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Your backstage pass to Northeast Ohio's independent music scene.

Ngina Fayola draws on Guyanese roots to create her fusion of folk and soul in Cleveland

Ngina Fayola singing and playing guitar in studio
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Ngina Fayola performs her blend of soulful R&B and fusion music on Ideastream's "Applause Performances." The Cleveland-based singer-songwriter plans to return home to Guyana to record her new album next year.

Ngina Fayola, a Cleveland-based singer-songwriter, calls upon her homeland of Guyana, South America, as musical inspiration.

She migrated to Northeast Ohio at age five and was immersed in music growing up, listening to everything from country and rock to the calypso music popular where she was born.

“The R&B and country music and the rock ‘n’ roll, those just kind of filtered through my house. My father was a musician,” Fayola said. “I was exposed to everything because of his musicianship.”

Ngina Fayola

Despite her musical lineage and deep affection for music, Ngina's shyness kept her from stepping into the limelight for many years.

“My mom forced me,” she said. “I loved music. I wanted to go to listen to music, but I didn't want to go participate in music. I didn't mind doing it privately, but I wasn't interested in being public with my art until maybe my late 20s.”

She learned rhythm from her father, who played piano and flute, while her mother encouraged her to sing.

Joining her church choir as a child helped Fayola find her voice.

“The song director or the choir director or the pianist, they would call me out. And they'd be like, ‘You know, if you don't sing louder, we're going to make you solo,’” she said.

Now, Fayola has developed her own folk-soul fusion sound and plans to return to Guyana to record her new album.

“My dad's old bandmates, they're willing to work with me once I get there,” she said. “So, you know, my dad's no longer alive, but I'll be able to just get in the thick of things with his old bandmates and see what comes out of that.”

Breaking out of her shell

A trip back to Guyana during her teenage years immersed Fayola in the culture of her homeland.

Ngina Fayola singing with a microphone
Jef Janis
Ngina Fayola sings a soulful fusion of R&B and calypso music inspired by her roots. Despite growing up with a musician father who encouraged her to perform, she kept her songs private until her mid-20s.

“I just got a chance to just get reactivated with the scenery, with the family, with the food, with the music, just with the sounds, just the breeze, you know, the water,” she said. “I feel like when I go back home, I can reconnect with my roots, you know, get around with some of the Guyanese people, and maybe they can inspire me.”

When she returned to Ohio, she wasn’t interested in performing music. In her mid-20s, she started writing poetry.

“I think I was just trying to stretch myself, you know, beyond my comfort,” she said. “And I had a cousin that I would let hear. She would hear me sing around the house, and I would let her hear my poems.”

Fayola said her cousin encouraged her to share heer music with the world despite her shyness.

“She told me that I owed it to God, because she felt that I was that good. She was like, ‘You owe it to God go out there and share your music. So, I decided: Let me pay God what I owe him,” Fayola said.

Using her poetry as the foundation, Fayola pulled references from her musical upbringing and homeland to develop her sound.

“I feel like when I go back home, I can reconnect with my roots, you know, get around with some of the Guyanese people, and maybe they can inspire me.”
Ngina Fayola

She said the records her father, Jojo Kofi Badu of the Yoruba Singers, played around at home inspired her artistically.

“I just fell in love with the prettier melodies,” she said. “They made me feel a certain kind of way. Like, even before I knew what love was, it made me feel like I was in love. I wanted to be able to create music and make people feel that same feeling for my music.”

Her rhythm guitar skills, which she learned from her father, helped Fayola build out her original songs.

“He was such a strict man, and he was so serious about music that I was just really focused on not falling off of the beat just so I wouldn't miss him up,” she said.

Fayola started performing at open-mic-night events around Cleveland, gaining comparisons to Lauryn Hill, India Arie and Stevie Wonder.

She started recording and releasing her original music in 2004, and she has collaborated with local artists like Eriq Troi, Tall Black Guy and Emily Keener.

She now performs acoustic sets with keyboardist Gerrond Thomas and vocalist Donnie Lynee.

“It's funny how when somebody believes in you, it kind of encourages you to believe in yourself,” she said.

Returning to her roots

Drawing from her Guyanese heritage and upbringing in Cleveland, Fayola's sound is an eclectic mix that is melodic and soulful.

She plans to return to her home country to finish her forthcoming album.

“It seems like America embraces foreign music easier and faster than they embrace homegrown talent,” she said. “So, I want to see if I can capitalize on that and release from Guyana and see how it's received coming from abroad.”

She said she already has many songs written and hopes the journey will inspire her to decide which music is fit for her upcoming release.

"I hope it's well-received in Guyana,” she said. “I sing a fusion of R&B and everything. I'm hoping that when I get there, it'll be well-received, and I can pick up what I need to pick up from them and add that to the fusion as well."

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.