Zahara Williams, the Woodinville-born R&B singer who goes simply by Zahara, commanded a sizable crowd at the Vera Project in Seattle Friday, January 13.
She stepped on stage in plain youthful attire — all black and a pair of checkered Vans — with the ease and grace of a much older, more experienced performer.
“Give in, give in, give in,” she crooned, and her fans obliged, head-bobbing and hip-swaying to “Fight the Feeling,” one of Williams’ grooviest tracks.
Efflorescence, Williams’ first EP, came out in November of last year. It captures her considerable range as a musician with tracks like “Rabbit Hole,” a slow, moving piano ballad, and more upbeat songs like “S.L.Y.,” which after hearing once is almost impossible to forget.
A powerful alto, Williams’ vocals complement her lyrics well, which touch on subjects of love, loss, pain and anxiety.
“My music is a chance for me to fully express myself in the most honest way I know how,” Williams said. “Most of my lyrics have to do with my experiences and are a result of usually what I’m thinking or dealing with that moment in time.”
Efflorescence was a group effort, involving Williams’ friend Zach Marsh, who played keys on the track, “Rabbit Hole;” Kyle Mangels of Son of Man Productions, who recorded Williams’ vocals and Seattle artist Luna God, or Caleb Talbert, who produced the album.
Williams is currently a junior music major at Seattle Pacific University. Although she’s been singing her whole life, SPU is where she said she first truly came into her own as a musician.
“I think it’s not until more recently that I’m starting to realize how possible my dream of performing could actually become my reality,” she said.
When writing music, Williams usually starts with a melody in her head, records it on her phone and then takes it to the piano to create the foundation for a song.
“I hear music basically at all times,” she said. “I think I currently have over a thousand different melodies recorded on my phone.”
Her musical influences include Lianne La Havas, Emily King, Solange and Frank Ocean. She said she also grew up on gospel, R&B and groups like the Supremes.
Williams’ calm, cool confidence is apparent both on stage and in the way she talks about her craft.
“There are definitely times when I take a step back and think, ‘Is this actually possible?’ or ‘I don’t know if I have the right kind of sound to get out there,’” she said.
But between her faith in God and her community of family and friends, Williams said she doesn’t let herself doubt very often.
Releasing Efflorescence, she said, wasn’t actually that daunting. “Of course I was nervous, but I was very ready at that point for people to hear what had been created,” she said.
Aside from her solo work, Williams also collaborates with two other musicians, Josh Lim and Cody Kilpatrick, in a recently formed band called Zaux.
Although Zaux heavily features Williams’ vocals, the result is a much different sound than her solo album. The group’s only single, “Cruel,” carries a heftier beat and adds more distortion to the singer’s usually raw voice.
“This project has helped me get into a different headspace with my writing and I really loved what I was able to express with the music Cody and Josh created,” Williams said. “We all respect each other as artists, but we also have grown to be really good friends.”
Zaux’s first EP, called Birth, will be out soon.
Williams’ next show is on February 23 at the Vera Project. To hear her new EP, visit soundcloud.com/zzsings. Efflorescence can also be found on Spotify and iTunes. Listen to Zaux at soundcloud.com/zaux_music.