5 questions with Joy Oladokun | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

5 questions with Joy Oladokun

click to enlarge Joy Oladokun - PHOTO: SOPHIA MATINAZAD
Photo: Sophia Matinazad
Joy Oladokun
Joy Oladokun, a singer-songwriter from Arizona, knows the power of words. Her music is moving and stirring and is imbued with a power that inspires listeners to want to create, too. Born to Nigerian immigrant parents, she was the first in her family to be born in the United States. Her parents' love of all genres of music greatly influenced her, and, by the age of 10, she had picked up a guitar.

As a queer Black woman making folk music, Oladokun's voice is fresh and appreciated in the genre. When she released in defense of my own happiness (the beginnings) in 2020, it was met with wide praise and cemented her name on a handful of up-and-coming lists.

Oladokun will play Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall on May 7. Pittsburgh City Paper sat down with her before the show to ask her five questions.


1. When did you first start making music? What instruments do you play?
I got started with music when I was 10 years old. My parents are pretty big music fans so my dad was always listening to records, but I didn't start playing instruments until around 10. I was watching this video of Tracy Chapman playing at Wembley Stadium, you know for Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday, and it was like the first time I had seen someone who looks like me playing the guitar in that way. I’d grown up in a pretty small farming town and so there was a lot of country and folk music, and something about that performance really resonated with me. So I begged my parents to buy me a guitar for next Christmas.

I play the piano, I play bass, and I play the sax. I played drums. That was my quarantine project. Instead of baking bread, I taught myself how to play drums. I find the act of making music really fun and really therapeutic, so it's still as much of a hobby as it is a job for me.

2. Writing music can be very therapeutic. Do you find that you write from that place of searching for healing, or do you have another goal in mind?
Yeah, I think I always write in the place of working for healing. I have this painting in my studio that I really love that just says, “Remember why you started.” For me, music has always been healing. I was a really anxious and lonely kid, and I had a hard time communicating with words, you know, just words by themselves. And the moment I picked up a guitar and started writing songs, I was able to make sense of my feelings in a way that allowed me to communicate them better. So when I step into the studio that I have in my house, the goal is always to just process and understand a feeling and maybe help others do the same with what I create.

3. Do you listen to other music when you are working on your own music?
Yes, I just love music so much. I think I inherited my parents' love of music. They're big record collectors, and they still go to concerts together. Their love and fandom of music has rubbed off on me, so there's probably, like, 200 records or something in my house. From Juicy J to The Beatles. As long as something makes me kind of happy or makes me feel good or helps me feel something, I’m into it, you know, because it also helps me do my work as well. I’m constantly inspired by sounds and how other people process life through music.


4. You released in defense of my own happiness in 2021 after releasing “the beginnings" in 2020. How are these two projects different and why did you decide to release them that way?
Yeah, so I'm a big hip-hop fan, I think it is folk music in its own way. And I don't think that we respect it enough in that sense of it's a snapshot of what is happening to Black Americans in their life every day. It's done really well and the writing is really clever. And there’s also the mixtape movement, where someone would release a thought, you know, and then follow it up with this afterthought. And I think I take a lot of inspiration from the way rappers release music. And so I always sort of envisioned in defense of my own happiness as sort of a part-one, part-two thing. And then I just signed a deal and my life changed a little bit, you know, and so it went from a sort of mixtape thing to a question of, "How do I present the complete thought of in defense of my own happiness as a record that can stand alone?" So yeah, I'm very proud of it as a body of work.

5. If you had to choose a song that is the thesis of in defense of my own happiness, which would it be and why?
This is a good question. I think maybe “Jordan.” "Sunday" is maybe a close second. I wrote "Jordan" alone in my unfurnished studio apartment in L.A. six years ago, and it was one of the first things that I wrote as an artist for myself. There’s a chorus that goes, “We're building our own promised land, on this new ground we stand, God bless the work of our hands, and make good on our plans.”

For me, so much of being a human is guessing. Like religion and science, on some level, they're all just our best guesses about what it means to be here and what is happening while we're here. And the life that I'm living is my best guess on, like, "How do I be a good human? How do I wake up and take care of other people and take care of myself to a point that my brain feels like a good place to be? How do I leave a mark on the human community that allows people to feel like they have something to hope for?" I think that “Jordan” is my way of saying I like this life that I'm settling into, especially after ”leaving the church.” I think that it's just me saying, "All these songs are an exploration of what it means for me to be human now that I'm abandoning some of my more destructive belief systems." And so “Jordan” is just me saying, "I hope it goes well."

Joy Oladokun at Thunderbird Music Hall. 8 p.m. Sat., May 7. 4053 Butler St., Lawrenceville. $17-20. 18 and over. thunderbirdmusichall.com

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