VMP Rising is our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl and highlight artists we think are going to be the Next Big Thing. Today, we’re featuring Annahstasia’s debut EP, Revival.
Creative polymath and musician Annahstasia Enuke, known mononymously as Annahstasia, is rediscovering her folk origins on Revival, her debut EP. The 19-minute project showcases Annastasia’s deep timbre resonating within atmospheric instrumentation, actualized by a band which was brought together by divine intervention. In retrospect, the process behind Revival was serendipitous with Annahstasia’s artistic journey, down to her name translating to “resurrection” in Greek. Revival finds Annahstasia taking the helm of self-determination, returning to her musicianship through pensive material.
“I was just at home with my guitar and started resurrecting some songs that I had written throughout college, like, ‘These songs are really good and do something for me. They heal me,’” Annahstasia tells VMP.
Revival arrives nearly four years after Annahstasia’s collaborative album Sacred Bull with producer Jay Cooper. Performing the LP as an opening act for Lenny Kravitz throughout Europe in 2019 left Annahstasia unfulfilled with the technology-crafted production of Sacred Bull — she wanted to center a “human aspect” to her music. Pursuing a holistic route, Annahstasia decided to make a folk project, setting forth on a full rebirth amid a week of one-take recording sessions.
Now residing in New York City, Annahstasia reflects on how Revival came into actuality, both assured and urbane in conversation: “I think that process allowed me to take more control of how the music and the songs came about,” says the singer-songwriter. “It really felt like, ‘This is Annahstasia, this is just my vision manifesting in a way that a lot of people told me I couldn't do.’”
Before Revival came the EP’s organic happenstance. Annahstasia originally intended for Revival to be her final project, exhausted and deterred by the pressure of commercialism in the music industry, but her development phase throughout the pandemic wouldn’t allow her to settle. In August 2020, Annastasia posted an introductory version of the single “Midas” on Instagram, catching the attention of Itai Shapira, composer and co-founder of Los Angeles recording studio Revival at The Complex Studios. Formerly the hub of legendary progressive soul band Earth, Wind & Fire, Revival Studios confirmed the EP’s title and Annahstasia’s direction toward a communal ethos. The artist envisioned Revival being a product of natural unison and tapped an intimate musical ensemble: six players who were all perfect strangers to her at the start.
“Music is more than just getting in the studio and you make a song without knowing the person you’re making it with; I felt like I needed to be more connected, [to have] intimate knowledge of each other to be able to to meet on a level playing field,” says Annahstasia. “I realized I needed people to take me to the next phase of creating, of being an artist and delving into the philosophy of what being an artist is.”
While forming a simpatico relationship, a Joshua Tree Airbnb became the band’s week-long conclave while Annahstasia devised Revival to be a DIY recording. To craft the EP, the musicians “purely went off of energy,” ridding themselves of collaborative dissonance. Outside, temperatures among the yucca brevifolia reached a sweltering 120 degrees before a wildfire tore through the desert. Setting the East Mojave woodland of Cima Dome ablaze, the inferno metaphorically delineated Revival’s phoenix-rising concept.
“All of those things just fit together so that I could record this project in a timeless way, because now we have a recording that will stand the test of time,” says Annahstasia. “That’s why it felt like it needed to be on vinyl; it felt [like] kind of a shame to just release it digitally and not ever have something that people could physically hold, because the entire process felt physically heavy. The happenings of that week very much forced us to record the quality of songs that we did.”
Recorded live in high fidelity and mixed and mastered without post-production, Revival plays as a record imbued with finding virtuosity in minimalism. Annahstasia’s rich tone on EP opener “Midas” lays thick against a light acoustic guitar and wanderlust-filled string arrangement. R&B and pop vocalist Raveena Aurora enters on the lullabied “While You Were Sleeping,” where Annahstasia dreamily muses about “passing time.” “Power” shows the singer-songwriter evoking her burdens as “one woman trying to carry that weight.”
“When you don’t come from wealth and privilege, you’re spending most of your time trying not to get taken advantage of. No matter how vigilant I am and how much I try to prepare and keep myself safe, still people have been able to take things from me because of some contacts and because of bureaucracy,” Annahstasia says about the song’s meaning. “It’s about the weight of trying to keep going without any promise that there’s a sense of fairness in the world, or that you are or promised safety in any particular space. That’s meaningful, because it’s me lamenting that realization that comes with becoming an adult.”
Each song, a clear labor of love, poses Annahstasia at the altar of folk music, giving reference to the genre’s meditative qualities. She has clear musical guides whose voices were structured around instrumental simplicity: Sade, Bill Withers, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, all of whom created music for the people. Those predecessors, along with elements of rock, late-’70s soul and gospel, framed Annahstasia’s political choice to classify Revival as “power folk.” The sound was intentional for Annahstasia, who studied political science in college and embraced “how powerful languages and definitions are.”
“Folk as a genre is rooted around the essentials, there’s no fluff, there’s just the expression of your life experience in your standing and the world and your cultural viewpoint,” Annahstasia says. “I’m borrowing aspects from places that I might not even know that are just subconsciously in my space that to me elicit power, strength, this feeling of capability and warmth. All of those things symbolize power to me, so when I’m making my music as a folk artist, my folk music is directionally guided, inspired and motivated by making people and myself feel empowered.”
Empowerment also meant peeling back the mainstream expectations of Black vocalists instead of succumbing to the racialized “R&B” standard. Annahstasia, who was raised in a Catholic church setting and sung traditional hymns, developed a relationship with Gregorian chants and chamber music, the latter of which inspired Appalachian folk music.
“I couldn’t even attempt R&B like how people who grew up in that culture can. What’s frustrating about the music industry just labeling any Black artist as R&B [is it] creates a monolith of a very diverse diaspora of Blackness and erases my individual experience,” Annahstasia says. “I grew up with this fascination with the lone wolf, the guy with the guitar roaming through space and just sitting in nature by himself. That was an archetype that was always floating in my head and how I kind of saw myself in space.”
The “lone wolf” archetype saunters on “Untamed,” where Annahstasia’s glassine and haunting vocals reverberate through a Western-influenced composition. The artist, who wrote a rough draft of “Untamed” before bringing it to her band, pictured a feminist narrative.
“For me, a lot of music direction and production work that I do comes from a visual space,” Annahstasia says. “So, when I’m thinking of the words and the title of the song, I’m thinking of, like, a wild horse. I’m thinking of any sort of wild animal galloping through space, galloping through a long distance. The song itself [is] about becoming free of the tenets of womanhood and becoming free of any expectation of gender — it felt like the wild west and creating or taking back the right to reinvent yourself over again.”
Through the making of Revival, Annahstasia became anew, creating for herself instead of getting swept into industry promises. With spirited candor, final song “Evergreen” bellows as a celebratory awakening to Annastasia’s found purpose, which listeners can hear within the EP’s harmonious tapestry.
“I am capable of a lot more than I even thought,” Annahstasia admits. “Revival taught me that no matter how tired I am, I still have more energy somewhere to create something, to follow and execute an idea in my head and bring that to reality. It made me realize my power and really fight for what I want, who I am and what I believe the vision should be.”
Jaelani Turner-Williams is an Ohio-raised culture writer and bookworm. A graduate of The Ohio State University, Jaelani’s work has appeared in Billboard, Complex, Rolling Stone and Teen Vogue, amongst others. She is currently Executive Editor of biannual publication Tidal Magazine.