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Yola Follows Her Aesthetic Mission with Latest Album, Stand For Myself: Interview

Six-time GRAMMY nominated English vocalist and songwriter Yola is taking her Stand For Myself album tour through the United States this spring, including a stop at the Charleston Music Hall on Friday, March 18.

Yola’s genre-bending brand of musical magic is a melange of soul and Americana sensibilities. Her songs contain elements of classic R&B with a modern sparkle, dance beats paired with a wink to iconic female country icons. Stand For Myself, which was released on July 21, 2021, exemplifies Yola’s ability to take inspiration from diverse influences and form a sound that is distinctly her own.

“I think my aesthetic mission to find the connective tissue’s between genres that were segregated, re categorized and sub-divided over the years shows in my writing. In my writing my mission is to find the connective tissue between events in my life and observations to understand the grand arc of my path,” the artist told Extra Chill.

Yola has felt the pull toward music since she was a small child. Singing as soon as she could speak, she grew an appreciation for sound before she began to experiment with lyrics. “I had a fascination with melody and rhythm. My sense of aesthetic came before anything else. I knew what I liked and I knew what I didn’t. It felt inevitable that I’d start writing,” she said.

Her sense of an intrinsic draw to create art feels ancestral. “I think I only found out later that being Ghanaian on my father’s side (who I didn’t grow up with) and Ga Tribe meant I was almost entirely destined to be artistic. It makes me laugh when I think about it, cause I felt that calling from the ancestors but couldn’t name it.”

Yola explores her own journey to self-actualization as a Black woman and artist in Stand For Myself. Repeatedly impeded throughout her life by the systems that foster bigotry and racism, this album shows her “reflecting on how I learned to stop minimising myself because of the effects of all the bigotry that exists. Sexism, racism, classism, the overarching misogynoir that denies Black women of nuanced stories and tenderness.” 

We asked Yola if she believed music had the power to reshape racist systems. “Regarding change, I’m a bit of a pessimist sometimes, but if history has proven anything it’s that every movement needs a soundtrack,” she said. “I don’t think that music without a moment can do anything but convince people who are doing nothing that they are somehow doing something. The only way to make real change anywhere is to vote with your feet and your wallet.”

Despite such a pragmatic mindset, Yola doesn’t believe art is completely without a role when it comes to implementing change. “Maybe we can give people a nudge mentally, that’s what I’m trying to do.” 

The songs on the Stand For Myself show a musician firmly in control of her craft. From “Diamond Studded Shoes,” which was GRAMMY nominated for Best American Roots Song, to the title track “Stand For Myself,” Yola displays a vocal confidence that can only come from a true connection to both lyric and melody.

This mastery has taken the musical world by storm, as is evidenced by Stand For Myself’s GRAMMY nomination for Best Americana Album, Yola’s performance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and her jam-packed performance schedule that features stops at iconic American venues.

When asked what she is most looking forward to about the tour, Yola expressed the idea of an album as an ever-evolving piece of art, and performance as the opportunity to explore fresh ways of sharing that art.

“A tour for me is another form of experimentation. You find a way to weave the songs together and imagine how they might grow. These songs are your children so at some point they have to grow up,” she said. “I don’t see the album cycle as a static thing, I see it as an opportunity to expand on your creative process and show people what you might’ve done another way, or the demo, or an alternate energy of a song.”

In terms of her current musical goals and creative headspace, Yola is focused on liberation from the barriers, both tangible and intangible, that keep minorities from celebrating their full artistic potential.

“I just want to be supported in my freedom to create and not isolated in any way during that creation, not by gender or ethnicity or nationality or even aesthetically, because we know the legacy of Black women in music is so appropriated that it can sometimes be hard to find people who know the full extent of what is their birthright to create,” she said.

Yola’s performance at the Charleston Music Hall will begin at 8 p.m. on the 18. Last-minute tickets are available here. Stream Stand For Myself below.