Music News & Reviews

What’s better than the sounds of nature at Eno Fest? The vocals of Ruby Amanfu

Artist Ruby Amanfu performs at Eno Fest this weekend in Durham.
Artist Ruby Amanfu performs at Eno Fest this weekend in Durham. Invision/AP

That Ruby Amanfu is considered one of the greatest vocal talents in a city like Nashville should tell you just how highly respected she is among her peers.

Born in Ghana, Amanfu came to Tennessee with her parents at the age of 3, and it wasn’t long before she was making her mark. At 15, she was the youngest singer for the Nashville Symphony Chorus. Her first full-length album, 1998’s “So Now the Whole World Knows,” had wrapped recording by the end of her senior year in high school.

From there, Amanfu’s contributions could be found throughout the Music City, from singing backup on rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson’s comeback tour to performing on Jack White’s solo effort “Blunderbuss,” which netted the young singer both a gold album and an invitation to perform with White on the 2013 Grammy Awards show. White also got her a gig singing backup on Beyonce’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a single on the “Lemonade” album.

Amanfu is back on the road, this time collaborating with Nashville instrumental duo Steelism. Set to perform Saturday afternoon at the Festival for the Eno in Durham City Park, the musicians are touring music festivals this summer in support of their new release “Ism.”

But many of Amanfu’s fans want to know when she will release another solo album of her own.

“With the solo career, I have become really patient about it,” she explains over the phone. “I’m not the type of person who rushes into creating new music; I don’t have any sort of anxiety when it comes to making art. We’ve been working hard on the album, and I’m really proud of the music that we’ve made so far for it. There really isn’t a distraction, because all of the collaborations that come in are kind of a breather for me from my own projects, and they fit really well into my process.”

The current partnership with Steelism was a slow process as well. Having first performed with the duo in 2015 while they were members of her backing band during the release party of her last solo album, “Standing Still,” the trio discovered a magic that took two years to capture in a recording studio. Still, Amanfu says the instrumentalists met all of her personal qualifiers when it came to signing on to a project.

“It has to feel personal,” Amanfu says. “I have to have a personal connection to the project, to the music, or to the people. I have been approached many times, and when I say no to collaborating on a project it isn’t because I dislike an artist, or even think the music is bad. It’s just natural, because it’s such a challenge in this career to get up there and leave it all up on the stage, and I have to feel the comfort to be vulnerable for me to move forward with anyone I work with.”


What: Ruby Amanfu + Steelism, at The Festival for the Eno

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: West Point on the Eno in Durham City Park (Meadow Stage), 5101 N. Roxboro Road, Durham

Cost: $23 ($35 two-day pass)