“The Earth has music for those who listen,” George Santayana said. But in this day and age, who has time to listen? On her new album, Ayla Schafer comes to our rescue with “Silent Voices”. It offers a transcendental and grounding listening experience. Indeed, if you listen to it back-to-back, you will come out on the other side refreshed and with a deep sense of belonging. It is Schafer’s best album to date and a confirmation that she is a New Age music superstar in the making.
Writing songs from the age 16, Ayla Schafer’s first collaboration was with Ben Howard. 2010 saw the birth of folk-soul duo ‘Susie Ro and Ayla,’ who became a well-known name across the UK festival scene with their album “She and I”. The turning point in Ayla’s musical expression took place six years ago when she went traveling in South America. The years she spent away from her home shook her world and reshaped her writing as she explored the mystery of the inner landscape. In 2017, Ayla co-produced and released her debut album “Dive into Water” – and “Ima Adama” followed in 2018. “Silent Voices”, which is produced by Txai Fernando, is released on the Nixi Music label.
2020 was the year when artists such as SVARA, Nailah Hunter, and The Song Gardeners proved that New Age pop was not just a 1980s illusion but a meaningful expression for the new decade. The New York Times wrote: “It’s a New Day for New Age Music”, as the world battled Covid19 and found itself in need of a new and reassuring sound. But Ayla Schafer is, interestingly enough, not New Age pop. She is creating her own wave of New Age folk. She does her own thing and does it to perfection.
Here is a live version of “Guesthouse” (see Spotify link for the album version):
The album opener on “Silent Voices” is called “Guesthouse”. It is one of the most welcoming songs I have ever heard. We, the listeners, are not merely spectators – we are “travelers” and have all a story to tell. Usually, it the person singing who controls the narrative. Then we are cordially invited to sit by the fire, enjoy the good company, and share our life’s story. In a world of refugee crisis, tight borders, and walls armed with barbed wire, it is an uplifting thought. The “Guesthouse” theme is simply incredible; don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking for the replay button. Notice the arrangements’ complexity, from the vocals, the flute, the percussion, to the guitar and kalimba; It is a winner from start to finish.
In modernity, we seem to have lost touch with our roots. They have been exchanged with technology, commercialism, and an endless stream of needless products. The title track represents the countermovement. It starts with the sound of running water and a gentle guitar. The song urges us to listen to the Earth and wind – and before long, the landscape will answer. When Ayla repeats, “I remember!”, it is to the beat of Mother Nature. It is an ecstatic revelation, as we realize that all our technology is nothing compared to the ancients’ sense of belonging. We modern humans may be connected 24/7, but we are not One. “Silent Voices”, on the other hand, tell the truth. It is all there for anyone with an open heart.
Agua del Amor
Ayla Schafer recently became a mother, and motherhood is an important topic on “Silent Voices”. “Agua del Amor” starts (and ends) with delightful baby sounds. It is a well-made song dedicated to purifying water and the ancient blood that runs through our veins. The vocalization in the end is magnificent. It has to be said that Ayla is not alone in the studio; she is surrounded by talented artists (see complete list below).
Next out is a tribute to the spirits that are “Guiding and Protecting”. It is almost 10 minutes long, but take my word for it; time seems to fly while listening, as past and present melts together. As you have understood by now, water (as one of the elements) is an important topic on “Silent Voices”, and “Fluyendo” is dedicated to its life-giving powers. There is even clear blue water on the cover artwork.
Grandmother (I Am the Earth)
“Grandmother (I Am the Earth)” is perhaps the finest song on the album. It communicates a strong sense of oneness. I love the violin segments and how Ayla’s unique mix of folk, world, and New Age music takes the song to the next level. It is a deeply healing listening experience. “Deep Calls to Deep” continues in the same atmosphere, urging us to “remember to remember” – and how that will turn “Sorrow into Gold”. It is a message worth listening to.
Another jewel is “Rose”, dedicated to motherhood. It is a breathtakingly beautiful, and moving song. May the lyrics inspire women all over the world to “Reclaiming the power of our ancient memory. Silent voices are also whispering on “Cuatro Direcciones”, telling us to be strong and showing us the way. The last two minutes left me speechless.
Song of the Drum
One of the most fascinating aspects of “Silent Voices” is how it pays tribute to indigenous peoples. Ayla’s love for their cultures and traditions is everywhere to be found on the album, especially on “Song of the Drum”. There is so much to learn here, as it inspires us to live more sustainably. Stress and depression will also be a thing of the past if we took the guidance on “Wisdom of the Invisible” seriously. The album closer, “Plumajera”, sums up the album splendidly.
In conclusion: I started this review by saying that Ayla Schafer has everything needed to become the next New Age music star. Is “Silent Voices” that album? No, it is not. But when Schafer delivers her “Orinoco Flow” or “Caribbean Flow”, it will be a part of the back-catalog that everyone will check out and think: “How did I miss this before? This is incredible!” And when it happens, Enya’s music will seem shallow and superficial – totally without Ayla’s existential approach to music. Her music will, for sure, appeal to young people in search of a guiding star and not-so-young in need of a time-out and reality check. “Silent Voices” is an honest, creative, and timely release that both heals and inspires us to listen deeply. When you do, the silent voices are silent no more.
Score: 98/100 – See our scoring policy
For more information and music samples, visit aylaschafer.co.uk
Adrian Freedman, Shakuhachi and Ayla Schafer – Main guitars & vocals
César Aguilar Alcedo – Charango Chandra Lacombe – Kalimba and backing vocals
Daniel Waples – Hang
Diego Brasil- Guitar
Eran Fakir – Ney Giselle Real-d’ Arbelles – Flute and backing vocals Helen Knight – Backing vocals
Herbert Quinteros – Charango, quena, toyos and voices
Hivshu – Spoken voice and drums
Ibou Cissokho – Kora Joshua Wenzl – Backing vocals and drum
Lee Westwood – Dulcimer Matt Kelly – Strings (Performance and arrangement)
Michael Stanton – Oktav guitar and backing vocals
Nimrod Nol – Violin
Ricardo Sanchez – Percussion
Rowan Sterk – Percussion
Susie Prater – Backing vocals
Txai Fernando – Percussion, keyboards & soundscapes
Uriel Seri – Conga