Zoya: The Art of Storytelling and Activism through Music

by Gwen Berumen

India-born, Southern California raised singer-songwriter Zoya Mohan has already jumped through the hoops that many artists do later in their career. The incredibly self-aware and talented artist has made a mold for herself in the challenging music industry – an industry that holds itself on predisposed ideas of “what will sell” that are often very misogynistic in nature.

Zoya taught herself the nooks and crannies of guitar playing at 13 years old, when her father first purchased a guitar for her. She recorded her first two albums in India at ages 13 and 15, and released them over there. She didn’t write the music, and only served as a vocalist, but it, nonetheless, shaped her music portfolio. At age 17, she worked with a famous producer in Southern California to record her third album. However, once recorded, she decided not to release it, since it wasn’t what she wanted her sound to be.

Fast forward to present time: studying at the prestigious Berklee College of Music (which is actually known for its expertise in world music). Zoya has begun channeling what she feels her music should truly be; taking cues from the likes of Fiona Apple, Ani DiFranco, Sara Tavares, and Camille, Zoya is organically creating the sound which she feels better tells her story.

She recorded her last EP, Letters to Toska, in her apartment in Boston – a place where she and her band put shakers on chairs and then moved the chairs and scratched on the walls to create sounds that would never be allowed in professional recording studios. Zoya uses what she has knows to her advantage, and it definitely ends up working out for her.  That EP was released last November. Her upcoming album, The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room, was recorded in both her apartment and in a studio.

She describes her sound to me as “fusion folk,” though, she is more than just a blend of indie folk and world music. Zoya and her family help out the Bujdha Medium School in Udaipur district in the state of Rajasthan in Western India. Her and her father help raise money so that the school can buy things like school supplies, lights, and most importantly – fans for the students. Beyond this, she plans on using proceeds from her upcoming album sales to buy musical instruments for the children. She hopes to do this so that the kids get the chance to “express themselves through art and have the same opportunity as I do – to try different instruments and art forms to express their emotions and experiences.”

This desire for self-expression is very important to Zoya. Not only does it formulate powerful lyrics in her music, or the projects that she works on in India, but she also brings it back to her current Boston home. She started the organization ‘Spoken & Sung Sessions,’ which is a Boston-based artist platform for songwriters and spoken word performers. S&S encompasses the mission to promote, record, and release various works by local artists.

Zoya cares deeply about the support of people who are often overlooked in the music community, or sometimes flat out don’t even get a chance to get into the community. Her soul filled sound blends every singer-songwriter you wish would have a baby together, and adds more personality than any of them could. Zoya is a treasure, and I urge all of you to listen to her.

The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room is due for an independent, October release. You can listen to her on Soundcloud and Bandcamp, or follow her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


Photos via www.zoyamusicofficial.com. 

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