Archive for January, 2022

My Mind by YEBBA at Sofar will blow your mind!

January 16, 2022

January 16, 2022: Today is YEBBA’s 27th birthday. We wish her peace of mind, a joy-filled heart, and a successful fulfilling career.

Born Abigail Elizabeth Smith, she went by Abbey Smith until she changed her name professionally to Yebba—Abbey spelled backwards—in honor of her mother who had given her that nickname. More on that later.

I recently discovered this amazing artist on YouTube. She is an American singer-songwriter from West Memphis, Arkansas. Over 5 years ago, when she was 21, she gave a powerful, emotive performance of her song “My Mind” at Sofar (Songs From A Room) in New York City. Sofar NYC had recorded it and later posted it on their YouTube channel. It went viral.

I can’t get it out of my mind. I never heard a singer express such raw emotion, yet within a precise musical structure. She does this with her very versatile voice and just her guitarist softly backing her up. That’s it.

The song opens with her discovering that her partner has been cheating on her, then shows her reaction. Her voice slowly builds to a powerful expression of rage, hurt, and grief, to the point where she is about to lose her mind. The audience is spellbound. The camera shows some women sitting motionless in rapt attention.

I would rank YEBBA up there with other exceptional authentic female vocalists like Eva Cassidy, Lissie, and Angelina Jordan. Be prepared to have your mind blown listening to YEBBA sing My Mind at Sofar NYC.

YEBBA performing “My Mind” at Sofar NYC on September 30th, 2016. Sofar Sounds connects artists and music-lovers around the world through intimate shows in unique venues.

Losing love can be a painful thing. I normally wouldn’t post something like this, however. This is such a profoundly visceral experience executed with the utmost skill and talent I just had to share it.

Having written and performed My Mind at Sofar in front of a live audience must’ve been part of her healing process, and a cathartic experience for those listening who may have also suffered a betrayal and loss of love. After it was over, I like how she matter-a-factly stated, “That’s that one.”

Reactions

Hundreds have reacted to this video over the years, some technically, others emotionally, recalling their own memories of betrayal. It is a powerful performance that triggers anger, compassion, tears. It reminded me of that famous line: ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.

Three reactions worth watching are by these music professionals: Lolli Wren aka The Fairy Voice Mother in England, Julia Nilon in Australia, and John Henny in California.

Lolli Wren goes into technique, but also acknowledges her emotional response.

I think the main thing that I felt when I heard that was this overwhelming sense of wanting to protect her and make the pain go away because it was just watching a woman in distress crying out for help in such a harrowingly poetic and beautiful way. It shows you what beauty can come out of such intense pain. And we need that, we need a pioneer of expression.

Julia Nilon picks up how well Yebba delivers the R&B-soul-gospel runs to serve the song.

All of her vocal effects—from the runs, to the aspirations, to the yodels, to the calling or crying that she’s putting into the sound, to the distortion—all of it sounds suitable, if the emotional content of the song that she’s putting in, like, you can’t help but feel something when you’re watching her sing this because it’s like her heart is in her hands. This is an incredible emotional performance and the vocal delivery is stunning. I mean I don’t think she overdid anything that wasn’t warranted by the lyrics that she was delivering.

Voice teacher John Henny said Yebba uses a minor pentatonic scale, a five-note scaffolding on which her voice ascends and descends. Her riffs sound like Middle Eastern runs or from a gospel choir. Yebba’s father is a pastor and she used to create choral arrangements and sing in his church. At times, it sounds like she’s wailing. John provides us with this insight into her talent and technique.

I gotta tell you, it is so hard to take your voice and your emotions to the edge of tears but you don’t lose the ability to sing. That’s really difficult, because as you begin to touch that emotion you lose control in the voice, and she’s right on the razor’s edge of that. That’s really fantastic! I’ve seen Barbra Streisand do that effectively well. It’s incredibly hard to do.

He concludes by saying “She’s just amazing” and then provides us with this final analysis:

The song itself—there’s not a lot there. I mean very simple chords. It’s not like it’s this hook-driven ditty. It really is just a vehicle for her to express herself emotionally. And what I love, is her riffs, her choices. None of them are done to be showy. It’s not, ‘Hey, look-at-me,’ vocals. It’s, ‘Let me express myself to you.’ ‘Let me communicate to you.’ So, this is absolutely fantastic!

Collaborations and Grammys

To date, this video has almost 20 million views. Ed Sheeran saw Yebba sing and it brought him to tears. He immediately signed her to his record label and later invited her to London at the famous Abbey Road Studios (same name!) to record one of his songs as part of his No. 6 Collaborations Project released in 2019. It included many top artists and produced several hits mentioned in the notes. It’s posted on his YouTube channel: Ed Sheeran – Best Part Of Me (feat. YEBBA) (Live At Abbey Road).

