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Music in her soul

PHUKET: Singer-songwriter Pjae Stanley has only been living in Phuket for one year but has already established a reputation as one of the island’s top musicians.

By Claire Connell

Tuesday 24 April 2012, 03:44PM

Pjae Stanley.

Pjae Stanley.

The vivacious American specialises in Motown, soul music, plus the occasional jazz and pop tunes and can be found regularly performing at venues and private parties on and around Phuket.

When she was growing up, her father was in the military which meant the family travelled a lot around America and the world. Coming from Dallas, Texas, in the American South meant Pjae’s first introduction to music was in her church’s choir, run by her grandfather.

Her mother would regularly tell her she had a great voice, but Pjae thought she was just being kind. Her friends were more direct, instead telling her they believed she
sounded “too white”.

“What they meant was that I didn’t have that Southern sound in my voice, and I just thought, well my friends say I suck, it must be true.”

It wasn’t until her husband Jason heard her sing for the first time after five years of marriage and told her how talented she was that she really believed her voice had a positive quality, and began to venture into making a career of it.

“I don’t know how good my voice is, but I think there is a quality to it that touches the soul. It has a healing quality.”

After turning professional in the 1990s, aged 35, Pjae performed regularly until the couple moved to Asia in 2006, based in Vietnam. While living in Ho Chi Minh, Pjae performed regularly, with Jason her backup bass player.

In 2010, on a visa run, the couple came to Phuket. Pjae explored the option of getting regular gigs and within days was contracted by the Indigo Pearl resort to perform at its New Year’s Eve party.

“I thought that was a pretty good indicator, then in 2011 Jason and I discussed me moving to Phuket for a year just to give it a go.”

So Pjae moved to Phuket while Jason remained in Ho Chi Minh working at an international school until recently, when he joined her on the island. The move to Phuket has been a success for Pjae’s already strong career, and she has no plans to relocate any time soon.

“My biggest break was with Benedikt De Bellis from Opus One. He hired me for every Friday for their “Got Soul” nights for eight months, and that was my home – Opus One.”

Dan About Thailand

She was at one stage performing five nights a week but is currently down to three nights with her band – Colin Hill on guitar, Milo Reznikoff on sax and her nephew Brandon Dorrough on drums – so she’s free to do private events.

Pjae and her band perform at Trisara on Wednesdays, Bliss Beach Club on Thursdays, and Sala Phuket on Sundays.

“That’s the thing I love about Phuket – people have been so generous and given me a chance.”

She lists her musical influences as soul queens Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight, but says she also has huge respect for a new African American artist, Indie Arie. 

"She sings such globally positive, uplifting music.”

Despite her church and gospel background, Pjae says she’s not religious, though she is very spiritual, and this comes through in her own songs.

Her second album will be released soon.

“It’s about merging [spirituality] in a popular way, and I think Bono (from U2) does that very well. I think we are meant to be on the planet not to take up space, but to help others. And if I can use my gift to help other people, then my job is done.

“A song is written with its own identity, and if you can capture that, then your voice is the carrier of the song. Music is transforming and transcending, meaning that it changes the way you might be feeling, and can take you to another place.

“I love that part of music, that reach, and the connection with the audience.”

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