As a new tradition on niceandrough.com, each week we will feature one of our member artists. It’s down and dirty, simply 5 questions, with 5 answers that will take you a little deeper into the lives of some of the most fascinating women I have come to know. Here’s our 1st installment…
SHEILA: When asked, Joyce Kennedy defined herself as a “Rock-Soul-Funk Diva.” How do you characterize yourself as a music artist?
KKAI: I could see why she would say that, coming from her rock era. With
that in mind, if I had to define myself, it would be an “Alternative
Metal or Alternative Rock Artist”. I like the word alternative. It
infers “something other than what you think” is the norm. An option.
SHEILA: What is it about metal rock that calls to you?
KKAI: To me, rock means freedom and metal is a cry or a scream, an emotional
release. For me, it’s the only place where I am free to honestly
express feelings and be irreverent about it, be angry, be ecstatic. A
cry of freedom.
SHEILA: Tell us about where you are now in your musical journey? You can
relate it to your upcoming CD and the themes and messages you want to
convey with the work.
KKAI: I’m in a good place. I am finally taking care of myself and putting
my needs first. I feel nothing but gratitude for my time spent in
Cambridge, MA, teaching. I learned a lot about myself, things I would
have never learned otherwise. My music reflects my ups and downs, bad
relationships, and bad choices; still I came out of it ok. I hope
people can hear and relate to being in a negative space, acknowledging
the present, then being able to move forward to the next episode.
This CD reveals my journey both painful and pleasurable and how I’ve transcended through my life experiences. The first song reflects deep pain and loss of self. Hopefully, by the end of the record, the audience would have seen an evolution in spirit. Transcendence through perseverance.
SHEILA: How many black women in rock do you believe there are, globally?
KKAI: Give us your best estimate? Interesting question. I think there are a whole lot more than people realize. We, as women have always had to be seen in a somewhat “modest” kind of light. I think that since it is not so taboo for a woman to be sexual, bold, and powerful, thanks in part, to rock and to hip/hop making these women more mainstream, I would say there maybe 300-500 women of color out there rocking out?
SHEILA: Will you give us a sneak peak into your new CD? Pick a song whose
link you’d like to share and tell us about it.
KKAI: That’s difficult. There are two songs that I would choose from, but
both sit lyrically, at opposite ends of the spectrum. “Portrait” was
written at my most painful state, and “Cry”, at my most blissful. Do
you want to feel “light” or “heavy”? Cry is light, Portrait is heavy.
It’s that time again….Time for our featured artist of the week: a native of North Philly, GhettoSongbird. Like, many black women in rock, her story inspires and makes you wanna dig deeper and explore the music that reflects her DNA. So without further adieu, 5 questions! Five amazing answers! Enjoy….
SHEILA: How did the name, GhettoSongbird come about?
GHETTOSONGBIRD: On 16th St. in North Philly in the middle room on the 2nd floor every morning I listened to a songbird sing the most inspiring songs a young black ghetto girl could hear amid gun shots & everyday city life. I named myself after that bird the creator sent to me in hopes that everywhere I land, I could be that song of hope playing on someone’s ear drums.
SHEILA: How would you describe your brand of rock music?
GHETTOSONGBIRD: I never really put a label on it until others started naming it anything from rock-n-soul to ghetto-rock, so I stick with good old fashion rock-n-roll & allow listeners to come up with the cool names.
SHEILA: You are a triple threat – singer, songwriter and musician. Have you always performed your own brand of rock music, or did your work evolve from another genre or work with other bands?
GHETTOSONGBIRD: I started out writing to hip-hop beats, singing & dancing in talent shows as a teen, and having guitar players play for me. But as soon as I brought my 1st guitar from the pawn shop for $50 off of lay-a-way in my starving artist times, because my guitarist could no longer play for me, the songs I wrote on that guitar had a rock vibe. I started playing acoustic guitar by ear & developed a crush on the tone of strumming. A baby boy I was taking care of broke my acoustic guitar, which led me to pick up my electric guitar. I fell in love with it, even though it intimidated me. When I played the electric guitar through the tiny “Crate” amp my mother brought me, every one of my mother’s albums I ever rocked to, every sound of the ghetto I heard, every awesome guitarist that played for me, every seasoned musician I jammed with, every sound of world music I took in, every conversation, & notions I had about life gave birth to my brand of rock. I went on to play bass briefly in a rock band, and was the lead singer in a punk band for a very quick moment. But I knew I needed to focus on connecting my guitar with my voice & words.
