Musical Discoveries: ADAAWE opened for some pretty big name acts like Mickey Hart, Los Lobos, and James Brown. Looking back on that, how do you feel those experiences affected your evolution as an artist?
Joceyln Wilkinson: It was a thrill, especially opening for James Brown--it's beyond words watching someone who is so at one with his music. I cried because the funk was so good. Just knowing that an audience who had never heard of you, who had come to hear the Godfather of soul, would give ADAAWE a standing ovation, was a pretty wonderful feeling. Mickey Hart carries an amazing history of rhythm and popular music with him.
He's given a great gift to world music through his research and performances. I could go on and on. Performing with acts like the Sugar Hill Gang, Los Lobos and Spearhead is an honor as well – to be included somehow in our musical tradition and lineage, and rock the house right along side them!
ShapeShiftingis a very funky and down to earth album. When you began recording the album, what were your goals for the finished product? Was there anything in particular you wanted to cement or establish about your music with this release?
Most of these decisions are not conscious ones – the music flows how it wants to. It's my job to embrace it, explore it to its fullness, and have it all make sense somehow. My main goal for this project was to complete an "album", that reflected who I am completely, that had something to say, and could venture out into the mainstream, because it spoke to people. I've done a couple demo EPs, that were necessary steps on my artistic journey, but I wasn't satisfied with the finished product. This time I was blessed to find a wonderful producer, Kevin Williams, who took me into his home studio and helped me fine tune each song.
There are elements of world, funk, pop, and singer/songwriter all throughout your music. Do you feel akin to one style more than another?
All of them. Each one comes from a real place inside of me. I'm a percussionist who studied in West Africa and has lived in the "world music" world for many years, and I think that comes through even when I'm not concentrating on it. I've been singing and writing poems ever since I can remember, so lyrics and the journey of melody is natural to me but something that never ceases to amaze or humble me. I'm constantly inspired by people who communicate through songs and poetry. And funk, well, that's what I feel. Soul and blues have always been in my voice and been my deepest inspiration. I guess I'm a singer-songwriter with different inspirations – I've even written a few country tunes!
I think that there is a strong Edie Brickell vibe going on. Would you agree with that at all?
Edie's cool, I've never really listened to her. I liked her hit though. I can't really say she's an influence, but I guess we both have that bohemian, earthy vibe.
Your music also stands in contrast to what popular music is today. How much of that do you feel is intentional and how much is just what naturally flows through you? I would think it would be hard to be just one of those ways.
That's so interesting- that it feels so at odds with what's happening in popular music. It's not intentional – in fact this is the most "popular" sounding project I've ever done. I guess I'm kind of a freak, hopefully in a good way. Music does what it wants to; it's never liked being tied to formulas, genres, and trends. Besides, when something truly original captures the public and industry's imagination, it becomes the new standard. We'd never discover new places to visit if we always stuck to the same roads.
"By & By" is an outstanding acoustic piece on ShapeShifting. Can you tell our readers a little about the thoughts/inspirations behind that song?
Thank you so much. I feel everyone has a secret spiritual life and self that they don't get to express in their everyday life – their poetry voice, or their midnight moonlight walks self. These lyrics grew out of mine. Everyone longs for love – but why? What's behind that longing, what are we really looking for? Those questions keep us alive – they keep me inspired – they fuel my passion to keep growing.
Is there a particular moment or song on the album that you feel perfectly captures where you are at as an artist at this particular second?
It's so hard to pick one. I would have to say "Break it Down" or "For Love". They have all my stuff – percussion, passion, spoken word, lyrics that tell it like it is, funky simple grooves with a few interesting changes.
What kind of feelings/emotions do you hope that ShapeShifting draws out of those who listen to it?
I hope it reaches out and draws them in. I hope they get that adrenaline feeling of excitement and inspiration, that itch on the back of their head and a warm feeling in their heart and gut. That's what I felt making it. This project is years in the making for me. It's everything I got – all my music, my searching, my finding, my collaborations with other amazing artists, and my joyful surprise at what comes out.
Female artists really came on strong in the mid-nineties but have since sort of fizzled in the mainstream. Do you feel that you are less accepted at all because of you are a strong female artist?
I don't know. There are some wonderful female artists out there. They're not getting the same attention as the cute and young entertainers, with some great exceptions like India and Norah. It would be great if the industry would promote the mature Bonnie Raitts of the world just as much. If Sheryl Crow came out today, it would be hard for her to make it, just because she's over 40. But that would be a shame, because she gets better every year, and she's still hot. As for me, the industry might not quite know what to do with me – so far they've been a bit confused. But I embrace that – I'm glad I don't fit into the mold. I'm my own person and artist, and someday the rest of the world will catch on. (laughs)
Is that struggle for female equality in music something you concern yourself with or is that someone else's battle in your eyes?
I'd like to think of it as a process, rather than a struggle. It is a fight, but if we think about it like that, we'll just get tired and be angry all the time. So, it's a constant process – and its part of who I am. Don't get me wrong, I love men, in all their complexity. But the power of women is something else, but only when we stay true to our real nature.
We can't brainwash ourselves into fitting into what we think the world wants from us. I know ADAAWE (7 women of the drum and voice) has been an inspiration to many people out there, promoting a strong and diverse female image. I'm happy about that – but these days I don't think about that consciously, it's just part of who I am, and the music is an expression of that.
Do you have any upcoming tour plans?
We're currently setting up some dates for the spring and summer in California and maybe a few other places. People can keep in touch through the website and we'll let them know when we'll be around. We love festivals, theatres, colleges, and to be part of conscious events. If anyone out there would like to invite us to their town, we'd love to hear from them.
Thanks so much for your time. Do you have any parting thoughts?
Thanks for taking the time to search out independent music. We need you! I hope you find wonderful music that Clear Channel would never bring you, and that it inspires you in your own life. And please let me know how our music moves you. Peace!