American country meets British soul? Yola on being a gender-defying black woman in music. | Charleston Scene

British soul and American country music don’t seem like a suitable pair, but they’ve become a powerful match thanks to Yolanda Claire Quartey, who goes by the name “Yola.”

Yola, who will perform at 8 p.m. on March 18 at Charleston Music Hall, received four Grammy nominations in 2020: Best New Artist, Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song.

It’s funny because she’s from Bristol, England, and she has the accent to prove it.

But his 2019 album “Walk Through Fire,” released on Dan Auerbach’s label of the Black Keys, wonderfully towed the stylistic line between vintage and modern and tied the knot between soul and country perfectly.

She toured with Chris Stapleton, wearing a cowboy hat, then was cast as rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the upcoming biopic “Elvis.”


Yola was nominated for four Grammy Awards in 2020. Supplied

As a black woman in music and especially a black woman in music in Nashville, she has fought to break down gender boundaries and show the full extent of what she can do and who she is.

“You don’t have to be a devout Christian nun or a boot-shaking ho,” Yola told the Post and Courier. “There’s a myriad between these two tropes bestowed on black women.”

Her 2021 release “Stand By Myself” partly addressed some of these stereotypes and struggles encountered, such as in “Barely Alive,” in which Yola explores growing up in a world where she didn’t have the ability to nuance or to come true.

“We were talking about what it was like to be a black woman playing a guitar in a society that hasn’t reconciled the relationship between black women and a guitar — not entirely, not entirely,” he said. she declared. “That’s where we start the record, where everything is us just trying to survive, to fit in, not to be one of the ‘bad’ black people because that’s the narrative that feeds us .And you’re not allowed to have a different story other than one that’s already been painted for you.”

The concept album, she explained, is a series of hurdles that come full circle at the end. The first song defines the scene in which the last song exists.

“Now that you’ve survived, how are you going to start living?” she sings in the opening track “Barely Alive”.

“You’re going to have to ruffle some feathers,” she replied during the interview.

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She also went through grief after her mother’s death in “Break the Bough.”

“Anyone in the dead parents club knows that big changes happen when you lose people you never imagined would die, even though you knew it was possible and inevitable,” she said. . “It brings you to the full realization of having to let go with some level of love.”

And she explored the transition from her 20s to her 30s, including what happened alongside the “panic of 29”, as she called it.

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Yola, from Bristol, England, has toured 46 of the 50 states with Chris Stapleton. Provided

“It’s a great transition going from your twenties to your thirties, and this kind of big arc of psychological change from not knowing who you are to building that and drawing boundaries. … That’s what this disc traces, the arc of this realization and this transition – moving past something and moving to a place that gives you the space to find the most of yourself.”

The record as a whole, despite its often heavy themes, arrived rhythmic and eager to go, compared to its down-tempo debut. That’s why she waited the majority of the pandemic to release it just before last year’s Newport Folk Festival.

“It’s a record that gets up and having fun, even when talking about things that are harder to get through emotionally,” Yola said. “The energy on this record is undeniable, so we knew we couldn’t release it until we could play it live.”

Now she is back with a tour that started in August last year and continues until April this year. She will end it at the Stagecoach Festival at the same location as Coachella in Indio, California.

After the tour, be on the lookout for “Elvis,” slated to premiere in June and featuring Yola as one of his icons, Sister Rosetta Thorpe.

“I had to learn to shredder like her, considering she’s one of the greatest guitarists of all time,” Yola said. “It was extremely intimidating.”

The guitar, says Yola, means freedom. If so, it sure seems like it’s skyrocketing.

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