GU Jams: Yaya Bey Talks Music, Capitalism And The Power Of Truth

“Tell the truth. Don’t wait till you see yourself in some model for success.”

GU Jams is Girls United’s weekly column dedicated to sharing and discussing new music and music news.

Brooklyn based singer Yaya Bey is one of the most exciting new voices to emerge in this era of raw soul. Her work is uncontrived, honest and fearless—making for easy listening and an introspective experience. For the release of the singer’s latest video, “paterson plank,” we caught up with Bey to discuss the protests, capitalism, music and more.

Read our conversation below.

How have you been remaining inspired in the midst of civil unrest?

Well, when protests were happening in Ferguson and Baltimore, I spent time doing street medic work. At that point, my whole life was consumed by protesting. When the most recent protests happened, I found myself supporting street medic work again until  I eventually realized I needed to heal myself more than anything. That really shifted things for me where I’m like, “Okay, I need healing more than everybody does.” That has really given my work a new urgency.

For a Black woman, healing is revolutionary and I feel not only inspired but empowered by saying “Okay, I get to heal now and everything, including my work, gets to be centered around that healing.”

You’ve shared thoughts on being anti-billionaire. How do your personal politics inform your work, if at all?

I was just talking to a friend about how when you’re talented, especially in music, the expectation is that you strive to achieve celebrity. Celebrity culture has always been masochistic. We’re addicted to being told by our faves we’re not wealthy enough or sexy/pretty enough, and that addiction just feeds consumerism. Now we’re buying things to keep up with people who could care less that you’re driving a car you can’t afford or you just spent the light bill money on a pair of shoes that will be out of style next season.

We almost never see women who look like us or space being held for working class Black people as if working class Black people are not the heart of Black creativity. I never want to exalt myself over the people who are supporting my music. Do I want to make a living off my music? Yes! But, it’s because I really want to leave my tired ass job. Every[one] that has a platform is lying in some way. The celebrities, the musicians and visual artists, the fashion girls and IG influencers who are essentially social media’s reality TV stars. We’re all lying and pretending we’re not broke when we are or vying for some weird proximity to Whiteness that was imposed on us and is currently exhausting us, but we don’t really get to talk about it because there’s so much pressure to sell the filtered version of yourself. 

Read “What Artists Can Learn About Activism From Nina Simone” here.

On my album, there’s a song where the chorus goes, “I’ve been selling my life for a paycheck,” and it’s, in my opinion, one of the better songs on the project because it’s like, “Man I really have to work to live.” I mean work for the basics: food, water, shelter.

[I]f I ever want to escape the hamster wheel, y’all are telling me I have to sell perfection and lies that will just contribute to somebody else’s insecurities. Which feed consumerism and corporations keeping the wealthy wealthy and the poor poor—ultimately continuing the wack ass work-to-live cycle I’m trying to escape. So I guess to answer your question, at this point in my work I’m just using whatever platform I get to say “Hey, I did not consent to this.”   

Read “Celebrities Are Being Urged To Have Empathy for the Working Class” here.

You left the raw, unmixed vocals on “paterson plank” because the magic there couldn’t be duplicated. Do you believe that same concept can be applied to life as a whole, since there are no do-overs?

At this point in my life I really like who I am. I’ve lived a lot because I had to grow up fast. I’ve made hella mistakes and I understand fully that I will make more mistakes. But it’s made me much more interesting and wise and has deepened my capacity to love. 

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as a professional artist?

Tell the truth. Don’t wait till you see yourself in some model for success. If there isn’t anyone out there that represents something you can relate to go out there and represent yourself. Your story is valid and there’s always someone who wants to hear it.

Watch the “paterson plank” video below.

Photo credit: Source

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