BOLD Woman To Watch: Zonya Love Johnson
"And I sang these songs for you..."
Zonya Love is a powerhouse performer and artivist. Her artistry and commitment to creating work that amplifies the voices of black folk is her legacy and you won't want to miss her solo debut in Spiritual Uprising Conceived and performed by The show stopping Love. We got to chat with Zonya about all things being BOLD and how she created her own dream show.
What Inspired you to create your show?
Zonya: The idea to record an album had dropped in my spirit over five years ago. But I was inspired to create the show because of the socio-political climate and the elevation of tension of said climate due to the pandemic. I was needing to create something to help me climb out of the darkness I was in and the despair and hopelessness I felt after learning of the subsequent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I remember feeling this same intensity of despair after the subsequent murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille in 2016.
You said you started with just a voice note and song. Tell us more about the creation of Spiritual Uprising.
Zonya: I had actually been making voice notes of new arrangements of various Negro Spirituals just because it’s a thing I do. I don’t even remember which song was the first but I had planned to one day record the album of reimagined Negro Spirituals when I had the funds. During the Uprising which is the byproduct of America’s ignoring the very real and in your face issues of over policing and murdering of black bodies followed by a lack of accountability and justice, I was in such a dark place. It took all of the energy I had to just do basic tasks. My depression had been fueled by the tragedies my community was facing and therefore consumed me. The concept for the show was almost immediate. Even before I was commissioned to do the piece- (initially it was going to be an album, not a staged concert)- I had planned to sing these songs through the lens of our society just as our ancestors created/sung these songs through the lens of theirs. My first step was to gather all of the voice notes I had on my phone and on my computer and then flesh them out to be complete songs. This involved my researching the songs to get to the most original of lyrics (there are so many covers of the Negro Spirituals). I imagine that I have a song or three still in my voice notes. I do plan on recording an album and have toyed with the idea of it being a multi volume type thing where a new volume is released every couple of years or something like that.
Remember the moment you decided to go on this journey, to do this thing. Remember why you are doing it. Remember the people who will heal because of what you are creating.
That's an incredible idea. We are here for that! You talk a lot about depression and being overcome by what was going on all around you, how did you push past that and get to a space where you could create?
Zonya: Oh geez, there was so much fear. But my fear had more to do with the spirit and my ancestors. I desperately did not want to disappoint. I didn’t want to come across as if I was trying to “improve” the Negro Spirituals. There was also the fear of am I the right one to create this music? There was also the fear of- will people get anything out of this? To move through those fears I would literally talk to myself. I would affirm myself. I would say frequently, this assignment would not have been given to me if it wasn’t meant for me. I felt ordained by Spirit to create this music. So I would say to anyone looking to take a similar journey, tap into something higher than yourself. Seek their/it’s guidance. Listen to Spirit more than you listen to fear. Have a support team- those folks you can call on to tell you to push through. Folks who encourage you with or without coddling you depending on what you need at the time. Folk who remind you of your passion when you forget. Folk who understand their role as the iron that sharpens your iron. I’m sure there’s more I could say but the last thing I will add is remember. Remember the moment you decided to go on this journey, to do this thing. Remember why you are doing it. Remember the people who will heal because of what you are creating. Remember that you will inspire others to do the same. Remember that we are creators and therefore, we create. Remember creation is a gift and service. Remember that the story will be told by you, through you, or without you, so if it was given to you, tell it/share it.
This show was healing for me. I needed it. I needed to find the light.
I feel like you just did a benediction over us! Remembrance is such a beautiful practice we often forget about, but our memory can serve us so beautifully. Also, it is truly at the heart of your piece. As I remember the songs of my ancestors I am reminded of their resilience and perseverance, their ability to find light and joy. Thank you for that. So tell us about the show, what is Spiritual Uprising?
Zonya: I’ll keep this answer short and sweet. Spiritual Uprising is a reimagining of the Negro Spirituals with new arrangements created by me, accompanied, charted, with some additional arrangements by Dionne McClain-Freeney. The songs are used to journey through my thoughts and feelings about the times we live in, have lived in, and will continue to live in if we continue down this road of unacknowledgement, hatred, ignorance, and injustice. You can expect to see my heart and soul on that stage. This show was healing for me. I needed it. I needed to find the light. The audience just happens to get a peek inside the healing process.
Amazing Zonya. Let the people know: when, where, and how can we experience your show?
Zonya: So anyone wanting to see the show can go to www.peopleslight.org to purchase a ticket. You have until May 7th which is the extended period. We were originally slated to close May 2nd, but turn to your neighbor and say, BUT GAWD SAID...
BUT GAWD SAID!! Thank you Zonya. You are a beacon and rock in our community. We are grateful for how you have a reputation of cheering and celebrating black women and we are so excited to do that for you. Go get your tickets folks, you won't want to miss this one!
Don't forget to follow BOLD @iamaboldwoman on all your favorite platforms as well as the lovely Zonya Love @lovezonya