Belle Voix

Ekayani, long and slender at six feet one inch tall, began her career in the early Nineties in Paris, where she was a model for fashion giants like Dior, Paco Rabanne, and Courrges. "It was hard," she says. "You're expected to be pretty and shut up. You have to sort of go along with everything, and your own personal feelings don't count."

One day she answered a phone call for her roommate. The man on the line told her she had a beautiful voice. Ekayani thought, These French guys, they even flirt over the phone, but the voice was not just that of another playboy; it was composer and guitarist Paul Mahoux. He and Ekayani met for tea. "It was very polite, very French," she explains. When Mahoux finally played Ekayani some of his music, she asked for paper and a pen and wrote a song; they recorded it on the spot. Ekayani soon gave up modeling to become a full-time singer.

Nowadays Ekayani spends most of her time riding her bicycle — her primary form of transportation — around Miami, recording, and reading books. "Reading is really underrated," she says. "The more you read, the more you see how similar people around the world are." She also constantly thinks about music and her place in the music world. "I don't think I'm unique; I'm part of a very old need," she explains. "The need to speak about our experiences is very human. Beats and rhymes and hooks just make it all easier to remember."

Ekayani's vocal style is not what you'd expect from a model turned singer. She embraces her deep, husky voice with songs ranging from melodious, hooky serenades to minimalist spoken-word pieces, always backed up by the beautiful, mellow, jazzy sounds of the Healing Band. Ekayani wants the audience to be a part of the experience, not just passive observers. "It's a sensual heart, mind, body experience," she says. "It's very African; a group like the Temptations understood that." Ekayani also uses what she learned as a model in her shows. "I'm conscious of form and color and how it affects the audience. I ask myself, 'How can my appearance enhance what I have to say, enhance the music?'"

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Ryan Foley