Published on April 11th, 2023 | by MuzikScribe0
Corina: No Half Stepping
Reflecting, tell me your whole inception into music — When did you first become interested in it?
I actually don’t ever remember “becoming” interested. I literally remember singing before I could talk. I literally assumed EVERYONE was a performer because it was something I had to do, like a part of me.
And, how did it all begin for Corina Ayala?
My childhood was…challenged in many ways. My parents were young and struggled financially, and my mother suffered from mental illness. I was cooking, cleaning and taking care of my siblings from 6 years old, and when I look at my nieces and nephews I don’t believe it myself but I lived it. I was a very quiet but strong child, and I took my responsibilities very seriously. My siblings were my life and music made that…normal. My parents loved music, but my mother was particularly obsessed. She had an album collection that would have rivaled any self-respecting DJ! Lol. However, she was ill, a lot, and as a result of that she could be verbally and physically abusive, and that’s putting it lightly. Music was a whole other world I could escape to. Any moment I could find throughout the day, every day, I’d play my favorite records and pretend to be the artist. I play acted the scenarios the songs presented, and would lose myself in the many different worlds I imagined. Music, performance, which would lead to writing, creating and producing my own film work; I attribute to literally saving my life.
Now you’re a native of Harlem, New York, correct? So, growing up in the ‘Black Mecca,’ who all did / do you consider to be your strongest musical influences?
Well, that’s an interesting question for a variety of reasons. I was born in Harlem and raised in the South Bronx, home of Hip Hop. Black and Brown children / families were one! We lived, played and existed as families together. We ate the same foods, danced to the same music, wore each other’s clothes, etcetera. My parents were born in Puerto Rico, but brought to NY when they were infants so they were essentially raised in NY. I am NEW YORK and very PROUDLY from the Ghettos of this amazing city! I am my neighborhood, and it is everything still living in me that keeps me grounded when things get crazy. The music we listened to was eclectic! My mother was MOTOWN, SALSA and STREISAND! I mean, she dressed like The Supremes; hair, outfits and all. My mother was a beautiful, strong and proud Afro-Latina, and screamed it out onto the racist, closed off world she often encountered and she was NOT apologetic! In spite of her struggles, she was the PTA president and a community activist who went after politicians for the funds needed to keep our children educated and fed in and out of the school system. Politicians feared her because she was relentless and wouldn’t go away. In short, they often gave her what she came for before she asked. So back to your question regarding musical influences, there were many; they were diverse with a few key artists always in the forefront such as Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, The Supremes, La Lupe, Lou Rawls and on. My dad loved Motown as well, but he was a fan of the Elton Johns, Johnny Cash, (The) Carpenters, etcetera. We were all about the world music before it was a thing, and the children in my home, friends and family included, were fully immersed in it and were gonna love it. It has absolutely shaped my own personal music, which I like to think encompasses a combination of all of the music and performers from my childhood. HOWEVER, the foundation of everything I do begins with HIP HOP!
In having said that, how do you classify your overall sound and / or style?
LOL! I think I may have answered that above, and I have to say my own personal sound is a combination of all of it. I know that WORLD MUSIC has what most think is a very specific type of artist and music, but it’s the only thing that makes sense to me. I can only classify my style, not just the music in the world I am known for, but my own personal production taste and vibe, as world! It’s absolute ground, heart and soul…I say it’s Hip Hop first because Hip Hop is ours and I could not be prouder of my people, my roots, our flavor, culture and where I come from. I love our music, foods, vibe, fashion…but most of all, our ability to create something from nothing. My music has that. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t reinvent the wheel. Everything I do is an inspired vibration coming from somewhere, something, already done. It’s like an amazing recipe…10 people can have the exact same ingredients and cook 10 entirely different versions of the same plate. The element that makes the difference in what I call MY music, is me. From the time that I could write lyrics, I could also hear entire musical compositions in my head but I could not play any instruments. Thanks to technology and computers today, that is no longer a problem and I finally get to express the music for the songs I write as they were intended. I’m in heaven!
As a songwriter, when you sit down to pen your lyrics where do you draw your inspiration from?
The life all around me. Mine or someone else’s. I tell stories, whether they are mine or an experience I am having about another individual as I perceive it. We as human beings, project our own experiences onto what we think we are seeing in and about others, and I write about that. As a child, I didn’t find prayer fulfilling but I did find that having conversation was. I spoke to what I decided God was, as I would a friend. I mentioned my Conversations with God, what I like to call my Pitch Prayers because so much of my work, so many of my songs, are questions and ongoing conversations I have with my creator, God, Source, the Universe, Yaweh, etcetera. Sometimes they’re loving, happy, gratitude filled conversations, and other times they are raging tangents, but always cathartic. The way I see it, whatever is responsible for us being here, whatever created us, knows what we do, say and think at all times so why pray in a hushed, respectful tone if that isn’t how we’re feeling? Source already knows what we are thinking. In essence, my songs are essentially my prayers.
What particular string of events actually led to your initial signing to / with Atco Records?
I was on a small independent label called Cutting Records, content with selling a few thousand records to the neighborhood. I wanted the Billboard Charts! Not because it was Billboard, but because it meant people everywhere were aware and paying attention to this little brown girl from around the way. Cutting Records was good as long as they could pay their rent; I was “over that” and them very quickly. They released one single on me every year to a year and a half, which was ridiculous if you were trying to build a career and I wasn’t having any of it so I started pestering them about needing an entire album until they finally started funding the recording of it. I couldn’t get away from them as my contract was absolutely horrible and iron clad. I learned very early on that It was worse than a bad situation I was going to have to make work. I knew they were never going to spend the money needed to promote an entire album, so they were going to need a major distributor willing to do so… but I got better than that! Thanks to the song “TEMPTATION,” released as a single first by Cutting, Atco / Atlantic took notice. The song was on fire entirely on its own, from jump. It was getting P1 and P2 stations across the country pretty much on its own accord. Cutting was not much for promotion, so I did a lot of showing up to record stores everywhere to promote and sell my own records. I paid for my pictures, posters and did whatever it took to be seen and heard. Enter Atco / Atlantic and Derek Shulman. We had 3 other offers from other labels, and while the Atco / Atlantic offer wasn’t the biggest financially it was the best one for me at the time in terms of artist development. The president at the time, Derek, was Team Corina all the way, and I hadn’t had that till then.
Switching gears here…
What do you feel has and will continue to be the key to your longevity?
I can’t speak for anybody else but for me, the secret is believing; FIRST in you, without needing the approval of ANYBODY else! You got to tap into your knowing, and trust yourself and your guides. I’ve learned that even the most well-meaning people will try to dissuade you from what feels right to you. People can only speak from the experience of their own lives, SOOOO because they are NOT you and CAN’T be you, do you and keep it moving! Most important, do what you love ‘cause doing what you love is the answer to all of life’s challenges. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and it was always when I trusted someone else’s opinion over what felt right within me. The funny thing is that in the moments when I shut everyone out and did what I knew was right for me and it went well, the very same people that tried to dissuade me from the winning choice took credit for the success of it. People are quick to make claims on what you succeed at, but no one takes responsibility for the failures they helped create.
What do you want people to get from your music?
Firstly, I want them to just sit and listen…listen to what I’m saying, feel what the music is making you feel. If you don’t feel or hear anything, I am not for you move on! There are so many amazing artists out there and music, people and life are vibrational. We attract others vibrating on the same level we are, and as we grow we change, vibration changes and we migrate on to the next group. There are plenty of phenomenal creatives in the world, find the ones that speak to you. I’d like them to know that everything I sing, whether I wrote it or not, has to be my story in some way or I can’t tell it to you. I’m a storyteller! It has to feel like I let you in to a special and private place in my soul because that is what music is to me.
On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of music?
I’ll say this…Lionel Richie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in his speech, he said this, “There are Creatives and then there are the Created. I am a Creative!” Creatives suffer for the work because it has to be true or real for them, but when it finally comes to fruition, IF it comes to fruition, it is TRUTH and you know truth when you hear it. It has a ring to it unlike anything else. Sure, some of the CREATED make a lot of money doing it, but are you leaving anything behind. I want to make a mark. If 10 people buy my album, I want them to KNOW they have a piece of me, my heart, my life and that it will exist as such forever within them. There is a mutual collaboration between the artist and the listener. I want them to need me as much as I need them, but most of all to feel me and, hopefully, see themselves.
Do you have any other outside / additional aspirations, maybe even completely away from entertainment?
