Yola's sophomore album, Stand For Myself, has been in the making for nearly 8 years. In some ways, the collection of songs documents the Bristol-born singer's journey to self-actualization, and she intends for listeners to be taken on that same journey. For Yola, born Yolanda Quartey, this particular journey began in 2013 after the death of her mother.
"I was riding back from her funeral on my motorcycle and the baseline on the song 'Break the Bough' came into my head," Yola tells EBONY.
At the time, she found the baseline to be odd, considering the occasion. She had just lost the most important person in her life. Her eyes were still filled with tears and she was actively trying not to crash her bike as she wove through traffic. Yet, the baseline persisted. When she arrived home, she would begin writing the first verse of the song, which grapples with the concept of mortality. Though it would take years to write the full song and album, she considers this moment the "beginning of the arc" because it forced her to recognize what's important.
"The album was written across the arc of my journey of feeling like I have the agency to create what I want to create," says Yola, who composed much of the album during lockdown.
Throughout the 45-minute-long work, she explores the concept of thriving vs. surviving, grief, the freedom of decisiveness, allyship, and sensuality. Yola also traverses the various aspects of her identity as a Black woman. And by the end of the album, she hopes that listeners will feel as though they know "know a dark-skinned Black woman a little better."
Throughout the album, Yola seeks to challenge institutions that cause people to feel other, such as bigotry, tokenism, and colorism.
"I came up in an era where dark-skinned women were really thriving. I got used to that. Then we came into an era where there was an erasure of dark-skinned women within popular music," says Yola. "I saw people who looked like me disappear."
Growing up seeing beautiful melanated artists such as Lauryn Hill, Brownstone, and Mary J. Blige was important to Yola and she hopes to be that figure for dark-skinned girls looking for representation.
"I feel like we're coming into another era where dark-skinned women are coming to the floor again in the fullness of their art. That's something I wanted to speak on and be part of," says Yola. "It was important for me to see myself growing up. I want young girls to see someone darker than caramel. "
Yola goes on:
"If I can put out something that's not toxic for dark-skinned women into the ether; if I can undo some of the microaggressive patterns than you see in media, then all the better."
Fans can catch Yola's live performance of Stand For Myself, which will be broadcast on August 4th and 5th by way of Momenthouse. Click here to learn more.