Though born in Ghana and based in Nashville, singer-songwriter Ruby Amanfu is at home in New Orleans.
"New Orleans is a place I've loved for a lot of years, and so coming back is like coming to another home," she says. "New Orleans has that same, 'You're family' vibe (as Nashville). That's why we get along."
Amanfu has performed at Voodoo Music + Arts Experience three times, but this year's appearance is part of her first tour in support of a full solo record.
Although Amanfu writes her own songs, a 2013 performance at New York City's Dylan Fest opened a door for her. After getting a standing ovation for her rendition of Dylan's "Not Yet Dark," Amanfu decided to release an album of cover songs. Standing Still showcases her dazzling vocal ability and her eclectic musical tastes. At times smoky and at times tinged with a warbling songbird quality, her voice breathes new life into indie rock, country and hip-hop. The album includes Jump Little Children's "Cathedrals," Kanye West's "Streetlights," and the Dylan song that launched the project. It's not your typical covers album.
"It was really important to find songs that still related to my story no matter where they came from," Amanfu says. "We went through much material."
Amanfu recorded Standing Still in five days in a secluded cabin in Tennessee. Many songs were done in one take, including "Cathedrals," in which Amanfu's voice and a lone guitar evoke physical vulnerability. "I think you can probably feel that vulnerability, because that's how it went down — that's how the song was recorded," she says. "Even listening, I'm transported to the moment of singing and recording that song."
Amanfu is best known as half of the pop-country duo Sam & Ruby, and later she served as a backing vocalist on Jack White's first solo album Blunderbuss. She cut her musical teeth in Nashville, where her family moved when she was 3 years old, and was exposed to the city's music scene at an early age. She attended Hume-Fogg High School, located near Ryman Aud-itorium (longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry), where she could focus on honing her craft and participate in events at the famous venue. "It was all right there," she says about the musical opportunities. "All this lovely, low-hanging fruit that at a young age I could just pluck and eat."
Amanfu also was careful not to waste the opportunity.
"There was no making it out of there alive other than being a musician," she says. "So I had no other option, and I'm glad, because I couldn't rightly say, 'Oh, I can't do this. There's no options or opportunity here in Nashville.' That's quite the opposite. I'm super lucky to have grown up in that."