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His will, Ria’s voice

NATANGA SMITH, [email protected]

His will, Ria’s voice

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THERE IS NO GREATER SATISFACTION than doing what you love. And using a God-given talent is just icing on the cake.

Ria-Simone Armstrong is doing just that – using her voice to bring a message of love and hope. And while it is not delivering sermons on Sunday, her words and her method are still powerful deliveries.

Ria-Simone is the 2015 Flow Gospel Challenge singing competition winner.

Her journey started in the church, where she still is.

“I used to sing a lot as a child. Hearing songs that pull me to them and I didn’t know why. Now that I am older I now know that something about them resonated with me. And I would practice, practice, practice.”

Ria-Simone’s first performance in front of a crowd was at St George Primary school when a teacher recognised her ability and asked her to sing at a school concert.

“She told me I had a nice voice.”

Ria-Simone gave her life to Christ at age 12, and said: “It was a calling I couldn’t ignore. I grew up in churches. I was a member of St George Parish Church where I lived and I was a member of the youth choir. I found I had a gift that God had given me. It manifested when I heard songs that pull me.”

Ria-Simone said she made a decision as she got older to switch her faith to Pentecostalism.

The gospel singer was also surrounded by a family of musicians and her grandfather was a choir director.

She describes her sound as “worship acoustic R&B”.

“That’s who I am at the core. But I am not limited to one particular genre. I am open to doing fusions and meshing different genres together.

“I have a relationship with God so my music is about Him. If I do a song that is another genre (non gospel) it would have to be heavily based on lyrical content.

“For me, it cannot be anything that goes against my belief system.

“Nothing that is contrary to the word of God . . . .”

Ria-Simone’s taste in gospel music runs from liking Mary Mary (“for their pop R&B style”) to Hillsong (“they do worship and I am a worshipper”) to Lecrae (“his style is rap”) to Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin among others.

We can see that Ria-Simone is a conundrum . . . multifaceted really. The petite singer has a certain look and style that doesn’t scream gospel artiste.

She walks steadily in six-inch heels. Her glasses are multicoloured. She mixes and matches colours and prints and at the time of the interview her hair was dyed green.

“As a singer I am trying to find my look. One that fits my personality and my sound,” said the past student of  Parkinson Memorial, She has just released her first single Make Me Better in February.

“When I was going to release the single I thought of how I was going to brand myself as an artiste. There are so many things that make Ria-Simone Ria-Simone. I was always into colour and I wanted to be unique. I got together a team of friends from church and we knocked heads so to speak.

“I had it bleached and coloured in pink first. Now it is green. And just because of who I am I am going to try every colour under the sun until I settle on one,” she said, laughing.

The past mass communication student of Barbados Community College is now doing her certification in early childhood education at Erdiston Teachers’ College, and we switched gears to talk about her role as a teacher, moulding young minds.

“I love children. I actually went back and taught for a while at Parkinson.

“Why this field is because I want to get our younger ones empowered from early. There are many in the school system who don’t know themselves . . . with low self esteem.

“Who don’t believe in themselves. For me as a Christian it also helps me to teach them about God’s love.

“That they were created by Him for a purpose,” she explained with fervour.

“I want to help shape them.”

Walking the grounds of Savannah Hotel, she started to hum a song and the interview turn to the singing competiton.

“It was my first time. I really don’t like doing competitions and only entered one eons ago. My purpose for doing Flow Gospel Challenge was not just to win, because no one enters a competition to lose, but to get a foothold into doing what I really want to do with my music which is to write and record and become a full time artiste.”

Ria-Simone said the push came from doing what God called her to do.

“He wants me to minister and bring healing and deliverance through my talent and if I could do that through a competition then that is what I was going to do.”

She auitioned and went through the process of the online voting where 15 were picked. That was whittled down to ten. This is where the story gets interesting.

Ria-Simone picked her song for finals night. Rehearsals were going well but then she changed her song last minute. A blessing in disguise, she said.

“I had chosen a different song and started working with it doing voice recordings, going back and forth with my music director at church and running it past my husband.

“It was around the time of our annual church conference and I went up and sang As The Deer by Matt Gilman.

“I came back to my seat and felt strongly impressed upon by the Holy Spirit that what I had just done was what I should do for the competition. Mind you this was just a couple of weeks before the finals,” she explained.

“It worked out how God orchestrated it. I sang As The Deer and won.

And that is the song she won with on the night.

“I was a bag of emotions when my name was called.

“I remember all the sacrifices I had made. It was such a surreal moment for me.”

In the audience sharing in the moment was her family, church members and people from her community.

Her biggest supporter her husband, Robert.

On the day of contest nerves took over but Ria-Simone had a decree that her faith and strength would see her through.

“He was my calm. He is always there for me,” she said. And yes he was there for the interview, bringing in the bags of clothing for the pictures and helping her buckle her shoes.

He then quietly sat on the balcony, listening to the interview, never once interjecting but smiling as she spoke of her journey.

“We met at the church we both attend which is Covenant Life Divine Centre. We were friends first . . . . Talking now and then and he would check in on me sporadically. One day things just changed and the conversation we started brought us to now,” she said, giggling.

Ria-Simone is busy writing, looking to release an album.

“I have gotten better with my words. My writing style is just to depend on what the Holy Spirit tells me and I go from there.”

Ria-Simone left the interview singing and praying that whatever God’s will will be done.