Many may say classical music is a lost art form, but in Ayha’s world, it is not only relevant but amazing. Ayha Simone is a renowned harpist who has performed her angelic melodies from Detroit to Scotland. Her phenomenal skills as a harpist and her successful bout with modeling have allowed this beautiful trans woman to dabble in many forms of self-expression.
She’s not just an artist. As the co-founder of Trans Sistas of Color Project, a Detroit-based organization that works to impact the lives of trans women of color. She uses her voice for social justice and opportunities for trans people. As well as being against the discrimination and murders of trans people.
Seldom do you find someone with a beautiful face, spirit and talent, so it is obvious that Ayha is one in a million.
What inspired you to play the harp?How long have you been playing?
January 2017 marks about 10 years.
I accidentally stumbled upon the harp. I was 15 at the time and a voice student in choir at Cass Tech High School. At the time I didn’t even know harps existed; let alone had the idea of playing one. Part of my required classes was Health. However, all the health classes were full that semester so my counselor assigned me to Harp class- I needed an elective anyway.
So on the first day, I walked into a room with 9 harps going all at once. I honestly wasn’t impressed. For at least the first week of harp class, I had every intention of dropping it next semester, but the more I played, the less I wanted to leave. The harp started to intrigue me and slowly I was advancing passed my classmates, playing more intense pieces. Harp became my outlet in a very confusing and difficult time. To put it succinctly, harp saved my life.
You majored in Harp Performance at Wayne State University, how do you think that helped you as an artist?
College taught me how to perform. It taught me music theory and history and what it takes to be a professional classical musician. I’ve honestly learned so much in college. Much more than I ever wanted to learn.
You have performed at many amazing places, what has your favorite performance been?
My fave? Hands down would be Glasgow, Scotland with an amazing performance artist and DJ Juliana Huxtable.
Who is someone you’d love to play the harp for?
There’s SOOOOO MANY I can’t name just one!!!
My top 5 would be Solange, Flying Lotus, Dwele, Kaytranada, Kelela.
You are not only a harpist, but you have a history of modeling. You were featured in Vogue and in Barney’s sex identity campaign. What made you start modeling?
When I started living my truth, commonly known to most as transitioning, I wanted to be a model. I LOVE Naomi Campbell and she inspired me so much! So I started walking in local fashion shows! However, I gave up on it, given that I’m way shorter than the standard model height at only 5’4. I also felt I was better at music so I focused more on that.
As a transgender woman, what difficulties do you face as an artist, if any?
I think the most difficult thing I face is my gender and personhood being tokenized, or rather pigeon-holed as a “trans artist”-doing only “trans things”.
It’s common for people who don’t share a particular lived experience to limit, even if only mentally, the possibilities and potential of others to a “clean, safe” box, instead of exploring beyond the uncomfortably narrow labels that fail to even begin to describe one’s complexity.
I, however, know being trans color and being the first openly black transgender harpist is a part of our collective Black History and that is something to uplift others. But I evolve and change and I want others to honor that I am a complex human being and my art will reflect that, and not seek to commodify my gender for simple consumption.
In what ways have you used your artistry to empower the transgender community?
Honestly, simply existing really. Most of my work, whether modeling or playing the harp, has helped inspire people. But more concretely, as co-founding mother of Trans Sistas of Color Project, a Detroit-based organization that impacts the lives of trans women of color. A lot of the heavy work is done under it. I’m really thankful to work with such a great team.
What new projects are you working on?
I just wrapped a set at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and I’m looking to expand on that.
My projects are a little more like personal goals… I’m really internal right now. I’m working on my improvisation and song/lyric writing so I can release an EP sometime in the future.
I also am working on combining my love of public speaking and performance. I really want to start a college tour.
Where do you see yourself in a year?
I see myself performing and traveling more regularly and hopefully wrapping up an original project, and collaborating with more local artists.
And also… more coins! LOL