The singer’s third album, “Back 4 The 1st Time,” unfurls a positive message through R&B, poetry and hip hop. Read about this artist who’s also head of the Black Arts & Cultural Center, listen to her music.
THE ARTIST: Yolonda Lavender
THE MUSIC: R&B, hip hop, poetry
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HER NEXT: Kalamazoo Tree Lighting Ceremony at 5 p.m. Friday (Nov. 24) at Bronson Park (Lavender performs holiday music starting at 6:20 p.m.)
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Poet. R&B artist. Activist. Producer. Yolonda.
With a touch of hip hop, a splash of Motown and a background in gospel and jazz, Kalamazoo native Yolonda Lavender, 32, has been performing around the area since 2005, wowing audiences wherever she goes with her vocal range, passion and positivity.
Since her beginnings singing in her church choir at age 5, she’s shared stages around the country with the likes of Erykah Badu, En Vogue, Keith Murray, Sunshine Anderson, and The Spinners, but can still be seen regularly around Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, playing gigs at places like Papa Pete’s, Shakespeare’s and Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, as well as The LINC and the recent Blue Bridge Music Festival during ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.
She’s been accompanied recently by up and coming jazz act Lushh and performed with other area artists such as Last Gasp Collective, Lady Ace Boogie and JRob. She’s also performed and collaborated with her cousins, DC and Jennifer Lavender.
With three albums dotting her resume, including 2017’s “Back 4 The 1st Time” (released in February on the independent label Truth Tone Records), Yolonda Lavender is finding her groove in every sense of the word. But it isn’t all about the music, although the other elements of her life definitely inspire her and help to drive her artistic message home.
“I’m at a different place in life with this project as opposed to the other two,” she said. “On the first two (2009’s ‘Soul Artistry’ and 2013’s ‘The Genres of Me’), everything was new and I was just exploring myself as an artist.
SPREADING HER MESSAGE IN MANY WAYS
“I’ve experienced a lot in the last four years — including taking the position as executive director for the Black Arts & Cultural Center here in Kalamazoo — that has given me the opportunity to look at myself differently as an artist.”
Among her responsibilities with the nonprofit, Lavender explores new opportunities for programming, helps to oversee quarterly productions with the BACC’s theater company and runs the annual Black Arts Festival, the marquee event for the center which Lavender had attended as a young teenager.
“I feel responsible for making sure that I give back at least what was given to me so that whoever is coming up will be able to have, at the bare minimum, what I was given,” she said.
“Because my position is with an arts and cultural organization that works well for me as an artist, and I’m able to provide others with those opportunities.
“There is also a lot of other stuff that has come along with taking on this responsibility that has a lot to do with the climate and culture of this country and stuff that I see going on around me.”
‘A SENSE OF PRIDE FOR THE TRADITIONS AND HISTORY OF MY ANCESTORS’
A lot of that — specifically pertaining to concepts such as unity, cultural pride, personal responsibility and self-care — can be heard in Lavender’s music, and one needn’t listen past the album-opening, jazzy spoken word piece “Reflections” to hear it.
Check out the closing lines of that track:
“… I see Africa and libraries and Roots from Alex Haley and MY family tree.
I see museums and festivals and barbecues and church and holidays and tradition,
and me, creating my own, making my own, defining for myself,
deciding the legacy that I will leave behind.
I see me, a reflection of all those before me,
I see things left better than they were received.
I see me.”
“I think that there is a real balancing act to being able to talk about unity, as well as a sense of pride for the traditions and history of my ancestors and the people I came from, and just being happy and OK and acknowledging who you are, especially in times like these,” she said.
“Having this job working for this specific nonprofit has allowed me to discover a better balance working toward all of that and that naturally kind of flows through in the music.”
As far as her message goes, she said it’s always been a positive one, but that it has been refined over time so that people are able to constantly see things from a different viewpoint. When it comes to writing and sharing her music, that message is not something she takes lightly either.
“I feel that I have a real responsibility any time that I am on any stage or behind any mic that it is not just a performance,” she said. “There’s a reason I am there and I need to take advantage of the opportunities that I have and convey that message and feeling.”
VIDEO: Yolonda Lavender, “Favorite Key”
VIDEO: Yolonda Lavender, “Kalamazoo”
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC