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FlyPaper Celebrates Women’s History With WCW:

Keisha Soleil

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“What does is mean to be light?”

I remember preparing for this interview; I had about eight solid questions ready. I had a plan. I was going to walk into this interview and really get to know Keisha Soleil. Little did I know that not only would my futile efforts be trampled under the unique passion that laughed, cried and shared 25 years of wisdom w/me, but that I would actually learn more about myself between the two of us. She had a perspective and a story to tell that my measly questions just didn’t stand a chance against.

I walked into her apartment and I could literally feel my soul smiling. The energy, the atmosphere. I knew right away that this wasn’t going to be a coffee shop interview. No awkward head nods and smiles between sips of mocha and espresso. I had never even been on her side of Columbus, let alone in her apartment, but something in that apartment wouldn’t allow any jitters. I felt as if I was home.

I was sitting on her living room floor, plugging in, setting up my computer. I hadn’t officially started the interview, but my next move sparked the next hour of soulful confessions.

I began humming:

“Sounds like you got a little voice on you yourself.”

I responded that my mother had sung all of my life, so holding a note had become a way of life for me. And then the magic just happened:

Is that what happens? Cause I’m like when I have kids they better know how to sing or I’m pushing them back up there! *LOL*

Even if it’s not their thing, I just want them to be able to. Cause I don’t think people understand what singing is and what that does. You know what I’m saying? Everybody gets so stuck on what it sounds like; if it’s pretty or how many tricks you can do. People don’t pay attention to what your voice really is.

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When people sing, there’s like nothing between you and that person. So—nothing is interrupting their pure, honest, you know, thoughts and feelings. So, even when I look at good singers, I don’t look at it as whose voice it is, and whose voice is the most acrobatic and who can do whatever. It’s who can be the most transparent and not bsing me! Cause when you sing you can’t really bs. So could you put bs on top of something that’s naturally natural? You know what I’m saying?!

So people—people singing is their way of crying out. That’s your way of talking to your spirit. So, to me, everybody can sing. At some point, everybody gonna need to cry out. That’s a simple way to do it, right?

I immediately stopped typing. I wanted to listen, soak up every word; every tidbit of knowledge that I could. I didn’t even know what to ask her next. I began improvising.

What do you think about artists that don’t write their own music?

That’s somebodies perspective of themselves. At least they’re expressing and it takes a lot more to allow somebody else to help you express how your feeling cause you have to, kind of, surrender. You have to let your ego down a little bit and have that conversation with yourself.

LOL* Now there are some artists, I feel, that are just unnecessarily populating the mainstream, but I don’t pay attention to all that stuff. If I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t give it any energy or focus.

You’re a singer and now you teach music. How did you end up here?

I went to school but I didn’t finish. I started at Otterbein and I auditioned there for the music program and got rejected, so I still went because I turned down all the other schools. I wanted to go out of state but my mom convinced me to stay here. And so I went there as an English major with a minor in music.

So, I got into school, joined the choir and they said ‘you need to be in the music program.’ And I was like ‘AAHH! Y’all  rejected me.’ Like what? I’ll stay right here; I saw how the program operated. I don’t need to be a part of that. Long story short, Otterbein was the worst two years of my life. It was so racist there. It’s a lot of prejudice and just a lot of old mindsets.

My mom was born in the 1950’s. So my mom’s 65. I’m 25 but I have brothers that are in their 40’s. So even the way I just look at the world is  different because I’m kind of looking at it through their stories and their perspectives. I grew up with them. You know,  you understand how you got siblings, and you understand them a little bit because you could see their view points on life a little bit because, well, they’re your siblings. The fact that I share DNA with 40-year-old men in America—that says a lot about how I look at the world.