SHEILA: So you took a two-year break from performing. Tell us about what this period of re-emergence/re-birth has been like for you? Has your music evolved/changed?
GHETTOSONGBIRD: I got married at one of my shows, in 2007, to my drummer . Three years later we had our baby girl, and a year later we had a baby boy. For the 1st time in 10 years of non-stop gigging I stopped to take it all in & focus on who I am as an artist. Before I was every show that I did, every “no” that I hoped I could turn into a “yes”, and every song that I wrote & perform, with no clear direction & a lot of frustration.
Taking two years off to have a family blessed me time to nurture myself, my artistry, my business, and my brand. I was getting lost in the chase of trying to make it and fulfill what others wanted my journey to rush & do for their journey, that I forgot what I wanted. I love playing music & sharing my songs like that little songbird in my childhood window, hoping that I can inspire at least 1 person. My music is evolving whenever I play my guitar and discover new notes, while simply jamming with my children, who are evolving musicians. They free my mind from the business side, giving me peace & purpose beyond myself. Just when I think I know my sound, I’m blessed with a song that allows me to challenge myself. Ask my husband (who has been my drummer way before we got married), he has to hear my grunts & victories.
This time around anyone who supports my artistry can expect a more confident singer/songwriter/guitarist with a stronger stage presence. Before I was learning as I went along with amazing band members changing all the time. Now I’m becoming one with my artistry & have a family of band members including Ronin Ali (Drummer), Chris Nelson (Keys), Drew (Hondo) Felder (bass) who’ve been playing with me for some time. The energy & chemistry is so profound that in rehearsals we vibe right away & stage shows rock to the 3rd power!
SHEILA: Tell us about your new release “Alley of the Earth.” Rock and roll and horror have always been bedfellows. But why did ‘you’ decide to go the horror route with this song and your music video?
GHETTOSONGBIRD: Since I feel like I am starting all over I decided to re-release my 1st CD “Alley Of The Earth” that I recorded in L.A. 10 years ago with the help of my mentor Rosa Lee Brooks who wrote and recorded with the Legendary Jimi Hendrix in the 1960’s. She told me that I should do more with those songs, that had started out as a demo. To celebrate the 10th birthday of “Alley Of The Earth” I got in touch with a phenomenal director by the name of Sharvon P. Urbannavage, who I thought would think I was out of my mind once she read the treatment I wrote. She understood my vision and the next thing I knew we were shooting a music video/short film in Easton, Pa.
And yes, it’s a horror theme, but it is my auto-biography in a metaphor. It’s the monsters of insecurities I used to create in my head that would haunt me whenever I felt like others were judging me. It’s the vulture like characters who I let pull at me because I thought they had genuine intensions. It’s my love for the horror film genre. It’s every ism I go through before and after a show. It’s my rock-n-roll dream. It’s how the creator continues to create me. It’s art imitating life. It’s Ghettosongbird killing her fears with passion, with her weapon of choice “My Warrior Guitar”, so I can rise like a Phoenix from the ashes celebrating my new found love for music and this rock-n-roll journey I’ve been blessed to endure.
“Alley of the Earth” will make it’s world premiere on NiceandRough.com on Oct. 30th. Stay tuned for more details.
SHEILA: I love that you are using your music to create value. Tell us about Assiah, your connection, and how you decided to donate half of the proceeds to assist her?
GHETTOSONGBIRD: My husband introduced me to Assiah’s mother. I finally met this brave little precious doll at my daughter’s 1st birthday, around the time I 1st heard that she needed a liver transplant. Constantly hearing about how this baby girl was suffering, I felt helpless. Assiah and her courageous mother Rasheena”s strength inspired me to want to do more than go online and talk about me, my next shows and songs. I’ve been working with children for years volunteering, teaching, and providing childcare. As I was about to promote my video screening, Assiah had finally received the liver transplant and was recovering, but they still needed to recover emotionally & financially. So my next step was to connect it to my music.
