Locally-grown blues singer Layla Zoe performs at the largest blues festival in Asia earlier this February, alongside bass player Christoph Hübner. — Courtesy Mahindra Blues Festival

Singing the blues in Mumbai

Parksville/Qualicum-grown musician Layla Zoe dishes on performing at Asia’s largest blues festival

Layla Zoe’s blues music has taken her far from her Island roots, and her latest adventure took her some place few would think blues ever goes: India.

It seems that assumption would be wrong.

In mid-February, Zoe performed at the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai, billed as the largest blues festival in Asia.

Starting in 2011, the festival has brought performers including Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker Jr. to perform, with John Mayall, Coco Montoya, Walter Wolfman Washington and the Roadmasters, and Blackstratblues performing in 2018 along with Zoe.

Born in Victoria, but raised in Errington and Bowser, and a resident of the Parksville area in her 20s, Zoe has pursued her musical career to Toronto and then to Europe.

“It was very hard for me to leave my friends and family to pursue my music further,” she said in an email after finishing the Mahindra Blues Festival. “But Europe has brought so many options for me to work that I just can’t find in Canada. I loved singing at the Canada Day celebrations in Parksville, Vancouver Island Music festival in Courtenay, Fire & Ice in Qualicum, Nanaimo Blues festival and other events on Vancouver Island over the years,” but notes she doesn’t end up playing in Canada too often anymore, due to cost of travel and keeping so busy with her music in Europe.

The trip to India was “a dream come true,” she said.

“Every time I am booked in a new country I get excited. It is such a satisfying feeling to reach new cultures, people and geography with my music,” Zoe said, adding that India is a place she’s always wanted to visit. “So to be flown there to perform was a serious thrill.”

The trip didn’t disappoint. “The Mumbai experience was incredible,” she said. Zoe even wrote a song about it which she is considering including on her next album.

“The crowds were so energetic, excited, grateful and involved,” she said of performing there. “I met so many new fans in person after the show and then many reached out to me through social media afterwards to express their feelings and gratitude.”

One of the fans she met was a fellow blues singer (Kanchan Daniels) in Mumbai who had written a song about Zoe called Blue Rain.

Having discovered the song in a Rolling Stone magazine (India) online article, Zoe had spoken with Daniels before, but was excited to meet her in person.

“It was lovely to talk to her, realize in person her aspirations and my music’s influence on her as an artist, and we even sang and recorded a quick gospel song a capella on my iPhone to share with our fans. Truly a full circle moment,” said Zoe.

Later this year, Zoe will be off to play in several other countries she’s never visited before: Romania, Slovakia and Hungary.

She’s also planning to work on a new album — a double album titled Gemini — this summer, to be released independently in September.

She plans to be back on the Island in August for a quick holiday. You might just catch her at a local jam night.

For more info on Zoe, go to www.layla.ca.

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