An earlier collaboration also worth listening to is Yebba singing John Mayer’s Gravity with Clark Beckham. (More on John Mayer added below.)

Besides the viral video of My Mind, Yebba first became known for her backing vocal performance on Chance the Rapper’s SNL performance of “Same Drugs” in 2016. In 2017, she released her debut single, Evergreen—a tribute to her late mother that was recorded in their family church.

Yebba has collaborated with a number of artists, including PJ Morton (How Deep Is Your Love), which won a Grammy in 2018 for Best Traditional R&B Performance; Sam Smith (No Peace); Mark Ronson (Don’t Leave Me Lonely); Stormzy (Don’t Forget to Breathe); Ed Sheeran (Best Part of Me); and Drake (Yebba’s Heartbreak). Her own song, Distance, was nominated for a Grammy in 2020 in the same category as before.

Yebba received 2 Nominations for 2022 Grammys Awards: #18. Best Traditional R&B Performance: For new vocal or instrumental traditional R&B recordings, How much can a heart take – Lucky Daye ft. Yebba – (Live Performance), which premiered Jul 31, 2021 on Jimmy Kimmel Live; and her album, Dawn, for #71. Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical.

Dawn

Yebba’s mother, Dawn, a high school science teacher, encouraged her singing. Sadly, she committed suicide in October, shortly after Yebba’s performance at Sofar went viral. Yebba returned home traumatized, putting her career on hold, and tried to deal with her PTSD and OCD.

Yebba mentions a feeling of constant panic and grief in this 5-minute synopsis of an NPR interview that Sam Sanders did with her when her debut album, Dawn, came out last September: With The New Album ‘Dawn,’ Yebba Sheds Old Beliefs.

Listen to the complete intimate 24-minute interview where they discover they have a lot in common growing up around music in the church: Yebba Sheds Old Beliefs With A New Album. Both include the transcripts.

NPR also posted Yebba: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert of her performing songs from the album with her amazing band and vocal backup group.

Trying to come to terms with her mother’s death, Yebba processed a lot of emotions and memories. She titled and dedicated her first album in her name. Symbolically, it became the official dawn of her career.

September 8, 2021: This Tiny Desk Concert has been in the works since the spring of 2020, when the album was completed but shelved until Yebba (and the rest of the world) was in a better place. It was worth the wait.

Reviews

Billboard published: Yebba’s ‘Dawn’: The Long, Difficult Road to the Stunning Singer’s Debut. Yebba’s highly-anticipated, Mark Ronson-produced debut album was delayed by loss and lockdown — but now the soul singer is even more eager to begin in earnest. 

In the YouTube documentary, “How To Be: Mark Ronson,” when Mark and Yebba are in the studio, he says, “she is one of the top five greatest vocalists I’ve ever recorded, just the kind of person that when they’re singing in a room, everybody just suddenly engages more.” And Mark has collaborated with and produced the best, like Amy Winehouse, Adele, Bruno Mars, Q-Tip, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, to name a few.

The Whit Online published this review: YEBBA’s Debut Album, “Dawn” is a Masterclass in Musicianship.

“This is a voice that moves, it doesn’t merely entertain,” says Kyle Dennis in his Album Review: Yebba’s ‘Dawn’ Is Divine.

Natalie Maher interviewed Yebba for Harpers Bazaar: Yebba Isn’t Afraid to Feel It All. The singer-songwriter’s debut album, Dawn, is a hauntingly beautiful ode to the art of healing.

Song versions

Yebba doesn’t usually sing her songs the same way twice. Her song, Boomerang, is on the album, but this live version posted on her YouTube channel sounds better.

Same with this live version of October Sky. The song is based on a memory of her mother firing off bottle rockets she had brought home from science class for Yebba and her brother. Gerard Hern explained it in his comment quoting Yebba on how she wrote the song.

“I wrote this whole story about remembering her sliding down the hall and telling us ‘Come outside we’re shooting off bottle rockets,’” Yebba explains. “That memory came to me and the words just spilled out: this story of her and the promise that she broke, in a way, because she killed herself in October. I genuinely feel like she was standing there in the room with me as I was writing it, in my studio apartment in Brooklyn.”

Look for videos on her YouTube channel. She adds new ones. For her debut album, Dawn, you can Listen on Spotify or Listen on Apple Music.

Yebba posted this gem Nov 8, 2015: Abbey Smith cover “Weak” by SWV.

Healing Trauma with Transcendental Meditation

Nick Cave and Lady Gaga are two of many musicians who have spoken about the benefits of Transcendental Meditation (TM) for their grief and pain, respectively, and to boost their creativity. Katy Perry and Sting have participated with other artists in fundraising concerts for the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), which offers TM for free to traumatized communities.

