Music has become instrumental in influencing generation after generation – the voice that helps create a better world. Allowing us to remember the past, create the present, and inspire the future.
Raised in a traditional Nigerian household on the outskirts of Phoenix, in the small desert city of Casa Grande, singer/songwriter Joy Oladokun describes her childhood as “being suspended between two worlds.” The duality and different perspectives inspire her music, as she experienced the charismatic church and a heavily influenced country-like lifestyle.
The fiercely independent musician’s confessional nature is deeply rooted in personal experience; told through lucid storytelling. As her songs, songwriting, instrumentation, and vocal stylings closely compare to Tracy Chapman, whom she grew up listening to, it was Chapman who materially inspired the singer to pursue music.
Recalling a video of the folk-rock star’s career-defining performance for Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute at Wembley Stadium in London, Oladokun adds, “to see a black woman up there expressing her experience in front of thousands of people, it just took me.” “Having that representation there for me, changed the trajectory of my life. To see a black woman do it in a way that told the truth of her experience in America and everywhere else that she’d been — I think it opened a doorway for me to say, especially as a shy kid. You can express yourself through this medium. This isn’t just for white guys with mustaches. This is also for you.”
Released in the summer of 2020, Joy’s sophomore record In Defense of My Own Happiness (Vol. 1) is one of much candour and strength, as Joy navigates life in modern-day America, on a quest for ultimate bliss.
Starting off the record is “smoke,” a song of sunny instrumentation that offers a glimmer of hope and promise.
Figuratively speaking, the “smoke” Joy sees is indicative of all the hardships, adversities, and disturbances of peace she’s had to come face-to-face with over the years.
Though Joy cannot see through the clouds of “smoke”, she recognizes that it is through the darkness, we see light. “Sometimes you gotta feel like drowning to be reborn.” As the smoke clears from her eyes, Joy makes the promise to herself that she will “see the light” and watch the embers settle down, making way for fertile ground. She has now found solace in knowing there are better days to come.
Released as a single back in 2019, “sunday” depicts the struggle of experiencing a feeling of guilt over one’s sexuality as one tries to reconcile their religion with their sexual identity. “I feel like I’m a mess / I feel like I’m stuck in the wrong skin / I feel like I’m sick / But I’m having trouble swallowing my medicine,” sings Joy, all because she feels like an outsider looking in. Having been a worship leader, Olakodun is at her most vulnerable as she leaves the church to begin a journey of self-acceptance. Pleading to a higher power, Oladokun sings, “Sunday, carry me, carry me down to the water, wash me clean / I’m still struggling.”
Oladokun says she felt it was an important song to include, simply because it contains a message she wishes a younger version of herself got the opportunity to hear. “I just know what closeted Joy needed and I want to give that to the next generation.”
Just past the midway point of the record is a song that sees Joy wondering aloud trying to find hope in a world that sees her skin colour as a threat. The song “Who Do I Turn To?” was born out of a conversation Joy had with Highwomen star Natalie Hemby, following the murder of George Floyd. Joy says she unleashed her feelings, telling Hemby exactly how she felt in the middle of a national reckoning with the reverberating effects of racism in America. “There is a sorrow that this country has given me as a Black woman that I will live with for the rest of my life, but my responsibility and my gift on this earth is to share my experience.” “Who Do I Turn To?” is a reflection of all the injustices that black Americans have faced throughout the years, and the repeated events that have transpired long before the death of Floyd, reinforcing the reason for the fight today.
“mercy” is a track that is as real as it gets. “I work a lot from home / I work a lot on the down low / I keep trying to be somebody / Somebody that they all know.” Sometimes we can get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that is life, we forget what really matters. “Devil’s not in the details, he’s on the front page” sings Oladokun as she realizes the dangers right in front of her eyes. Families continue to lose loved ones to the coronavirus pandemic, as allegations and accusations surface of corrupt behaviour and systematic racism. In collaboration with Tim Gent, we are reminded that “everybody needs something, or somebody, everybody needs a little mercy, mercy,” especially in times like these. May we choose kindness over everything.
Closing out the record, “younger days” is a song of soulful reflection on days passed. Joy looks back on things that hadn’t gone her way. Though, all the agony, ecstasy, joy and pain, has made her the person she is today. “What’s a legacy, and how do I leave one?” I think we all know the answer, doing exactly what she’s done.
Just as Chapman was of influence to Joy, Oladokun will continue to be a voice for generations to come. Thank you for your courage and strength, in what can be a cold, cold world, and may we all seek the freedom to relish in the human right that is happiness.