Credit: Joseph Ross Smith / Marriott International.
YOLA is truly a force of nature! From headline performances at Glastonbury festival to her debut at Coachella to opening at Madison Square Garden to the twice GRAMMY nominated sophomore album ‘Stand For Myself’ her rise is unstoppable.
Most recently, she made her acting debut as Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama “Elvis.”
We asked her about it and what it meant for her.
What was it like playing such an important role as Sister Rosetta in such an iconic movie?
It was humbling and a true privilege to help raise further awareness for the significance of Sister Rosetta as inventor of rock and roll and was a defining influence on all rock guitar players that followed her. She was a huge personal influence on me – I almost didn’t learn guitar and was discouraged to learn guitar in the early part of my career, due to a number of cognitively biased, white supremacist and patriarchal musical environments in the British music industry. In fact, a very ill-informed (yet powerful) white male A&R executive once told me “no one wants to hear a Black woman play rock and roll.” Sister Rosetta was a beacon to me for the guitar and helped inspire the agency to acquire the skills to express myself fully as a songwriter. I needed to learn guitar to be fully free.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned from this experience?
Making my acting debut in such a big budget movie yielded many lessons, but maybe the most profound less would be the amount I’d need to advocate for Sister Rosetta and her legacy. If I wasn’t a musician and it wasn’t this personal to me to see a plus sized, dark skinned woman who grew up loving her play her, maybe i wouldn’t have felt as much if a need to ensure her name is enshrined in music history as the last universal common ancestor of contemporary music. The person whom without we are much the poorer culturally. I have a Ted X talk coming on this very subject so you can check that out soon!
Tell us about this tour! What are some of the dates you are the most excited about? Any memorable moments so far?
Its going great! Played shows in Chicago, Minneapolis which were so fun! We have Peter One opening and I’d recommend checking his tunes out online, I really enjoyed them! It’s been a great summer playing some really unique shows, big giant stuff like Coachella and Glastonbury, which are fun but also smaller intimate shows, like this really cool event I did with Marriott Bonvoy Moments, playing to a handful of people for a special one off event celebrating the Elvis movie in Memphis. On the tour we are hitting everywhere on the east coast, Boston, D.C, and New York of course, on Sep 20 at Webster Hall! Most of it is sold out but there are a few tickets left for various shows i hear!
What would you change in this industry if you had the chance?
There needs to be more executives of color in this industry. Black representation in positions of power is key if we are going to fully support Black music and creators. I’ve been told why don’t you just have representation up front in the band and forego this mission, but it’s not enough. To have a diverse band but completely monochromatic people behind the scenes defies the point. I live for the actualisation of power across minority groups. There is much work to be done, but it is great to see organisations like the Black Music Collective at the GRAMMYs who are identifying areas where we can drive Black representation in a major way, for example. It is also key to acknowledge that the issue here is not that being Black is hard in these areas, but that white supremacy/normativeness and cognitive bias within the music industry and beyond are the core of our ability to identify ability, acumen and intellect . Often when I’m asked about it the question is misphrased by journalists so I would love to remind everyone, being black has never been the barrier to my advancement, white supremacy has been. In fact being black is a massive advantage to doing my job well, so thank the gods I’m black.” By that rationale having increasingly more people of colour in non performance roles adds value in so many ways least of all speed of communication.