DLF’s latest projects include veterans and their families suffering from PTSD and frontline healthcare workers exhausted from dealing with the pandemic. Many published studies show TM to be effective in removing stress, healing trauma, and reenergizing people. It could help Yebba.

New music

Jan 24, 2022: Yebba – The Age of Worry (Live at Electric Lady), a song originally performed by John Mayer. johnmayer posted this comment on Yebba’s Instagram post about it:

My screen is getting blurry. ❤️ So moved. Thank you for showing what’s been hiding in my own work through your profoundly powerful and soulful take. You are so special I can’t stand/understand it sometimes. ♥️♥️♥️

Jan 27, 2022: Spotify posts Yebba’s new 5-song EP, Live at Electric Lady.

Opening for John Mayer’s 2022 Sob Rock Tour

And now John Mayer’s 2022 Sob Rock Tour will include Yebba as his opening act in some March to April venues. Official #1 Fan, Yebbite Smith, posts videos from concerts, like these clips from Luke Edgemon of Yebba and her funky band opening for John Mayer in LA. Luke also posted Yebba singing October Sky from that Forum concert. Jayla R posted Stand from the Tampa show.

See more on YS’s Instagram accounts: Yebbites and yebbasmithworld, which includes a photo of Yebba and John. And on his YouTube channel, Yebbite Smith, where he also posted, YEBBA Best Vocals Sob Rock Tour.

Yebba posted this insane clip from one of those shows of her riffing on “It’s just a shot away” from the Rolling Stones classic Gimme Shelter.

For writer May Sarton, solitude was necessary to create and bring forth the richness within herself

January 9, 2022

May Sarton (Belgian-American, 1912-1995) was a highly respected American poet, novelist, and memoirist. Her literature encompasses themes of aging, solitude, family and romantic relationships. Self-identified as a lesbian and regarded as a feminist, she preferred that her work found a place in a broad humanitarian connection rather than within the identities she embodied.

Her memoir, Journal of a Solitude (1973) was her most popular work, and “Now I Become Myself” (Collected Poems 1930 – 1993) is one of her most beloved poems. She was also the author of numerous novels.

Literary Ladies Guide compiled a selection of Introspective quotes by May Sarton, a most thoughtful writer. They also published a review of Journal of a Solitude. The Famous People website published 64 Inspiring Quotes By May Sarton That Will Give You Lessons For Life—her reflections on life, authenticity, solitude, contentment, nature, strength, survival, education, school, life, loneliness, optimism, experience and relationships.

I remember reading these wise quotes from Journal of a Solitude:

Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.

Without darkness, nothing comes to birth, As without light, nothing flowers.

I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose—to find out what I think, to know where I stand.

That last quote reminds me of Donald Hall’s description of a good writer, included in an earlier post: Writers on Writing—What Writing Means To Writers.

A good writer uses words to discover, and to bring that discovery to other people. He rewrites so that his prose is a pleasure that carries knowledge with it. That pleasure-carrying knowledge comes from self-understanding, and creates understanding in the minds of other people.

I must have time alone

The implication from these quotes is that we need a time and place to be alone to create in the dark of the unknown, shut off from distractions that divide the mind, to experience the richness of our inner world, and blossom with the light of our newly discovered self-knowledge. We write to know—to discover and understand.

Yet, like every true artist it is always a challenge to balance the personal with the social, our own needs with those of another in a relationship. In her Journal of Solitude May Sarton wrote:

There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.

This is so true. And if we don’t express our need for solitude in a healthy manner, resentment builds up, and we find ourselves passively-aggressively taking our frustration out on those closest to us, causing pain for both parties involved. We blame others for our inability to properly balance our priorities. We lash out or fall into inertia and suffer.

However, when free to fully engage in the creative process, writing can become an ecstatic experience. This quote stood out for me, showing May Sarton’s passion for writing and how significant it was for her.

…I feel more alive when I’m writing than I do at any other time—except when I’m making love. Two things when you forget time, when nothing exists except the moment—the moment of writing, the moment of love. That perfect concentration is bliss.

AZ Quotes: May Sarton Quotes About Writing

a way of life

I’ll leave you with this final quote from May Sarton that reminds me of the bus-driving poet in Jim Jarmusch’s wonderful little film, Paterson: “poetry is first of all a way of life and only secondarily a way of writing.”

Leonard Cohen said a similar thing: “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.

We write to better understand our experiences, and in the process metabolize them into poems. Poetry, then, is the epiphenomenon, the ash from that creative fire burning within. See this related inspiring post: What is Poetry, where does it come from, and how does it enter into us?

a final note

And finally, enjoy this post: Burghild Nina Holzer inspires us to write and discover who we are and what we have to say, with links to more entires on writing. There is a beautiful excerpt on the back cover of her book, A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process, edited down from the original, which I also include.

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe. It is a huge language, but each of us tracks his or her particular understanding of it.


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