For the last quarter of the year, this lovely lady of an undisclosed age ("You should know better not to ask a woman her age," she says to me over the phone--obviously, she has no idea who the hell I am) has been hitting FYE stores all up and down the East Coast, doing in-store live appearances and signing copies of her latest album Higher Ground. So what made her decide to take this in-person approach?
"Well, I'm an independent artist," says Wayna (aka Woyneab Wondwossen). "So I was looking for ways of reaching a new fan base on a grassroots level, and sort of surpassing the kind of industry machine and getting an opportunity to meet with music buyers and music lovers firsthand."
If she learned anything from getting out there and performing in support of her 2005 debut, Moments of Clarity, Book 1, it's that if you give audiences a taste of what you have to offer live, the album will sell like hotcakes.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to reach people who wouldn't necessarily come to a club or a festival to see a concert," she says, "but who may be interested in supporting my music nonetheless."
I guess this means FYE stores all across the country have copies of Ground and Clarity in stock, right?
"Actually, no. We're doing this sort of in-store tour as a kind of introduction to that possibility. I bring the product to the in-store and sell it, you know, through the store at the event."
That's messed up.
"Essentially there is no marketing campaign behind me that's driving traffic into stores. And you really need to have that in order to take up the shelf space in major chains. It almost doesn't make sense unless folks are aware of you to take that kind of risk."
You can't say Wayna doesn't know how the record distribution business works. The lady does have a good head on her shoulders (she worked as a writer in the White House Office of Presidential Letters and Messages during the Clinton Administration), and that's displayed in full in the material on Ground.
But anyone expecting another album of soothing boho soul will be surprised by Ground's subtle, thought-provoking content. "Office Politics" discusses the politics black people have to deal with in the workplace. "Billie Club" is a melodic attack on the bullying police officers who are supposed to serve and protect. And there's this one song, "Mr. Duracell," that I'm pretty sure you can figure out on your own. (Since it's been established that I don't know any better, I'll leave that alone.)
"I just really wanted to kind of push myself to talk about things that aren't normally talked about in songs," she says. "And I think the interesting part of being a writer is sort of surprising people and trying to say something that stands out and that's unique. I think for 'Duracell,' it's just, you know, I had a concept for a song. And it was just funny and sort of embarrassing and it's just meant to be a kind of just a good-humored song for women. And we usually get a really good reaction when we perform that live."
The Ethiopian-born Wayna calls Maryland home, an area that's already covered with some top-notch, on-the-fringe, R&B/hip-hop talent. And just like her first album, she includes many beatmakers (Kev Brown, DJ Roddy Rod) and artists (Kenn Starr, Kokayi) from the DMV (that's D.C., Maryland and Virginia) on Ground.
Wayna believes her part of the country not only has the best fans, but the most critical. So the artists who come from this scene have to come correct for their own region before even thinking of stepping outside and making a name for themselves.
"I think it's an opportunity for the artists who are based here to really develop and grow to meet that standard," she says. "We're fortunate to have real critical fans here who demand the best."
Expect Wayna to come correct when she makes her record-store appearance this week. Perhaps if she performs "Mr. Duracell" to a crowd of approving, fed-up gals with special, battery-charged friends of their own, the Broad Street FYE will have no choice but to put her albums in stock.