Mykia Jovan spreads soulful, eclectic style throughout the Big Easy

In a time when most celebrities find it difficult to be honest, New Orleans native Mykia Jovan is a refreshing change of pace. Although she found nothing extraordinary about herself when she was younger, it was music’s ability to bring people together that made her happy.

“Growing up, my mother was a youth pastor, and I was the praise leader,” Jovan said. “I didn’t necessarily display any exceptional talent, but at a young age, I found fulfillment in uniting people in song.”

Jovan pursued acting at Eleanor McMain High School and continued her training at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), where she was always surrounded by music. There she would write poetry on bus tickets and other scraps of paper.

“When my musician friends would play around after school, I’d pull out my notes and whisper the words searching for a melody,” Jovan said. “It wasn’t until I was required to sing a piece for an audition that I suspected I was good enough. The reaction I received from the panel that initially intimidated me was euphoric, and I wanted to feel it again, so I just kept singing.”

With a voice so unique it is impossible to classify, Jovan has given up on being tied to one genre, opting to entertain her audiences with an eclectic set during live shows.

“I am a Libra, so I can be indecisive, and I have trouble committing to a certain image,” Jovan said. “I’ve divorced myself from trying to consistently fit into any genre.”

When Jovan steps up to the microphone, her voice is a perfect medley of blues, jazz, soul and funk, but she initially found it difficult to reconcile the voice in her head with the sound that came out.

“For years, I hated my voice,” Jovan said. “I would hear a big powerhouse voice in my head, but this faint sigh would come out, and it frustrated me. Tim Burns’ documentary “Jazz” was screened at NOCCA and featured Billie Holiday. When I heard her, it felt like seeing a familiar face in a crowded room. I had finally heard someone that sounded like me. She was my angel — a musical mentor. She assured me that it was OK to be different and raw.”

Jovan’s musical influences are as varied as her sound and include greats like Nina Simone, Nat King Cole, Phyllis Hyman, Bjork and Jeff Buckley.

“Gospel is my foundation, and jazz is my first love, so I am heavily influenced by artists who have conviction and honesty in their voice with elegant execution,” Jovan said. “Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Erykah Badu, Yael Naim and Sade. These artists shaped me.”

Music is not just a way to unite people for Jovan. She has used music and its healing qualities to jump some of the toughest hurdles in her life.

“My favorite songs to perform have been ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ and ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ from ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” Jovan said. “I’ve battled depression and anxiety since I was a child, and the scarecrow’s song helped me make light of a psychosomatic stress syndrome that manifested in high school. Dorothy’s song was the audition piece, and that got me started. It encompasses all of my hopes and dreams.”

Not a trained vocalist, Jovan admits there was trepidation in just being the singer she is, instead of the one some people wanted her to be.

“I am not an entertainer, I am a storyteller so the pressure to convince the audience they should listen goes away,” Jovan said. “I am not singing at them. I am sharing with them.”

Jovan dreams of not only sharing her experiences with her audience and fans, but also sharing with those who struggle with the issues she continues to overcome.

“I would like to eventually have an acting workshop targeted to build confidence in people with low self-esteem,” Jovan said. “I have a special interest in kids that have been emotionally and physically abused, because it truly shapes how they see themselves as an adult. So if I can get to them early through exercises that allow them to escape and encourage self reflection, they can equip themselves to confront things in life confidently. A lot of my challenges stem from waiting later in life to deal with past hurt, so if I can save them some time it would be an honor.”

Jovan is currently working on an album of standards called “Songs for Sunday.” Fans can expect soulful, atmospheric pop with a heavy nod to jazz.

“Lyrically, fans will be amused, touched and at times, uneasy,” Jovan promised. “I’m pretty stoked to finally get it out.”

Mykia Jovan regularly performs around New Orleans. Her upcoming performances are below. For more information visit her website at http://mykiajovan.com/

Performance schedule:

- Howling Wolf on Tuesday, April 30 at 9 p.m.

- House of Blues Foundation Room on Wednesday, May 1 at 7 p.m.

- Bullets Sports Bar on Wednesday, May 1 at 10 p.m.

- Vaughan’s Lounge on Thursday, May 2 at 10 p.m.

- The Little Gem Saloon on Friday, May 3 at 9 p.m.