It’s been so much fun to keep up with black women in rock, and especially with Carol “Honeychild” Coleman! I love the boldness and courage in her artistry. The Kentucky-born vocalist and guitarist has been performing her own brand of rock for 21 years. Her first record was with Badawi, the Bedouin Soundclash, featuring Honeychild. Like many black women in rock, Honeychild performs at venues across the globe, and can be seen and heard this fall in the UK, Germany, France and Austria touring with Noiseaux, and will be billed under her “new moniker DEM (AKA Honeychild Coleman).”
So you know the drill….5 questions, 5 unedited responses (except for grammar). Without further adieu……
SHEILA: How would you describe your particular brand of rock?
HC: Honeychild Coleman “avant – pop”
SHEILA: You have been described by others as well, as ‘avante guarde’ – when it comes to your music and your style. And I agree. Your photos always have an editorial edge, and your style is uniquely Honeychild. Have you always expressed your Self or did you grow into the courage to ‘do you’?
HC: Thank you! I’ve been expressing myself through fashion pretty much ever since my parents started allowing me to choose my own clothing and dress myself, roughly around 4th grade / age 10. It was a bit of an obsession right through my senior year of high school and I would often iron and organize outfits for the entire week each Sunday and hang them in my closet in order. My mother would make fun of me because midway through the week, sure enough, I had come up with some different outfits that were not in “the wardrobe plan”.
I had been excelling and winning awards in drawing and painting since 2nd grade. But once, late night my Mom showed me Diana Ross, in “Mahoghany,” and I realized I liked to design clothes. I studied accessory design in college and had my own hat company for a while. But eventually music took over. I still make some things for myself – mostly for stage. I’ve designed neckties for my bandmates to wear and most recently t-shirts for my band, Bachslider.
SHEILA: Have you always performed rock music or did you begin in another genre?
HC: The first band I sang in was a disco cover band called The Partridge Heads. Shortly after that, I started learning guitar and playing around with drum machine. I performed mainly in the anti-folk poetry scene in the beginning, even as a an electric guitarist. In the early ’90’s, I didn’t have a band behind me when I tried to play gigs in the Bay Area and San Francisco, so bookers didn’t quite get what I was doing. The folks and acoustic scene was too purist to tolerate a drum machine (or distortion) as well, so I didn’t feel there as a place for me to play live music. In the Summer of ’93 I moved back to New York on a whim and started playing in the subway. Busking in the subway, I built a small following and met musicians whom I would later record with and form bands and long lasting community ties.
SHEILA: What did it mean to you for your music to be featured in the critically-acclaimed, Pariah?
HC: I was extremely moved upon the discovery of how and where my music was placed in the film. This project felt so timely and real and it was an honor to be chosen as an artist scoring the soundtrack to such a powerful story. It would have been easy (and typical) for the director to choose trendy or popular music, but what Dee Rees did us quite genius – as we are all indie and underground artists, co-existing within the mainstream. Very parallel conditions to the protagonist, Alike.
SHEILA: Tell us about your new single, “Youth’s Eternal.”
HC: “Youths Eternal” is a song that came to me after writing a novel that moves back and forth in time, with many chapters reflecting Old New York and my art punk days of hanging out all day in Washington Square Park, sketching people and listening to their stories, and the constant movement that can sometimes give New York a revolving door feeling.
Sheila Dianne Jackson is an award-winning author, biographer and CEO of Eve’s Lime Productions. She is Director-Producer of the upcoming documentary, “Nice & Rough: Black Women IN Rock.”
Nice & Rough: Black Women IN Rock is a global community. Our previous featured artist, May 10, 2012 rocks Japan. This week’s featured BWIR, AkayziaParker, is from London.
You know the deal: Five simple questions. Five interesting answers. Enjoy…..
SHEILA: Are you a singer who happens to play the guitar, or a guitar-player with the fortune to be able to sing, as well?
