This Black History Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays, interviews, reviews, poetry, playlists, and more features in recognition of, and out of respect for the symbolism and significance of this month.
Today, Philadelphia-based pop-R&B artist Avé shares their essay “The Words of My Heart” as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Black History Month series. A nonbinary musician channeling the likes of Prince, Janet Jackson, George Michael, and more, Avé’s art is as much a tribute to R&B’s past as it is to the genre’s present and future: Sultry and sensuous, dramatic and sweeping, Avé’s music is an uncompromising stripping-down of the soul. The artist’s latest single “How Come,” released February 4 via The Giving Groove, is a smoldering, sassy break-up anthem full of hot funk n’ blues, soaring guitar work, and raw, vivid vocals.
“When I’m just ranting or venting, it sometimes tends to rhyme,” Ave says. “My friend was secretly recording me as I was venting about an ex-boyfriend who broke up with me. We ended it cordially. But then, within a year, they were engaged to be married to someone identical to me, visually and otherwise. I kind of just started venting; that’s how the song was written. Most of it came out in a form of questions, and that ended up being the hook of the song. I wasn’t intending to release the song. Because it’s really raw, it’s really honest… Way more than I was intending to be.”
THE WORDS OF MY HEART
An associate once asked me why I’m always singing, while washing the dishes, driving down the street, just minding my business, and without thinking, I replied, “Because that’s how my heart speaks.” This off-the-cuff response sums up the reason I make music, and it doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to understand why. From watching Janet Jackson’s 1998 Velvet Rope Tour and Luther Vandross’ 1987 Live at Wembley concert with my father, to leaving a chaotic divorce to go on tour to Panama and Costa Rica with the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale: music has always been where my feelings are clear. But life tends to shift those bedrock consolations. You see, I wasn’t able to perform music for about 4 years due to various reasons. Luckily, the famous quote of Hans Christian Anderson, “where words fail, music speaks” became inverted. Where my music couldn’t go, words came along to help me. Along with hundreds of songs came poetry, books, stage plays, and even screenplays. But as soon as my music came rushing back, I went back to my first love, though it didn’t greet me kindly.
Last year, my music had thrust me into a realm I never expected. A barrage of backlash accompanied the positive reviews and commentary from listeners and fans around the world. As my previous song, ‘Dive In My Ocean’ released on Juneteenth of 2020 in the midst of the global Black Lives Matter protests, my social media was filled with hateful comments from some of the same accounts fighting for racial justice. The heartbreaking message telegraphed to me in the comments and DMs seemed to be that not all black lives mattered, only the socially acceptable ones. While I steer clear of comparing and contrasting the struggles of marginalized groups, being an intersectional person and therefore artist affords me an unique perspective through which I approach my life and art. This middle existence of feeling like a stateless person, with no homeland to return to, is one I’ve felt from childhood: the unaccepting church, the racist gay nightclubs, the micro-aggressions from loved ones, the actual aggressions of professors and instructors. But rather than letting this venom seep into my music and art, or hide who I am to become more palatable for unintended audiences, I choose to take a different route.
I am a proud performing and recording artist who belongs to the African American and LGBTQ+ communities.
However, I’ve been focusing on those universal and unifying experiences in my music that everyone can relate to, no matter their race, gender identity, sexuality, socio-economic background, or any other box society wants to shove down our throats. Feelings of inadequacy, longing, being overwhelmed, and heartbroken are ones that we all have experienced to some degree throughout our lives. Many of us know the feeling of realizing that the heart of the person we love belongs to somebody else, followed by those wine-infused crying sessions wondering “how come it wasn’t me this time.” Life can get overwhelming for all of us – sometimes to a near boiling point – until a release of pressure is needed, whether in the form of screaming, taking a vacation, or in the words of Grey’s Anatomy (my favorite show) dancing it out. In today’s world of social distancing, quarantining, and video chatting with loved ones, more people are experiencing that ocean of mixed emotions that comes with long-distance relationships. As I begin the healing process after the four (4) years of the tsunami of hatred and confusion, to cap off years of discrimination from friend and foe alike, I try to remember the shared experiences – what connects us. I’ve learned to fight against the comfort of “IDGAF” culture and see where I can relate to someone. I’ve performed songs in foreign countries, singing in completely unfamiliar languages, and yet shared in the audiences tears and cheers. Nowadays, I may tell it from a point of view that rarely gets a voice, but my heart will continue to speak and I hope others can join in on the chorus.
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📸 © Mike Lawson
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