There is a vast distance between living on the street in Bristol to making it big in Nashville. Nevertheless, that’s the impressive move that Yola – full name Yola Quartey – has made over the past couple of years.
If there’s one thing you notice, and fall in love with, instantly, it’s her voice! The way it fills her debut record, 2019’s Walk Through Fire – a buffet of country-soul and break-up songs, backed with fiddle, mandolin, Wurlitzer, and produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys on his own Easy Eye label.
It isn’t just the big, blunt end of Yola’s powerhouse voice that impresses. Its real magic lies in its depths of emotion and experience, and a dynamic range that can move from comforting whisper to full-on war cry within the space of a couple of lines.
It’s a voice many will have heard without knowing it. Since she was 18, Yola has been lending her vocals and songwriting skills to numerous artists’ tracks, from Katy Perry party songs to Will Young pop ballads and Chase & Status dance tracks; she has toured with Bugz in the Attic and worked with Massive Attack.
When she launched her solo career in 2016 (she moved from England to Nashville), the response was instant: back-to-back honours in the Americana Music Association awards, and a warm welcome to Nashville, a city that has embraced her music so quickly that it has become her second home away from Bristol. Besides getting to work with Dan Auerbach she became a honourary member of Brandi Carlile’s The Highwomen supergroup.
Straddling vintage country, orchestral pop and classic soul, Yola expresses an affinity for retro sounds while managing to remain free of cloying imitation or forced pastiche. She has been compared to the likes of Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw.
Scroll through Youtube (for instance, look here, here and here) and you’ll quickly find that Yola is just an amazing singer live as she is on record. Her melodic, resonant singing is so sweeping in scope it can bear hug everything within reach. Her sweet tunes are delivered by an exceptional backing band – so expect a concert full of great emotions when Yola performs at Roskilde Festival.