So, in going to Otterbein, I felt like that was the worst thing for a conscious, and at the same time, naive black woman. I wasn’t naive but at the same time, I didn’t know I had an innocence about me. I still had this way that I looked at the world like we could really have world peace. Then I got to Otterbein and was like ‘OH MY GOD!’ I wound up hating myself after I left that school. Two years later, I was like 203 pounds. Yes, child! 200 and 3. By the time I left I had a fro, a gold fro, and I was thick like jelly.

When I came out, I was living with my aunt. I was about 19 going on 20. So when I moved in with her she was dying of cancer and I became her nurse. I lived with her for 5 months until she passed. So coming out of Otterbein,  I was in a very low place. Like I was suicidal at the end of Otterbein. And I’m not close to my family. I am, but I’m not, because, again. my brothers are in their forties. How do I relate [to them]? So there’s like this distance. I’m like an Island amongst my family and in my peers. Because my momma is old and they don’t [always] feel where I’m coming from.

But I went from feeling like my life wasn’t worth anything to taking care of my aunt as hers was ending. You know that was God. That brought some perspective for me. So much then, that I didn’t even understand when the process was happening. But when I opened myself up, I allowed me to get out of the way, so whatever needed to happen could happen. It’s why I sit here and tell you that I learned a lesson. So after

blazethat, I tried to go to OSU, but then Blah! I don’t do Institutions. I don’t go to the hospital. You know, I don’t do none of that so, why am I going to pay to go to a college that’s trying tell me no. I wasn’t going to school; I was just sIttIng on the couch. My mentor called me and saId ‘go to thIs school!’ I’m like ‘bro I just… I’m not going to school anymore!’ *LOL* But he told me it was a technical school, a two-year school. So I was like ‘I could do two years. You could do It Keisha.’ My major was audio and video production. So now I’m engineering; I’m doing stuff. This is stuff that I naturally understand. I played the violin when I was In elementary school so I felt like I always understood, I started singing In the church when I was 5 because they heard me and realized[that I could sing]. And that kind of traumatized me too, because singing for me is like being naked. So just to do that in front of people before I even understood and got comfortable— that kind of messed me up a little bit. Which is why I don’t sing as much now. So I’m finally in this school. I’m thinking oh I can do this. Like yes! This is me finally!

So I’m finally in this school. I’m thinking ‘oh I can do this.’ Like ‘yes! This is me finally!’ Like ‘oh yea, I put things together!’ I’m a creator. I can put anything together. I’ll make myself clothes, I’ll make teas and medicines. I’ll just make stuff. That me. So the school helped me to realize that but the school was a new school and I just go find the most racist places in the city somehow. It was a very trying time for me. It was like everything was a test on my back. You know not even my blackness, but me! Because after I realized, going into all those rooms, I can’t turn off my skin. I can’t turn off my spirit. I can’t turn off the fact that I grew up In the housing projects In the 90’s. I can’t turn off the fact that my mother was an addict; that my father was an addict. These are all real parts of me. Even among black people those stories—even though the stereotype makes you think every black person was on drugs, but that’s not the truth. So even amongst black people, my story is still kind of like “big stream”. The one everyone wants to run to. Like I was a crack baby. You know what I’m saying? But, look at me now, though.

But going into the rooms I always felt like I had to turn off the things that made me and the things that coincidentally scared people In America. Because there are conversations that nobody wants to talk about. Let’s talk about the politics and the state of the union and the world. That’s why my childhood looked the way it did. Not because my mom was black and poor. Because my mom was black in America. I’ve always been aware of the little things because that’s my story. So, I’ve just been in this battle.

 What was your motivation? You went from Otterbein to this dark place, and then to another life of discrimination. How did you break through?

After my aunt, I joined the Harmony Project. I thought about it towards the end of Otterbein. My friend that I sang with in high school told me ‘Keisha you gotta come sing in this choir with me. It’ll be good for you to sing with people.’ So I went and joined but that’s when my aunt got sicker, and I had to drop out. So after she died I joined again. And so the Harmony Project is like this community choir that you don’t have to audition for, you don’t have to know how to sing, but the whole point of participating is to do service projects with other people. So the mission is “See, Serve, Share.” That’s what we do. I joined this choir, and here I am. The Harmony Project saved white people for me. *LOL* Because after coming out my experiences and having all these isolated incidents and just feeling like I hate everything! You know? I went and joined the Harmony Project and its mostly white people lol — singing and doing stuff.

