“I’m planning to travel around the world, chasing the sun and singing,” says Jennifer Johns about her 2015 plans which include touring while working with the Ghana National Museum on Slavery and Freedom. Throughout the year she will travel, perform, and ask people across nations about freedom.

Arguably, traveling, chasing the sun and singing has been Jennifer’s plan, or life, for the past decade. From 2004 to 2008 Jennifer toured the world playing music. Along with visiting many countries, Jennifer has opened for an impressive list of musicians, including Lauren Hill, Ziggy Marley, Common, and The Black Eyed Peas.

It’s unsurprising that Jennifer’s music pulls inspiration from many different styles found throughout the African Diaspora. The diversity of her musical interests, however, started much earlier with her aunt from St. Lucia, who was a major force in raising Jennifer and her sisters.

“I’ve always had a lot of West Indian influences. In my house, when I was younger there was calypso, reggae, and a lot of roots music alongside Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, and Sade. When I moved to New York I was able to be around what my childhood sounded like on a regular basis.”

New York also brought Afrobeats and South African house music to Jennifer’s attention. “The minute you hear it you can’t not drink it in,” she says.

Traveling has definitely influenced her music, too. “Let the Drum Moan,” for example, was co-produced with a DJ in Malaysia. It’s a spiritual and exceedingly sexy song. “I’ve had a few of my friends tell me they got themselves into a bit of trouble.”

JJ_bobbydigitallookOn Friday Jennifer will play Leo’s Music Club with Coco Peila and Aisha Fukushima. The show itself is being produced by Sarah Sexton of Oaktown Indie Mayhem. In many ways it still feels rare or special when there is an all-female lineup at a venue, while going unnoticed when lineups are all male.

“One of the reasons why we chose to do this is that I love that Sarah is a woman who’s doing her thing,” said Jennifer. “I don’t just choose to work with her because she’s a woman.  She’s good at what she does, period. I want to do more to make space for women because I feel like we are often knocking down doors of the boys club, and it’s a boys club.

“The boys seem to have it all worked out. They’ve got festivals and compilations and all kinds of shit that they do and they’re not sitting around going ‘this is an all man thing.’ In their mind they’re not even thinking about it. They’re not concerned. So for me, it wasn’t that I wanted an all women lineup, it’s that these are my sisters. I like them as musicians. It being an all women lineup winds up being secondary to the idea that I dare anybody to hear any woman who’s going to be on that stage that night, to listen to them one time, and not be blown away. I dare you.”

Alongside new music, Jennifer has also been working on an app, Go Liv, which will allow people to search for sustainable lifestyle resources through GPS across the US. Jennifer’s interest in nutrition grew in 2008 after her mother was diagnosed with Diverticular Disease, an illness that causes weakening and tearing in the lining of the large intestine.

“I was living in New York and I came home for International Women’s Day. I’m sitting on my mom’s couch, she’s Tivo’d the finale to The Wire, and I’m juiced. I’m sitting there, and she passes a cup of blood. We spend the next month in the hospital with her in intensive care because she managed to get a really acute case.

“Imagine the intestines as a water hose. If you take that water hose outside for years and let the sun bake at it, it would be weak. Put water through it, and it would potentially tear. That’s what essentially happened. She had a bunch of small tears in her intestine and wound up having to get the majority of her large intestine removed.”

Her mother’s illness caused Jennifer to examine factors that cause the disease such as highly processed foods that are low in nutrition, as well what factors led to her mother’s eating habits, including being an extremely busy single mom raising three daughters in East Oakland with limited options at the grocery store.

“What I came to understand is [that] the human mind only creates what it can imagine. We only do what we know to do, right? So here we are, focused on what we see. Advertising tells us what to eat, and if that food spot is around the corner and it’s brightly colored and all of those things, we are not imagining that there’s a better way, and that better way actually comes from our neighbor who grows the vegetable that will really save your life.”

It’s hard not to connect Jennifer’s interest in human engagement with an interest in politics, but that’s not how she sees herself.

“I think I’m aware of what’s going on, but I’m not political. I’m spiritual. I think humans need to attune themselves to the idea that we got put on this planet to have a really fucking good time and that everything that we need is here. And so my politics, if anything, are really about attuning people to fun. I really believe that if we were like ‘check it out: food, clothing, shelter, and safety—basic bottom needs, that’s it, and the rest of this shit is about having fun,’ can you imagine what we would do? Oh my god!”

One Response

  1. Devi Genuone

    Dear Katie,

    Thanks for calling out this show and this important issue of all female lineups! I hope I can make this show! I’d love to invite you to my Record Release Show with Aima the Dreamer, Karina Nistal and DJ LadyRyan on Jan 23rd. I really enjoyed this piece! Thank you!!

    -Devi Genuone

    Reply

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