AKAYZIA: I am a writer that is too dyslexic to put pen to paper. And I am just grateful for the opportunity music gives me. Without it I’d be locked up in my head.
SHEILA: Whose music have you been most influenced by, and why?
AKAYZIA: I’m into Tina turner, I saw her play when I was 4 or 5 it was love at first sight. Tracy chapman her lyrics get me every time. Sister rosetta tharpe if you ever think life’s ruff nowadays check life for rockin sisters in the 1930’s… There’s so much music that moves me. But I think what motivates me is a burning in my head or heart craving to be noticed and not ignored.
SHEILA: Who has encouraged you most along this path?
AKAYZIA: My mom encourages me. She really just wants for me to be happy and doesn’t mind how I get there.
SHEILA: Have you ever performed other genres of music?
AKAYZIA: Some music styles suck and some are awesome! I try to stick to the awesome stuff, and dust the other shit into the closet.
SHEILA: How do you define your style?
AKAYZIA: Quirky indie. But I’m in transition. I spent years as a caterpillar. Then I got locked in this chrysalis. But its cool now cause I’m working my way out soon….I’ll be a moth, you know, flying.
SHEILA: How many black women in rock do you believe there are?
AKAYZIA: All black women rock!
SHEILA: Good answer, but I meant…….Ahhhh, forget it! Check out Akayzia’s video “Tender” Live at O2 Academy Islington:
Sheila Dianne Jackson is an award-winning author, biographer and CEO of Eve’s Lime Productions. She is Director-Producer of the upcoming documentary, “Nice & Rough: Black Women IN Rock.”
About one year ago I received an email from a black woman in rock from Osaka Japan! This was the first in what has unfolded into many emails I receive from women who defy geography to answer the call to perform rock. Read and be enlightened…
SHEILA: Tell us about your journey to rock? How and where did it begin?
DAVINA: I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia. As a kid, I discovered my mother’s strange collection of albums: Aretha Franklin, Kenny Rodgers, Barbra Streisand, Led Zeppelin, Captain & Tennille. Lots of totally unrelated artists. It was the 70s, I was in elementary school, and disco/funk was the thing at the time. Donna Summer’s “Live and More” was the very first album I ever bought. I would sit and listen to it for hours, every day, singing at the top of my lungs. Then I’d do the same with “Led Zeppelin II”. By the time I was 12, I owned every Led Zep album. So, I’ve always loved to dance and sing to disco/funk tunes, and at the same time, I loved to headbang and sing to rock tunes.
Though my dream – like many teenagers – was to sing in a rock band, I was terrified to sing on stage. It wasn’t until adulthood that I finally took the plunge to do music, and wound up in a disco/classic r&b cover band. Though I enjoyed it, after a while, my heart wasn’t in it. My suggestions to add certain rock songs to our repertoire were met with firm dissent. Eventually, I just decided to go solo and do original material, and in my head, the arrangements to my lyrics were rock arrangements. Fortunately I met rock musicians who understood what I was trying to do, and that was that. Rock was always in my heart, but it took me a while to get over myself (the color thing) and have the courage to do what I really wanted to do. I’m a late bloomer with everything.
SHEILA: How do you could characterize your sound?
DAVINA: “Powerhouse Rock n’ Roll Soul” is the tag line I’ve used since the release of my first CD, “The Blazing Heart”. A couple of songs were throwbacks to 70s funk-rock. The producer/arranger/guitarist on that album was a 70s hybrid rock kind of guy. And I think it’s a good description for that particular album.
The producer/arranger/guitarist for the second album is definitely influenced by 80s hair metal, while my vocal style is influenced by 60s & 70s classic rock/funk rock. So how about “Hybrid Funk Rock with a Dash of Hair Metal.” LOL.
I feel like my sound is still evolving, so we’ll see how I’ll describe my sound with the next release.
SHEILA: Of your most recent release, “Black Rock Warrior Queen” reviewers say “it sounds like you’ve been liberated.” Is that the case?
