Yola embraces wide musical range on empowering new record

Aug 5, 2021, 7:51 AM | Updated: Aug 6, 2021, 1:42 pm
FILE - Grammy Awards nominee Yola performs at the 2020 Spotify Best New Artist Party on Jan. 23, 20...

FILE - Grammy Awards nominee Yola performs at the 2020 Spotify Best New Artist Party on Jan. 23, 2020, in West Hollywood, Calif. Yola's latest album "Stand For Myself" released on July 30. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — British-born singer Yola broke through in 2019 with her critically acclaimed solo record “Walk Through Fire” that earned her four Grammy nominations after decades working as a singer and songwriter.

But the album that earned her praise from the likes of Elton John and Brandi Carlile was just a first glimpse into what the mononymous and multi-genre singer could do. On her new record “Stand For Myself,” the powerful and versatile singer tells the journey of reclaiming herself after being burdened by tokenism and inequities.

Yola was born in Bristol to immigrant parents from Ghana and Barbados, and the album’s imagery is awash in royal purple, a reflection of her African lineage. But for much of her early life and career, she felt like her Blackness had to be tamped down and she was unable to fully represent her style.

“That was a lot of my life: ‘Put up, or shut up, and assimilate,'” said Yola.

Now living in Nashville, Tennessee, Yola’s musical branches are spread wide through classic pop and ’70s era R&B and soul, with sprinkles of disco, funk and rock. Working again with producer Dan Auerbach, Yola co-wrote some of the songs with Nashville hitmakers Natalie Hemby, Liz Rose and Ruby Amanfu, as well as new artist Joy Oladokun.

Considering her own expertise in merging genres, Yola seems a perfect fit to portray the rock pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in a new film about Elvis Presley directed by Baz Luhrmann, which has been rescheduled for release in 2022. Yola spent much of the pandemic learning how to play like Tharpe, who is credited with being among the first artists to distort the electric guitar and influenced Elvis, Little Richard and Johnny Cash.

Yola spoke with The Associated Press about how a motorcycle ride gave her an idea for a song, how she learned to stand for herself and the challenges of her first-time acting gig. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

AP: Your last album was hailed as a refreshing mix of country and soul, but did you want to avoid getting labeled with certain genre types?

Yola: I was concerned about being pigeonholed because even the single, the first song on the album was something that people just didn’t seem to be discussing. And I’m like, “Why is it so hard? Because it’s right in front of you.” It’s not country or soul. So you’re going to have to think of me outside of soul because I’m Black and country because I forced it on you as a conversation to have. And they’re like, “Oh, but it’s so weird because you’re English.”

AP: The new album starts with a song, “Barely Alive,” co-written with Oladokun, that is the beginning of a journey that ends with the title track “Stand For Myself.” Why did you want to bookend the album with those tracks?

Yola: The plan was to start with “Barely Alive” because it speaks on the minimizing of my Blackness and of Black people broadly, but frankly anyone who is “an other” or is considered “an other” broadly. That’s what it feels like to be the only one of a type… That’s really where we are in “Barely Alive.” It’s that whole, “Well, I just want to be safe. I don’t want to be stopped and frisked by the bloody cops.” And so I am going to try and smile. Like I’m really going to try and make things as easy for myself as humanly possible. And actually you make it as hard as possible because you can’t self-actualize if you don’t have any self. If you diminish all the things that are self, you can’t actualize the self.

AP: One of the standout tracks is a very danceable bop called “Break the Bough,” which was inspired by your late mother. How did you write that?

Yola: I’m driving back from my mother’s funeral. And you should never drive a motorcycle to a funeral. This is what I realized because you can’t cry and ride a motorcycle. You will crash. So I’m trying not to crash and the bassline jumps into my head. And I’m like this is actually quite fortuitous because I think I’m going to die if I don’t think about this bassline… And then it speaks on the imagined idyll of what would be my mother’s heaven, which would be like an old school Barbados, before they did the bait and switch by the power of the Windrush.

AP: For the new Baz Luhrmann film, you’re stepping into the shoes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who hasn’t really gotten the recognition she deserves for her contribution to rock. What did you take away from that experience?

Yola: I’ve never done a solo in my bloody life. And so now I’m sweating bullets, as we say in the UK, sweating bullets trying to learn how to play like Sister Rosetta, which is really bloody hard. And I’m grateful that the pandemic gives me an extra year to learn how to do that because I needed every single day…I’ve got to do her mannerisms. I’ve got to physically act. I’ve got to interact with Elvis and the other characters in my scene. I have to hit my marks. I’ve got to be able to see Baz Luhrmann because he’s gonna be giving me directions. And I’ve got to do all of this just all at the same time. And the only one of these things I’ve done before is sing…. Honestly, I bloody nailed it and I have no idea how. I nailed it to the floor and I had to do it for 15 hours straight.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

WTO predicts trade growth to slow next year amid crises

GENEVA (AP) — The World Trade Organization is predicting global trade volumes will grow a lackluster 1% next year as crises and challenges weigh on markets, including high energy prices, rising interest rates and uncertainties about Chinese manufacturing output amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic. The Geneva-based trade body said Wednesday that the amount of goods […]
3 hours ago
Local resident Ekaterina, 22, stands next to her residential building that was damaged after an ove...
Associated Press

Putin signs annexation of Ukrainian regions as losses mount

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed laws formally absorbing four Ukrainian regions into Russia, even as its military struggles to control the territory that was illegally annexed. The documents finalizing the annexation, carried out in defiance of international laws, were published on a Russian government website on Wednesday morning. Earlier this […]
3 hours ago
FILE - Residents who rode out the storm arrive at a dock to evacuate by boat in the aftermath of Hu...
Associated Press

Hurricane Ian closes some Florida schools indefinitely

The devastation from Hurricane Ian has left schools shuttered indefinitely in parts of Florida, leaving storm-weary families anxious for word on when and how children can get back to classrooms. As rescue and recovery operations continue in the storm’s aftermath, several school systems in hard-hit counties in southwestern Florida can’t say for sure when they’ll […]
3 hours ago
FILE - In this image made from video, Taiwan's Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng speaks in Taipei, Ta...
Associated Press

Taiwan vows to respond to China’s military flight incursions

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s defense minister on Wednesday said the island will respond to incursions into its airspace by Chinese warplanes and drones, but gave no details on specific actions. Responding to questions from legislators, Chiu Kuo-cheng said China’s newly aggressive stance had changed what Taiwan would define as a “first strike” that would […]
3 hours ago
Associated Press

Detained Iranian-American, 85, leaves Iran for Oman

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An 85-year-old Iranian-American held by Iran over internationally criticized spying charges left the country Wednesday for Oman, officials said, after increasing pressure to free him amid his struggles with poor health. His 50-year-old son, however, remains in Iran. The release of Baquer Namazi marks the first American to be […]
3 hours ago
Ukrainian soldiers sit on an armoured vehicle as they drive on a road between Izium and Lyman in Uk...
Associated Press

Live Updates: Russia-Ukraine War

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s presidential office says that at least five civilians have been killed and eight have been wounded by the latest Russian shelling. A statement on Wednesday says Russian troops used six Iranian suicide drones to strike the town of Bila Tserkva in the Kyiv region, leaving one person wounded. The strikes were […]
3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Yola embraces wide musical range on empowering new record