Culture / Music

Yaya Bey isn’t afraid to say ‘no’

Yaya Bey isn't afraid to say 'no'

"I made Ten Fold with an integrity to the moment. This time, it was made as my life happened."

Yaya Bey has no conception of what anyone else's process is. The process of creation is so intrinsic to self-identity, one can only tell their own story and speak from that well of existence. She doesn't know what the process is like for others, so why would she testify to its universality? She can only admire the end-product. Bey cites the deep cuts of Mary J Blige and Donnie Hathaway, whose musical sensibilities are neo-soul, hip-hop, and largely poetic like her own.

Her newest fait accompli, Ten Fold, is an amalgam of stories all in one album. It was, in her words, what she had capacity for at the time. On the process of creating it, Bey admits it was less thematic of an approach than her previous works. Bey says, "I made it [Ten Fold] as I looked at it. This time, it was made as my life happened."

And how has she lived? Bey is a songwriter from Queens. She is a ruled by the sun (Leo), with earthy elements (Taurus in moon) that reveal a timbre of self-assuredness that I could parse even over the laptop on Zoom (Cap Rising). Of course, none of these projections are more finite than her discography itself. Her breakout epithet, Remember Your North Star is a key example of this limber resilience, touching on heartbreak and displacement through balladry.

On this occasion, Ten Fold dismisses the idea of through-line. Bey cites the journey of creating this album as what she had the capacity for at the current moment, and living a higher-octane lifestyle meant surrendering to the ebb and flow of chaos. On how she finds that pulse, Bey says: "Most times you perceive that moment in that present time in your life, and that isn’t how you go about it later on". What ultimately happens is an entreaty of acceptance. Her integrity is to the moment. And later on, knowing that that moment will go into the next moment.

It sounds oblique, but it isn't. Bey has cracked into the artist's law: releasing yourself to the wisdom of change. Wisdom impacts how you perceive your own story. Her song the evidence is an entry-point into this understanding, a murmured "hold on" and a flurry of musical samplings atypically found in her sound. This process is baked-in over time. Bey learnt to hone in on how she wanted to go about her own journey. She romanticised a lot of things within the siren call of the music industry. Now, she’s disenchanted with it. On how she fights that disillusionment, the singer offers two approaches.

One: She does not search for things outside of herself. She tells people 'No' when something is not aligned with herself. She’s not afraid of the risk of refusal. On this policy, the artist says: "People will attempt to punish you for saying no, but if I still need to say no, I will. The right people won’t be offended if by my no".

Two: Leaving a situation with grace. "My job is making music, and I have that imperative to honour myself." Bey adds, as an afterthought: "I'll do my job, and then I'm gonna go home."

The song slow dancing in the kitchen is a perfect glimpse of this world Bey has created in order for her ecosystem to flourish. It refracts and expands the ideas of being at home in your own body, with joy that comes easy.

Perfectionism: another tenet she no longer values. Succumbing to the idea of perfection is one that rises sorely for many; myself included. She rescues herself from the opinions of others on her art, shoots down marketing ideas that make no sense for her artistic identity. She doesn't scramble. Bey is certain she wants to be a person she can respect, whether she's in this field or something else.


What is next?

Right now, Bey is in DC. Outside of music, she is currently reading A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid and binging all of Killing Eve. To close on the cuff-end of our interview, I probe for any kernels of wisdom. For those who might be waylaid by more obstacles, how do we survive? Bey and I both exist at different points of this same juncture. In today's cultural climate, creatives who are pigeonholed have to fight twice as hard.

"You have to have unwavering faith in yourself. If you’re othered in any way, there is constantly going to be messaging that makes you feel you're unwanted. There will be moments you internalise that. But if you have unwavering faith, it will fight those doubts off for you. You don’t stand a chance if you quit. So you have to have something to hold onto that enables you to keep going," says Bey, "Grow this little voice inside of you that’s saying this can work. This can work. This can work."   


Yaya Bey's new album Ten Fold will be available from Friday 10 May.

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