I love life, nature, animals…I want to create music and art until I take my last breath and until my body allows it, and I want to live a life surrounded with things that bring me joy. Animals and nature are that for me. I love people, but I have my own baggage and I tend to take on the challenges of others. I haven’t fully overcome that, so I stay to myself and work in silence a lot. It’s my therapy. My work doesn’t allow me to stay to myself for long, but when the socializing or the people-ing is necessary to my work, I can control the narrative better if I’m in a healthy head space and frame of mind. The rest of it; networking, parties and socializing for the sake of doing so, not my thing. Never has been, never will be…and I don’t apologize for it.
You’ve also appeared on both the small and big screen(s) — Is acting still on your radar?
My music and acting were always intertwined. I called myself a performance artist for a long time because it sounded to me like I was saying, “I’m an artist” without sounding full of shit to myself. Performance artist was the child in me who acted out the songs and movies I loved in front of my bedroom mirror. I had the albums to my favorite movies, and I did every single song in the soundtrack. They were TO SIR WITH LOVE Sidney Poitier, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Andrew Lloyd Weber with Carl Anderson and Ted Neeley and anything with Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams! Lol. They raised me. No one on TV looked like me, which didn’t dissuade me, but created the experience of elders who insisted the world of entertainment was not kind or inclusive of US. Then I found Cher! As far as I was concerned, she was Puerto Rican! I had her hair, her skin tone and she was a badass, so I was going to follow her lead. It’s what convinced me that I had to be able to do everything; sing, dance, act…but most of all and as a woman, be a badass! At least that was the goal. Lol! I’ve written several film scripts and theater plays, and have produced and directed quite a few of them as my IMDBpro suggests…so, YES, acting is definitely in my soul. Anything performance!
In addition, you’ve been a presence on social media with the YouTube web series Lupita Says — Tell me more about this and other online endeavors…
Lupita is my alter and ever true ghetto superstar in my neighborhoods growing up. She’s literally a kind of Cardi B who, by the way, I absolutely love and adore. It’s that individual that fearlessly says what she thinks at all times, doesn’t always say it in the most grammatically correct way, but couldn’t give 2 less fu&*%! I speak my truth and understand that it comes with consequences, so as Corina I have to chill, take a back seat and just shut up some days…Lupita, she says everything I’m thinking and feeling, whether the world is ready for it or not. I love her and people love her, and I mean ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE! They get that she’s the real thing. I will always go back to Cardi B because that is what makes her a star! She’s not apologetic because she speaks from her heart and is big enough to admit when she’s wrong, and that is refreshing and very needed in the world more than ever.
To date, what has been your greatest career moment(s), at least thus far anyway?
I’ve had so many unbelievable experiences and all over the world, but I’ve got so much more to do and experience. I’ll have to say that watching individuals with NO degrees of separation from me going on to be some of the world’s biggest stars; Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Boyz II Men, Mark Wahlberg…meeting individuals that were heroes in the world like Ruben Blades, Tim Robbins, Sammy Davis, Jr., and on and on. I’ve had the experience of going to places I never imagined I would go. There have been places like Russia and Japan, where they sang my songs phonetically. I mean, that is just crazy to me even now. But to list actual experiences as the best of it feels like I could leave something important out and I won’t do it.
If you could collaborate with any one artist, living or dead, who would it be and why?
PRINCE! The WHY? I mean, he was music personified! I made a stop in Minneapolis while on tour. Prince found out and sent for me (Gasp)! I was to go to Paisley Park…I made myself so sick with nerves my label reps thought I had food poisoning. I never made it. My one regret! I’m not a fanning out kind of individual. I keep it all together because I don’t want to weird anybody out. Lol! But on the inside? I’m just saying, Prince, David Bowie, Cher, Annie Lennox and Lionel Richie…just writing their names makes me tremble with undying love and nervousness at the mastery. If I could be on stage with Cher, I’d probably die from the shock because as a child she is what I wanted to be. She made me believe I could do it just because she did it. Even today, everyone talks about how much shit has changed, but, c’mon, Latinos are still completely underrated, ignored and underrepresented in Hollywood, unless of course you can PASS for something else as so many have and do.
If you could play any venue in the world, which one would you choose and why?
The Super Bowl because everybody is watching, and I mean everybody. People that NEVER follow sports are there front and center. The only other choice I would make is the Great Strahov Stadium in Prague because I could be connecting to over 250,000 and all at once. UGH, the thought of that!
One track of yours that you think defines you and why?