DAVINA: Liberated? Hmmm… Mostly yes and little bit of no. Most of the songs were written within the 6 months or so before recording started. But a few were written years ago, and probably should have been on my first album. So there is a lingering of a former style on “Black Rock Warrior Queen”. But I think this recent album has been liberating in that I found the right guitarist/arranger, who knows how I sing, and tailored his arrangements to suit my lyrics and singing style. Also liberating because this album is more consistent in its sound/style, whereas the last one was like a compilation of different styles.
For my guitarist, it was his first time to produce a whole album. And it was my first time to be in charge of a whole project. So we both learned a lot from the “Black Rock…” experience, and for the next album we’ll take that knowledge and create something even better.
In about five years’ time, having come out with more material, I think I’ll probably look back at “Black Rock…” as a transitional piece. The themes of the songs on “Black Rock…” vary, but to me the common thread is that most of the songs are analyzing or looking back and saying goodbye to someone or some thing. So in that aspect too, I think “Black Rock…” was liberating. All those pent-up feelings were finally released through songs like “Monster”, “I’m the One Who Dumped You” and “These Tears.” I can’t predict what kinds of songs will go on the next album, but I know the general direction will be looking forward, not looking back. And that’s where my life is right now; I got those feelings out of my system and now it’s time to move on. Less tears, more humor (like in the song “Faking It”), more sass (like in the song “Funky Chick”).
SHEILA: What is it like to be a ‘Black Rock Warrior Queen’ in Osaka Japan?
DAVINA: At times it’s great, other times it’s quite lonely. But I guess that’s how most indie musicians feel, anywhere they’re based. I definitely stand out, so I’m memorable, I think. But there are cultural factors that are probably a hindrance; one is singing in English. That doesn’t seem to be a problem in Tokyo, but Osaka is not as internationalized as Tokyo. I can speak Japanese relatively well, but writing Japanese lyrics is a bit difficult. Another hindrance is stereotypes, just like in the US. Everyone assumes I sing R&B.
The rock scene here is mostly all young & male, very high energy, lots of tempo changes and is aggressive. In comparison, what I do is considered Adult-Oriented Rock here. The veteran rock musicians here seem to move into blues-rock or jazz-rock. Any female rock musicians (very few!) I’ve met are really young and do either a gothic style or a cutesy power-pop style. So that sort of leaves me in a no-man’s land, as far as bands to pair up with for gigs.
I recently met a young music student who didn’t know who Led Zeppelin was. This seems to indicate that Classic Rock has been relegated to niche status. A generational thing. But in general, the audiences are receptive, and seem to like my music and my voice. But in order to attract more Japanese fans – if I continue to sing exclusively in English – I’ll have to write more songs similar to “Osaka Boys” (from “Black Rock Warrior Queen”), with fast tempos and easy-to-understand lyrics, or “Behind Closed Doors” (also from “Black Rock…”) where the lyrics are not fully understood, but there is a lot of emotionality and vocal gymnastics. 🙂 I have to find a way to coordinate my artistic preferences with that reality. And that is the central theme of any musician’s career, right?
SHEILA: I ask this question of everyone, because I am tallying the numbers. How many black women in rock do you believe there are?
DAVINA: I’m sure there are plenty, but they’re not in the limelight, so it’s hard to come up with an actual number. Are we talking rock like Straight Line Stitch and Audioslave or hybrid rock like Mother’s Finest and Lenny Kravitz? I find a lot of indie musicians, like on ReverbNation, put “rock” as one of their genres.
SHEILA: Yes, but when you listen to their catalog, they have only one pseudo rock song. But yet they consider themselves a rock artist. Very misleading, but also a sign of the times. On the one hand, you can say that the music industry has positively evolved in that the genres are mushed together. But on the other hand you can say that rock has been butchered by pop fluff over these last 10 years. But I digress…
Getting back to your question. I’ll assume currently active, straight rock and hybrid rock, and living worldwide, so I’ll say in the thousands, maybe 3,000. Always think positively.
SHEILA: Where to find Davina’s music….
“The Blazing Heart” and “Black Rock Warrior Queen” can be purchased in-store (Japan) or online (worldwide) at iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby