When young Joy Ike's family moved to the United States from Nigeria, they had to shorten their native surname, like many of our kin who arrived at Ellis Island with too many vowels. They were enrolled at immigration as Ikeh, and later became Ike.
Good thing for Pittsburgh's music fans and their "I Like Ike" movement.
Ike started her career singing in her local church. She grew up in a devoutly Christian family, and attended the Assemblies of God church as a kid, switching to non-denominational churches as a teen. One thing you can bet on is that a religious upbringing includes lots of music.
She was, though, a part-time singer at open mic shows and full-time student. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.A. in Communications, Ike began to focus again on her songwriting while working full-time as a publicist for a book publisher.
Ike knew that she wanted to perform, but the tub thumping 9-to-5 stint earned her daily bread while she played local and regional gigs and built a fan base. It also gave her a crash course on the business end of the entertainment industry.
In 2006 she released her first EP, "Before These Words Were Ever Spoken…" The next year, Ike was voted runner-up for "Best Solo Artist" by the Pittsburgh City Paper, and won the title in 2008-09.
She was also featured on Allhiphop.com's "Alternatives" as "one of the artists [who] will ultimately be responsible for placing Pittsburgh's music scene firmly on the map." It was nice recognition for an indie singer-songwriter.
Her first full-length album, "Good Morning," was released in June 2008, featuring "City Lights." She had given up her publicist career before the CD's release to begin her full-time journey as an artist.
The CD Release Party for her latest album, "Rumors," will be on 4 PM Sunday, May 16th, at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts at 6300 Fifth Avenue in Shadyside.
It's a "Potluck Release." Each guest bringing a dish with them will receive free admission and a discount on "Rumors." Ike will be accompanied by her band, The Freya String Quartet, and the Heather Kropf Band.
"Rumors" was recorded by sound engineer Jake Hanner, who doubles as the drummer for Donora. It was mixed and mastered at Emmy winning studio Ya Momz House, located on South Highland Avenue in East Liberty, and produced by Ike.
And hey, money was no object. Ike went on line to help fund her project; she got three-quarters of her costs donated in exchange for CD's, downloads, t-shirts, and "warm and fuzzy feelings."
While her background influenced her songwriting, Ike isn't gospel, folk, or a Christian music maker; her musical muses are Sara Groves and Brooke Waggoner. She considers her sound a mix of "pop, nu-jazz, and neo-soul."
Old Mon doesn't know about all that; he's befuddled by the array of genres in today's music. But he does know a clean, warm pop voice when he hears one, and Joy Ike sure has that.
Her instrumentation is unique, too, with piano, strings, and kind of a tribal percussion. It makes for an indie-pop sound that's custom made for a club and its intimate surroundings or a good vibe comin' through the iPod buds.
Her "Rumors" players are top rate: Chris Massa [drums], Jason Rafalak [bass], Peace Ike [djembe] and Elliot Anderson [cello] help keep the flow rollin'.
Ike's music addresses universal topics: love, loneliness, personal connections, and the search for God. She works her way through topics like her brother's death on "How She Floats," and her thoughts on relativism and reality on "Give Me Truth."
But she doesn't preach, even if an occasional Biblical reference slips into her songs, and her lyrics are written for adult consumption.
If that doesn't explain it, reviewers have compared her vocally to Corinne Bailey Rae and Norah Jones, stylistically to Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor, and her ambiance to that of India Aire and Lizz Wright. Toss well, and you have Joy Ike.
She knows how to take her show on the road, too. From her Pittsburgh base, she does about 130 gigs annually, stopping at local spots like the Backstage and the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and touring in DC and points east. Next month, she'll spend a week or so performing in Lancaster, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington.
Ike has has opened for national indie recording acts like Kirsten Price, Serena Ryder, Tyrone Wells, and Dwele.
She also landed a big summer gig when she'll join Lilith Fair at the Susquehanna Bank Center in Philly on July 28th. She was chosen from a long list of applicants after entering the song "Sweeter" from "Rumors" in an online contest run by ourstage.com and leading the ballot.
She's worked with several cultural organizations such as The Pittsburgh Public Theater, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, WYEP, The Carnegie International Museum, The August Wilson Center, and New York Faith & Justice.
One place you won't find her is playing the bar/club scene; she considers them to be too oriented toward the drawing power of an artist rather than the art itself. And hey, her performances are best suited for intimate surroundings.
The Squirrel Hill girl has also recently been featured on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" segment. She's also going multi-media on WYEP, performing with poet CM Burroughs by accompanying her work in late June.
And with her background in publicity, music marketing and promotion, Ike also runs a website called Grassrootsy, a bi-weekly blog helping independent artists to better represent themselves and their music from the industry's business end.
She's good at it, too; articles in the Post Gazette, Tribune Review, and City Paper all beat Old Mon to the punch this week. They all ask the same musical question:
What's not to like about Ike?
Joy Ike - "City Lights"