JIMETTA ROSE: LET’S GROW
photography by dana washington
South Central’s Jimetta Rose has been a glowing reflection of the L.A. music community for more than a decade now. Her angelic voice can be heard on countless projects with artists all over the city: from Love Dove with Sa-Ra mastermind Shafiq Husayn to rap wunderkind Blu to her recent time with Quantic, which took her on her first European tour. It took years in her father’s barbershop crooning along to the music while she did her homework and swept to prepare the budding songstress for her role connecting the vibrant past of Central Ave.’s jazz heyday to the glitchy avant-garde of the genre-defying beat-driven L.A. of today. A chance encounter twelve years ago outside of the sound mecca that was Sketchbook at the former Little Temple—now the Virgil—led to a flourishing friendship with Georgia Muldrow who produced the new The Light Bearer on Busdriver’s Temporary Whatever label. Jimetta spoke with us recently about the importance of solidarity with other female artists in the male-dominated L.A. scene, the need for light and love in the midst of the present anger in the world, and her unwillingness to be placed in boundaries that don’t allow room for her true vision. She performs Sept. 15 and Sept. 29 with the Great Unknown at the Del Monte Townhouse in Venice. This interview by Senay Kenfe.
Your new album is called The Light Bearer—why?
Jimetta Rose: I do a lot of meditation and a lot of esoteric spirituality studying, and people always say I light up places. ‘You bring so much joy!’ I started to think about carrying this everywhere: ‘Yeah, Light Bearer. That’s what I’m gonna call this record.’ I have a friend who is very Christian in my band who was like, ‘So you know that’s Lucifer…’ [laughs] ‘ … you’re worshipping the devil now?’ I was like, ‘Wow! Let me get ready for that!’ The answer to that is … we can assign meaning to words, but if you wanna be real and talk about the name Lucifer, Lucifer was not the devil. Lucifer was the angel before he fell to his ego and his vanity and became the devil. And so actually…
That’s a perfect analogy for being the Light Bearer. You’re coming from the light.
Jimetta Rose: Yes! We all carry light—everyone can be a ‘Light Bearer.’ Or everyone is, not everyone ‘can be.’ It’s whether or not you know you are, and if you’re turned on. Like—did you turn on your switch this morning? Are you sharing it without needing anything in return? I’ve been blessed to have that as my natural essence. It makes me believe in others, sometimes to a fault. But with this naming, it was more about proclaiming who I was, who I am, and my message—about seeing that I can’t separate my spirituality or my mindfulness. I didn’t want to be a compartmentalized artist. ‘Oh, she’s pretty and she can sing, and she’s gonna wear a sexy dress and that’s gonna be…’ But no—I’m gonna have a caftan and a cape, you know? I just didn’t want to get trapped into ‘R&B singer.’ How do you proclaim yourself different? Start adding in the spiritual aspects of myself that are in my lyrics—but not necessarily my presentation—before now.
That’s interesting that you say that. On the album, it goes from ‘Rhythm of Life’ into ‘Welcome to the World’—from a lighter, happier tone into a darker, somber tone.
Jimetta Rose: ‘Rhythm of Life’ is when you wake up in the morning, and you hear the birds, the sun is rising—hopefully—and you feel some sort of zeal in your day. You just woke up, you just were connected to the source—you feel very connected in the morning to the rhythm of life. ‘Welcome to the World’ is the end of the day. You’ve lived through it all and you realize tomorrow you have to do it again, and you always feel new. ‘Welcome to the World’ was the last song because it was a period in a statement: ‘I’m saying who I am now, I’m gonna make this proclamation.’ The first album was a proclamation, too—I was the barber’s daughter, and now the barber’s daughter has grown up. Life happened. I realized spirituality was the only thing that got me through that tough time. So ‘The Light Bearer’: I’m bringing this light, but it was a lot about swimming into independence and coming into adulthood full-bloom. They don’t tell you about all the pains it takes for the butterfly to get the wings. People only look at the wings, but it’s like, ‘No, no, no—it was some pain.’ So ‘Welcome to the World,’ what you hear is the somberness that you get. It’s the realism that comes when you realize yeah, you have talent, yeah, you have a gift—but it’s no guarantee, and nobody can do it for you. Nobody can hold you through it. I’ve experienced a lot of loneliness and solitude in this journey, and it helped me value myself more. But it still is heavy, you know?
It’s a work in progress.
Jimetta Rose: Yeah! And it’s still heavy! To feel like you wanna make so many changes, and to realize you know nothing of the world. ‘Swimming in the rivers of my mother, protected from the vastness of the sea’ is an analogy to swimming in what I know, protected from everything I don’t know. Which is so much more than you even know that you don’t know at first … you know? As I went to Europe, I started to see myself, like, ‘Oh, damn! I’m a Black girl! I’m a Black girl and it’s brilliant and it’s beautiful, but like … damn! I don’t know a lot! I’m not really worldly!’ You know, they make us feel like we’re so … I don’t know, vile and lascivious and just fuckin’ everywhere, but the truth is, we’re not like that. I don’t have much experience with drugs … it was culture shock going to Europe and people talking about cocaine and threesomes like nothing was off bar, and I’m like, ‘Oh! This is a whole new world.’ I wrote that song when I was starting to realize that, and I still have no idea what I didn’t know. But I knew I didn’t know a lot, and that it was time to leave home—and there was no coming back from it. You swim out and you can never come back the same. This ‘you’ is dying, and you don’t know what’s going to be born yet, so I wrote it as a comfort. Even though it’s heavy, it’s like, ‘Well, it’s a big world.’ It’s standing from the inside out, from the brown of the dirt to the blue of the sky, and then from the brown of your skin to the white … you know, it’s like you are the world. You do have control. It was my way of yelling back at the propaganda, back at the powers that be and saying, ‘OK, no—the world is what I make it. It’s mine.’ You know: do what you’re gonna do with what’s inside of you, but please don’t do nothing. I was really talking to myself because you get beat up and beat down and discouraged and you think you don’t want to do it, and that’s when those songs come. It ends up sounding like it’s for someone else, but you know—you remember it’s like, ‘What’s inside of you, Jimetta? You have to share it.’ This song—this album—is me daring to be like, ‘Well, the world don’t seem to have much regard for black girls—the world don’t seem to have much regard for women period, let alone a woman thinking about more than just being cute like Kim Kardashian or what outfit I wanna wear … thinking about spirituality, about how to change the systems we live in that are so damaging to the human spirit.’
Right. And not to cut you off, but you brought up the need to connect even more with your spirituality in your presentation because you were worrying about being categorized as an R&B girl—or R&B person, I should say. Why did you feel that was important? Why is that so important as a Black woman? The limitations that come with ‘Oh, she does R&B’?
Jimetta Rose: First of all, the genre thing—especially R&B and soul music—has been limiting not only for Black women, but for Black musicians period. Because jazz is Black, and they took it.
You can say who ‘they’ are. It’s okay.