and Blues line-up
Describing herself as a “jazzy singer”, recording artiste Zia Benjamin says her music is the very essence of soul. She therefore expressed joy at being added to the line-up for this year’s virtual return of the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, calling it a dream come true.
Reminiscing on the days she would watch megastars like Celine Dion and Mariah Carey tear up the Jazz stage, Benjamin said it was her greatest desire to one day be among the event’s top performers. She was therefore heartbroken when the show came to a grinding halt in 2015. “I was really so sad when we weren’t having it any more. When Jazz stopped it was before I really started music, and I am a ‘jazzy singer’ so it would have been a perfect fit. So many people were like ‘Yow, Jazz and Blues woulda bad fi yuh’, and then it wasn’t there,” she said.
Now that it has returned and she is a part of the line-up, she simply cannot contain her excitement. “So you can imagine now that I am genuinely happy just to see it come back and be that platform for people who are different in Jamaica,” Benjamin said.
The singer joins a slew of young, vibrant talent on the Jazz and Blues bill this year. So far, Lila Ike, Sevana, Mortimer and Tessellated are slated to turn in scorching performances. Like her colleagues, Benjamin expressed gratitude to the organisers for recognising the need to inject youth into the show. She was particularly excited about the number of young female acts on the line-up as she explained that the music industry can be a tough space to manoeuvre for women. “The industry is tough for girls. It’s not always the nicest for women and I am so honoured and happy to be part of this wave of women like Sevana, Naomi is my very good friend, Lila. I love to see Koffee doing her thing and I am just so proud of the progress they are all making,” she said. “So being on the same show as some of them is a blessing. It’s always a blessing to be on these platforms as young artistes and to just have them exist. This is the same show that had Celine Dion and Mariah Carey who I listened to and watched when I was younger, and so it’s an amazing feeling to be here.”
Jazz and Blues co-producer Marcia McDonnough said her team is excited about Benjamin’s performance. Highlighting the similarities between Benjamin’s sound and what the event is about, McDonnough said the soulful singer is quite the fit. “We are very excited to have added Zia to the line-up because we have realised that her music is quite different from what we hear regularly, but what it is, is a fusion of jazz with our reggae and it’s just awesome and is exactly what we are accustomed to at Jazz,” she said.
McDonnough added that she is happy to have found a singer with Benjamin’s style. “I have listened to her music and it brings back that whole ‘blues-y’ feeling that, of course, Jamaica Jazz and Blues started with, and so to be able to find somebody locally who could really put that feel into it is really phenomenal,” she said.
Labelling her sound as “rum shop blues”, the Mr Neverman singer said come the weekend of March 4, Jamaica and the world will get to see her at her best as she turns in a spirit-filled performance. Although she is hoping to receive rave reviews post-performance, Benjamin said her biggest goal is to make a lasting impact on viewers. “I will be accompanied at Jamaica Jazz and Blues by two guitarists: Jason Worton and Wayne McGregor. They are both incredible musicians and they are my friends. I just want the performance to reach people. I call my music ‘rum shop blues’, and rum shops in Jamaica are like a place where you can go and hear all kinds of music, like retro Jamaican music and modern things, and you’re like this is a very weird mix but it works. That’s my music,” she said. “Rum shops in Jamaica are also communal spots, a sanctuary where people go and decompress, and I think that’s what I want to create for people, a sense of sanctuary because my music is very soulful, very ‘blues-y’.”