Hailing from Ghana, West Africa via the home of country music, Nashville, Tennessee, 22 year old Ruby Amanfu is a slap in the face of complacency, armed with an album's worth of crispy soulful tunes, a merry determination to make the world take notice and a killer smile.
As her debut album proves throughout, Ruby Amanfu has a voice that could melt ice coupled with choruses so seductive, so gloriously simple it's hard to believe no one's come up with them before. It's classic Janet Jackson shot through with the aching heart of Stevie Wonder, an infectious enthusiasm hiding lyrics that betray a world wiseliness way beyond her years.
Indeed, Ruby's youthful accomplishment makes it hard to believe this is a girl who grew up in a house where pop music was forbidden. As a child in a relatively strict, church-going family who had moved from Ghana to Nashville when Ruby was just three, the only music she was exposed to was classical or Christian. ''Even jazz was too edgy for my parents back then,'' she laughs today, ''although they've changed now obviously.''
The young Ruby also sang in the local church, and remembers returning home with her brother and sister to mimic the traditional gospel songs they had to sing there. ''And no one wanted to admit it,'' she smiles, ''But we sounded good!'' Not long after, Ruby made an even more earth-shattering discovery. Pop music. ''A friend gave me my first album, which was Madonna's 'Like A Prayer''', she explains. ''I was 10 years old and I had to hide it under my pillow at night. Eventually my mum found it and crushed it up. It changed my world though. It really did.''
All told, it was an important age. Ruby changed schools to join a more diverse, open-minded high school, started playing the flute and started writing songs - initially ''horrible love songs'' by her own admission. I think when I was about 11, I wrote this really tacky song called 'Be My Valentine' and I made all my friends sing it over the intercom at school for Valentines Day.''
Despite this, Ruby still hadn't realised what shape her future should take. In fact, all she wanted in the world was to be an opera singer. ''I had a teacher,'' she reminisces, ''who told me in front of the whole group that I didn't have the voice for it. He said my voice was too fuzzy. That was devastating for me.''
But in typical sparky Ruby fashion, there was no way she was letting him have the last word. ''I processed that and thought, well, I'll just go ahead and be fuzzy and up yours! But I still wanted to show that I could do it, so I auditioned for the Nashville Symphony chorus at 15 and I made it. I was the youngest member and it was just so glorious to sing Handel's 'Messiah'. But I had to go through all that to realise I liked pop and I didn't want to be an opera singer,'' she smiles slyly. ''But I could if I wanted to, fuzzy or no fuzzy!''
The realisation coincided with the writing of her first proper pop song, 'Because Of Love'. Ruby performed it in front of her entire school, everyone loved it and the experience was enough to make her realise, ''okay, I can do this''. The guitar player who accompanied her on stage passed the song to a family friend, a local hippy called Dave Matthews (''not the Dave Matthews though,'' Ruby grins, ''that would be a much better story!'') who had a small studio in his house. Dave loved it and over the next two years, the pair wrote and recorded 10 tracks to form a locally released debut album, 'So Now The Whole World Knows'. The minute the record was completed, Ruby thought no more about it and headed off to Berklee College of Music in Boston to study music business and songwriting, teach herself the guitar and enjoy the close-knit writer's community of the college.
Things didn't go quite to plan though. Without any warning at all, Nashville suddenly started taking notice of the talent that had just slipped through its fingers. Everyone who heard the record was clamouring to see Ruby live, so she hotfooted it back home to give her career her full attention. After a fruitless year of sweet talking record company execs in LA and New York, a track Ruby had written for someone else arrived at Polydor in London. No one cared who the song was meant for, they just wanted the girl singing on the tape. A few months later, Ruby was in the studio recording her debut album.
The amazing result is her love of giddy infectious pop choruses (debut single 'Sugah') alongside angular upbeat folk ('Chocolate Pie'), sassy rock ('For Life') and a sprinkling of the smoothest R&B ('Know You Better') with her quirky, hypnotic - and not at all fuzzy - voice always the focus. ''It's a mix of my Stevie Wonder and a mix of my Tori Amos and my Ricky Lee Jones and my Peter Gabriel and my James Taylor. That's what it is musically. Those influences have just melted so beautifully together. But it's pop because it will be popular at the end of the day.''
Singer-songwriters may come and go but it's obvious within minutes that Ruby's debut album is more than just a one-minute wonder. It's the culmination of years of confusion, heartbreak, watching, growing and learning. Take standout track 'Chocolate Pie'. ''Coming over to Nashville I started to feel racism and I just wanted to home in on one side of it, the interracial relationship thing, which I have done. I wanted to shock. It starts off literally being about a little boy who really wants a piece of chocolate pie but he can't because it's not ready yet. The next scene he's a little older and he sees Keisha - and I made the name so people know she's obviously not Mary-Sue - and he's been taught never to touch. It's a taboo. I just want to shed some light on the fact that it's not only okay, it's healthy not to close yourself up.''
Clearly, this is not a girl to be dismissed with lazy comparisons and the usual clich?s. This is a person with something to say and a peculiarly beautiful way of saying it.