A song I wrote called “RUN AWAY.” It’s on YouTube. I did a simple video for it, but it’s packed with a very specific vibration everyone feels when they see it. It feels a certain kind of way because in it was captured a personal trauma I had experienced the day before. Everyone that sees that video FEELS IT! This song says exactly what I felt when I wrote it. I can still relive the experience just by listening to it!
What’s an average day like for you?
Well, I work in my sleep. My to do list, music and how to make it happen, runs through my mind at all hours. I literally wake up and record melodies into my phone right by my bed. I start my day with meditation because I cannot live without that silent reflection. On the days that I miss it, I’m simply not right! I have to get my workout in the first 3 hours of the day for mental health. My first meal is generally around 2pm, and then back to work. I set timers so I don’t sit for 8 straight hours when working on my computer. I set times to make my calls and check with work partners or business connections, but overall I practice trying to do just one thing at a time. There might be a computer remote session when I work with musicians I hire, Zoom calls thanks to Covid because it means we don’t have to get together if we don’t want to, and rehearsals with dancers to get my show right. Some days, I straight shut the phone out and let others deal with the world so I can get shit done! My working process is super private because it’s so personal. If I don’t immerse myself in it, nothing gets done. Also, I keep very busy because I have the tendency to worry about all the things I could be doing. In between, I rehearse with other artists to prepare for presenting my new work to the world. It’s gridlock in my brain, but I’m working on it.
Please discuss how you interact with and respond to fans…
I mean, THEY’RE EVERYTHING! I say this all day every day. I am so blessed to even be able to say I have fans! WTF!! That is amazing in more ways than I can list. Any and every chance I get, especially when I perform, I have to take the time to thank them and have my moment with those that go out of their way to support me. I have a fan club, or better yet KLUB and it’s called Corina’s Kittenz because I am Corina Katt 😉 www.corinakattayala.com/subscribe. I write those that sign up, my Kittenz, and I work to create events and contests, as well as merch designed with only them in mind to show my gratitude.
What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? And, why?
My favorite part is the fans sharing their stories about how my work has affected their lives…my least favorite, the bullshit in the entertainment business that has nothing to do with entertainment.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
If you’re going to do this or anything for that matter, GO ALL IN! No half stepping, no nothing to fall back on ‘cause if you have a Plan B, that is what you’re doing, period! Don’t take no for an answer, ask a lot of questions and don’t listen to the haters. In fact, use them to motivate you to be the best you!
“Temptation” is a bonafide Freestyle classic — How did this particular composition come about? Who came up with its concept? And, please describe for me the overall studio vibes on that fateful day?
This story is too long to tell, but I will try to give Cliffs Notes. There was an audition for a female singer in the Bronx over a club called Side Street where there was a recording studio. I had been recording for 4 years with no real break. I was introduced to a song I didn’t like, I rewrote it, the music composer and I changed the melody and Boom! “Temptation” was born. It would be 7 years before the world would hear it. Carlos Berrios had a copy of the cassette I had given him when he was a DJ at a Queens club 7 years prior. He called me up one day, asked if he could record an updated version of it and I asked to hear it. I knew at first listen that it was a monster! Cutting didn’t think so, and I had to fight to do it and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made. I’ll never forget the day we recorded the vocals. I arrived ready to just be there all night, but the song was magic from jump! I did the vocals in 30 minutes! It was just a world of its own, and it was an undeniable force I still feel when I perform it today.
Lastly, what’s next for you, Corina?
Listen, I will be singing, performing, acting until I take my last breath, PERIOD! I am presently working (on one) of my most important projects thus far, which is an album. I am producing it, and I couldn’t be prouder of the direction and directions it’s taking me in. In short, I am blessed with the ability to work with some really great people like Ruben Martinez from Nene Musik as my everything in business consultant, and producers that are standing by; ready, willing and able to help me complete the vision entirely in my crazy head. I’ll say this, this thing scares me, but if you’re goal doesn’t scare you it isn’t worth doing!
Is there anything I left out, or just plain forgot to mention?
LOL!!! I think NOT!
Any “closing” thought(s) for our readers?
Life can be harsh, look for the small joys throughout your day which will lead to the giant unforgettable ones memories are made of. Take breaks to do you! The ticket to fulfillment is truly like the prayer says, “ask for the strength to accept what you cannot change, change the things you can and the wisdom to know the difference!”
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