The UK story of the past year in British pop has undoubtedly been the explosion of the urban-pop scene, with artists such as Tinchy Stryder, Alexandra Burke, Chipmunk and N-Dubz becoming fully-fledged pop stars. Now, Jaya – born and raised in Wembley, London – is set to take 2010 by storm. She’s the first British Asian singer to be signed to a major label – a milestone that’s been a long time coming – but it’s easy to see why she’s the one blazing the trail. Like her compadres in the urban scene, she combines an endearing personality – articulate, determined and charming – with songs that combine R&B and electropop to make a hugely appealing pop package. "Confident, creative, sexy and larger-than-life" is how she describes herself – and she’s not wrong.
Lead single "DJ Do It Again" perfectly captures the excitement of hearing a favourite song on the radio, marrying a chunky, irresistible synth groove to dancefloor-friendly beats and a monster chorus. Jaya says: "It’s about those moments when it doesn’t matter how tired you are, how much your feet hurt – you just want to get up and dance and have a good time." Meanwhile, "OMG" uses youthful text-message abbreviations as a witty jump-off for a buzzing synthpop earworm about putting an ex firmly in their place – perfect girly material that fans will be able to relate to. On all of her material, Jaya’s own voice is unmistakeable – clear, charismatic, ringing above the pounding beats with confidence.
It’s why she’s attracted so many big names on board to work on her debut album, set for release in late 2010: she will collaborate with producers such as Hawkeye (Raghav, Kardinal Offishall) and songwriters such as Jonas Jeberg (Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears) and Parker & James (Chipmunk). Meanwhile, N-Dubz with whom Jaya has just come off tour, will lend their talents to Jaya’s material in the form of guest raps and a tasty remix of her lead single. "It’s going to be a feelgood album," she says. "Every track will be different, but I want people to be able to listen to it as a whole too."
The daughter of a Hindu priest, Jaya grew up around music – "My mother’s side of the family are all musical – they all play instruments or sing or dance" – and as a child, she and her sister used to sing and perform Bollywood dances at family gatherings. Ironically, it was her sister who grew up with ambitions to be a professional singer, while the quieter Jaya wanted to be a teacher – but the roles have been reversed now, though Jaya’s sister is wholly supportive of her
Her musical epiphany came as a child, when Michael Jackson played at the nearby Wembley Stadium. Jaya’s family lived near enough to be able to hear the concert. "I remember being really young, and hearing all this music come out of nowhere. I walked out of the front door, and my parents were sitting outside in beach chairs, listening to this music. I was standing there for ages, freezing my pants off, but I was just intoxicated by the music. That’s the first time I ever fell in love with music. To have someone stop you in your tracks when you’re not even anywhere near them."
Growing up, Jaya’s favourites went on to encompass artists as diverse as the Spice Girls ("I loved that they were so British, five fearless characters – every day I wanted to be a different Spice Girl") and Indian composer A.R. Rahman ("He’s very technical in his music; I love people who pay attention to what they’re doing when they make music, like they’re painting"). Later on, she idolised Aaliyah, Beyoncé – and the American R&B producer Ryan Leslie (Cassie, Kid Cudi, Danity Kane), with whom she had an early encounter aged 16. "I met someone who was working with Ryan Leslie – we were talking on the phone, and he asked me to sing one of his songs – and then he passed me over to Ryan himself! I was just screaming my head off at the bus stop…luckily he told me he really liked the way I sang it!"
Jaya’s trailblazing status as the first pop artist of Indian heritage to be signed to a major label is also very dear to her. "It’s hard to take in," she says. "I always wanted to be the first to do something positive – to make history, even in a small way." Not that Jaya wants to stop there: inspired by the multiplatform branding thatis essential for music industry success in the 21st century, she says: "I want to be a worldwide brand. When people think of a famous Asian woman, I want to be the name that comes to mind – for good reasons! And I really want to put Indians on the map in a commercial way, so people are more aware of who we are and what we do." To this end, she has already formed partnerships with Dolce & Gabbana and Reebok.
Music is where Jaya’s heart is, though, and in particular performing it. "When I’m on stage, I come alive and something just takes over," she enthuses. "That’s why I do music – to see people react to it, to be happy or sad or just moved somehow. To see that happening is the best feeling in the world."
No doubt, Jaya will be seeing that happening many more times in the future…