Ayanna and Niambi Rowland of Az One
by Ma'at Atkins
Born and raised in Springfield, Ill, , Ayanna & Niambi Rowland formed in 2000 while students at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale when Niambi took singing seriously, with encouragement by her older sister (of two years) who was the front person with singing of the two, since day one.
Az One with their manager Kenneth Johnson,
“I was bit shy.” Niambi said. “I never sang solos at church but it was our choir director at church who forced us to do solos. So after that, I said, well I might as well try it.”
” Everyone was writing names on paper, and we came up with Az One,” Ayanna said. “ We thought we sing in perfect harmony and we were sisters and the name sounded like we were sisters.”
Niambi interjected, “ and the name can be used in all markets like R&B, pop and gospel.”
After they chose a name, they recorded their first song while at SIUC and began honing their craft when they got their first gig at The Movement Against Violence Annual Talent Show in their hometown.
But both ladies had the gift of song since birth when they started out in the children’s choir at the neighborhood church.
“Our mother used to make us sing,” Ayanna said who knew early that she wanted to sing. Her first gig was singing “The Greatest Love of All” at a Girls Scouts meeting.
“Our parents always had us doing things in the arts like ballet and piano,” Niambi said.
They also have a younger sister, Iesha, who may also get into the family business.
“I’ve heard her sing, and she can sing, actually, but you got to have that confidence, “ Ayanna said. “Who knows, she may join the group and keep the group name alive.”
Az One got their biggest exposure in 2006 when they won a slot to perform in New York City on BET’s 106 and Park’s Wild out Wednesday Contest. They took first place in the R&B competition. They were then invited back to compete for the All Star title. Az One received closed to 300,000 votes, a record for the show.
“After the shows,the audience members followed us and wanted autographs and we didn’t even have a record deal,” Ayanna said.
“They wanted to see if we were real people,” Niambi continued. “
The song that got them to BET was their single, “The Jump Off,” which eventually became the title cut to their debut album which was released in 2007. The duo wrote, arranged and were the executive producers of the album. They worked with a diverse array of music producers from Chicago, Springfield, St. Louis, and Europe.
Then, it was more grinding locally performing at parties, getting their single played on radio stations and getting hooked up with their current manager Kenny Johnson.
Az One live on stage at the Ambassador for Freetime and Fun E Katz' "Jokes and Notes" last November.
Other career highlights took place in 2009. First, they entered their single, “The Jump Off” in We Mix’s song contest where tennis superstar Serena Williams Contest was searching for a song for her theme song. They finished in the Top 5 in that competition. Next, they entered a song for the “Fame” movie where the film’s website picked their song for its MYSPACE commercial . They finished off the year when they released their first Christmas album “Christmas with Az One,” which sold 1,000 copies in its initial release last Thanksgiving.
“We always wanted to do a Christmas album and got it complete, “ Ayanna said. “It was real good success and got a lot of holidays shows from it.”
Those shows took place at spots like St. Louis Lambert Airport, Midrivers Mall and various churches across the St. Louis area. .
During their strides of success, they have met many national artists and producers, one being R&B singer Carl Thomas whom they opened for last November at the Ambassador during FreeTime and Fun E Katz; showcase, Jokes and Notes.”
Az One performing at a Cafe Soul showcase at the Loft in 2009.
“We already know about drinking water, or eating candy or mints (before we sing), but he told us about sucking on ice,” Niambi said. “ We never tried that before. It gets the mucus out of your throat.”
They also shared how being family helps them handle the pressures of the local music scene.
“We practice and pump each other up,” Ayanna said. “ We help each other out because we love each other. You feel safe because you know that your sister won’t leave you and people don’t mess with us.”
This year, Az One—who currently is ranked in the Top 20 on Our Stages Rising Urban Stars Charts--
focused more on honing their writing skills and venturing off into other areas of the music business including taking more piano lessons, doing voice over work and even singing telegrams.
Currently, they are working with Grammy Award nominated producer Wyshmaster—who’s famous for wiring the comedy song, “I’m On A Boat: with T-Pain—who is mixing and mastering their upcoming single, “Merry Go Round” that slated for release later this month.
Az One posing with Fun E KAtz' Maurice G (left) and R&B singer Carl Thomas after the Jokes and Notes concert at the Ambassador.
“At first we thought we were going to come up with another album, but we were like ‘no, lets come up with a single first and see how that does,’” Ayanna said.
Niambi said, “ It’s not about giving people so many songs with websites. You give them one song, a snippet, and try and give them something on radio instead of giving everything we have.”
They hope in their 10th year in the music biz will be the year that they will receive national status. For starters, they are working on a tour in Anaheim, Calif. that will take place in early July.
“ Even though we are not on the national stage we’ve met a lot of important people, were on ITunes, you can Google us and you see us on several websites.” Ayanna said. “ It would be nice to have that Beyonce status but it will come when it comes. We are keeping positive. We work hard. It’s about promoting. It never stops.”