IN SONG AND HOPE WE TURN TO SINGER-SONGWRITER JOY OLADOKUN

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Joy Oladokun is no stranger to bravery. The singer-songwriter’s focus throughout much of her tracklist has spanned personal processes ranging from spirituality to queerness. Her mom has been on the front lines of COVID as a nurse practitioner who loves her job very much. And once again turning to her gift of song, Joy is on the battlefield of deeply rooted trauma, reckoning with her own pain in hopes that the rest of the world can resonate, and find respite, if even for a moment.

Joy’s single “Who Do I Turn To,” a hauntingly beautiful ballad, asks the most poignant question of this time, the one we are all marching, petitioning, and demanding answers to. We know who we can’t turn to, but the hopefulness of building anew, finding radical approaches to leadership, and being of service to others and our communities are the threads keeping us connected.

I could go on, but this movement is about listening. Not to me, but to black voices. Below are the song lyrics. Read them, then read them again. Press play, then keep reading to learn a little more than you may already have known about the force behind the willowy voice that is pure Joy.

i’m scared of getting pulled over cuz of someone else I look like  

i’m scared of raising my voice 

cuz everyone will think that i’m gonna fight

 

this world was made for them 

this world was made for me 

how am I supposed to exist 

when a friend is an enemy 

 

if I can’t save myself 

if it’s all black and white

if i can’t call for help 

in the middle of the night 

if I can’t turn to god 

if I can’t turn to you

who do I turn to

who do I turn to 

 

i’m tired of watching my kind be accused when they’re young and they’re innocent 

i’m tired of turning on the news and wondering why it happened again 

 

no one’s putting out the fire

they only fan the flame

tell me who’s gonna

make it right when the good ones are to blame

 

if I can’t save myself 

if it’s all black and white

if i can’t call for help 

in the middle of the night 

if I can’t turn to god 

if I can’t turn to you

who do I turn to

who do I turn to 

 

who’s gonna watch over me?

who do i turn to?

Thank you for writing what you write, singing what you sing and sharing what you share. This is about raising BIPOC voices – this is a space for us to hear your experience…

I feel like it’s such a weird time to be alive. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, in a country that isn’t taking it seriously, and then we’re in the midst of protesting for our literal lives and safety. And we still have to do our jobs and be normal, be good partners, daughters, brothers, people. I’ve been feeling the weight of all of that – I feel everything that is going on. Most days I feel a range of anger to disbelief to frustration to joy to hope, back to fear and anger again. But I’m doing well because I’ve done the work of knowing what it takes to take care of myself in this world, and in this climate right now.

As a listener, my experience is you evoke a deep connectedness to issues or situationsin other words, you are a true singer-songwriter. At what point in your life did you know this was your path?  

I still have days that I doubt it and joke with my team all the time about retiring. Everything in me that is drawn to music comes from this really quiet kid growing up in Arizona that needed a way to express her big feelings. This may sound awful, but it’s purely selfish. Songwriting helps me make sense of the world and lets me put words to things that I’m not able to in normal conversation. It’s the best way I can serve the world as a human. If I can turn these things into positive moments of music that can help more people heal and process and change for the better, that’s all I want to do with my life forever.

Who, or what, are you turning to in this moment? 

I rely so much on my family. I came out (to my parents) a few years ago, and my dad is still having a tough time with it. But once the pandemic hit, all of the awkwardness melted away and the most important thing became, how do we stay close and connected to each other? My sister FaceTimes me like three times a day. Connecting with people who look like me and resonate with my experience of being black in America. And also people who love me and who have always been there for me and support me.

I live in Nashville, which is predominately white, and I had no idea once the protests started happening how the city would react. It’s pretty liberal, but we’re still in the South. I have a neighbor two doors down who drives his confederate tractor up and down our street every morning. To see the way this community has surrounded black people and has said, ‘We’re going to listen and march and fight and hold a town hall meeting until 4am so everyone can voice budget concerns…’

When I was deciding which organization I was going to give my profits from this song to, I thought about my city, and the kids I see on the street who look like me and are queer like me. So I found a shelter called Launch Pad that helps LGBTQ youth. I think this all comes down to the local communities and wanting to see the space around you thrive. The greatest downfall of America has been overreach – people wanting more power and more money and it has robbed people who have done hard, faithful work of a basic livelihood. I hope more people start to think this way – like what can I do close to me to fight against these things and to help people?

You wrote, recorded, mixed, mastered and released this song in literally one week? 

I was actually very reluctant to put this song out. As a person I always err on the side of caution when it comes to what could possibly be misinterpreted and I didn’t want to put a song out and have it feel like I was capitalizing on the moment. I wrote it with a dear friend, Natalie Hemby (Grammy award winner and member of the Highwomen), and she is a white woman and I didn’t know how that would be perceived. I had all these things spinning in my head. It’s just my feelings. My mixer and engineer donated their services. It came together as a beautiful team effort. I’m super grateful that it exists.

But it all comes back to my initial why – and people that I love reminded me this song helped me process this, and that it can help other people. I want people who have to watch black bodies over and over again be disrespected, misrepresented and murdered  – I want to give them three minutes of rest. Three minutes of, I know what it feels like too.

Your album comes out next month, congratulations! What can you share about the release? Any surprises?

I am so excited to finally be releasing music! It feels like a long time coming. I’m trying a lot of new things – there’s so many styles of music that I love. I grew up listening to and making folk music; I love the lyricism and storytelling of hip hop, the angst of rock, the power and healing of gospel. As a producer and a songwriter I’m finding my footing and combining all those things into something that feels unique to me – and is a really good portrait of what I’ve been through the past few years and what I’ve wrestled with.

As far as surprises… I think I’m going to drop an Election Day album. I’ve been writing some things that feel very true to the state of the country.

How do you think the music industry can step up to support black artists right now?

Give money. The most obvious thing to do in an industry that has profited off of black culture and music for years: take what we’ve earned and invest it back into our communities. Listen to black artists and songwriters more. If I had a dollar for every subtle way that someone tried to undercut my power or my value just this week, I’d be able to pay rent for the rest of the year. I feel like it takes people longer to take black artists seriously and also to honor the accomplishments of black songwriters in the same way they do white ones.

Who do you have on repeat?  

So much Prince. I’ve always been a fan of Prince. For some reason, his voice has been really essential to me during these times. I started reading his book The Beautiful Ones – I’ve just been immersed in his ideas about blackness and black artists, but also hope and not taking yourself too seriously. He just had all these amazing ideas and I’m basking in how brilliant he was.

CONNECT WITH JOY OLADOKUN

INSTAGRAM // TWITTER // SPOTIFY

photos / Shannon Beveridge

story/ Eve Simonsen

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