HARMONY PROJECT CHOIR: 200 voices strong. One voice for Columbus.

HARMONY PROJECT CHOIR:
“200 voices strong. One voice for Columbus.”

Watching David [the choir director] was interesting. He found out that I could sing and when most people find that out I get attention. So up until then I was there but not in actuality. I had this chip on my shoulder, but I got over it, though. I would be there and people always remember me, but I’d be a background person. I like to support people, I like to assist and help them. That was until David used my face for the program. It was like ‘there I am!’

You know, because I started participating, I got my first solo. I sang on the stage at the Ohio Theater and I got over it, being in that choir helped me get over it.

I realized I had to be there for everybody. My voice is for everybody. You know what I’m saying? My gifts are for everybody. If I’m in a room with anybody’s baby, black, brown, or even white, I’m that baby’s momma. So if I’m still holding onto resentment I can’t be really thinking about my brothers and sisters- even If it comes from a valid place.

I feel like I am black and I love black, I’m a black ’till the day—I don’t even want to say until I die because my babies will be walking around being black after that. So the black is always going to be a part of me, and I say this just to be honest.

So being in the Harmony Project kind of melted that off me. [A few years back] I was having a rough time and I was really depressed. It’s hard waking up every day and convincing yourself to climb out of this. I was having a hard time and David and I had to have a heart-to- heart conversation. I’m 22. I’m black, I’m a woman, and I’m In America, and I’m drowning. And that was one of the first times that I admitted it. After that conversation, everything changed. It was weird for me standing up for myself, and he respected it. So from there I started volunteering more and he offered me a job greeting people. At the beginning of practice, I started with putting out the chairs, putting folders out, and hugging everybody that came in—it’s just under 200 people. Now I have four programs that I direct.

So it’s just like ‘wow!’ Just the work we do—I mean we have a choir that’s in a women’s prison, we have a choir with a group of homeless people and then we have our full program and the community choir. And the service projects we do, from building a playground, a lot of murals around town—and get to be around a lot of people, all the time. So even on my worst day, even when I’m sad or I need perspective. Harmony Project honestly saved—not saved my life— but life is like a book. I look at it like chapters. So the Harmony Project is a spot where there’s some highlighting. *LOL*

Can you talk to me about the music programs that you teach?

I started off with middle school charter school on the north side. And I have about 40 kids consistently that come. That was my first directing opportunity. I’m directing schools. I can’t believe it! I would have never believed I would be doing this. That’s not what I said I would be. Through these programs,  I’m finding my voice in another way. And the way that I need It. Because being a singer, people automatically put so much on you. Being able to talk and do stuff, people automatically just assume you know how to speak up and be direct but I don’t because I’m too busy doing what everybody else wants me to do and, you know, ‘sing this song the way I want you to sing It.’ Even when people want me to do features, they write everything. ‘Sing it like this.’ ‘Bruh! Did you want me, or did you want a voice over? You sing it.’ *LOL*

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I’m not a diva but I’m not just going to let anybody take advantage of me and I’ve been doing that passive aggressively. In my head, I’m like I’m not going to let them at all. But I’ve realized that’s what directing choirs are teaching me. They’re teaching me to be direct! I have seventh and eighth graders, first graders and second graders, and I help out with the South High School program. So when you’re dealing with kids and you’re seeing the state of the kids right now—be it white or black, especially poor kids—there’s no time to bs’ there’s no time for me to not be direct.

When I talk to those kids, I’m literally having an Influence, especially because we’re doing music. I’m teaching them to empathize, and to feel. When you look at most kids in 2016 most of them are detached from their feelings, its heart breaking. Especially looking at young black kids going into these schools and they [administration] assume they have behavioral problems. No. Not only are they detached and kind of numb, but they [the children] don’t even know it. They think that’s normal because that the way they’ve always been. Not only that, but that’s the way the grownups are around them. So they’re watching us!

And I think working with kids is one of the things that saves me. *tears* Right now knowing that I have these kids and that I have to be real with them. I have this angel [MarShawn] who lets me know that I have no choice but to be real—I’m just in a different space. You know what I’m saying? I’m not afraid or faint-of-heart. Every day I have to be present and every day I have to feel and that’s what people run from. People run from their own thoughts.

You aren’t supposed to run from it. You’re supposed to prepare and embrace it. If you lose someone close to you, maybe it’s because your heart needs a reminder.  Don’t run from the reminder, embrace it! That’s what my groups are; they’re for healing. For me and for them. Meeting the kids for the first time is like the first day of school, instead, I’m the teacher. It forces me, to be honest, and truthful. With the K-2nd graders, we’re working on This Little Light of Mine. Songs like that ask ‘What does it mean to be light?’ In all the programs I instill the sense of community and what a better place it can be. For the Kindergartners, I’m instilling yoga. The percentage of black/brown kids that are diagnosed with ADHD is not okay. Many times they are being forced to grow up way too soon, suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress, or dealing with environments they haven’t actually caught up to. You know? They haven’t had time to process they just need some stillness and some healing.

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I’m teaching these kid how to focus in a different way than they’ve been taught. I try not to yell at them, I try not to do all the stuff that they’re used to. I cry In front of them all the time. I tell them that I’m not willing to fight for them unless they’re willing to fight for themselves. I try to get them to understand why I get upset when they disrespect me and each other. I’m trying to show them perspective.  With the kids on the west side, we’re talking about freedom. What it means to be free. They’re all this, and that and another taking selfies. But now let’s put it into perspective. 82,000 people on the west side and 52% of those people can’t read. You live on the west side. Half the people on this side of town can’t read. How is that affecting their freedom? While they’re talking about selfies. You know, just being real! Be transparent. But the only way I can do that with them is if I live that.

So you give kindergartens real life advice and concepts? A lot of people treat kids like they’re not even people.

Yes, they are! And in dealing with death I’m not understanding that. I feel like when I have kids I’m not going to teach them stuff that they have to unlearn. That’s the way I look at it, simple as that. Especially poor kids or black kids. What are they really and what do they have the luxury to not see and be hidden from? They’re not sheltered. Their everyday life is not sheltered. I have parents that were drug addicts and I knew something wasn’t right. But nobody told me. My dad was in a hospital for a whole week before he died. No one told me because they thought he would be okay because I was younger. How did that happen? I’m not going to teach them something they have to unlearn. I’m not going to teach them stuff too early and I’m not going to feel like they need to hear. But I’m also not going to hinder them in life, I don’t believe in that. I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me.

Do you ever experience push-back from other adults?

Yea, I do get push back. And I try balancing the blackness. Luckily my boss trusts me. Like I said being in the vehicle that I am in, I think I need this for myself. And I’m starting my own business trying to get myself together.

I want to bring a message, but I don’t want to dilute it. I’ve been thinking “how can I bring this to everybody in a way that will be positive?’

What’s the business you’re trying to start?

Essentially a brand. I am branding myself. SunFables.

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I’m obsessed with people and spirit. Just the universe. I say the universe because it’s all the same thing. We’re all made of the same stuff. I’ve always wondered how I would couple these things together. After doing research and looking up more tribal communities and more Indigenous communities, seeing what their healing looks like, what their medicine looks like, I’ve noticed a lot of times artists are healers. In the earlier days, people would go around with their voice and some type of string Instrument and herbs healing people. Trusting God, and understanding and just healing people. It’s like, wow! When you’re looking at music—especially if you use it right and tap into that divine energy—it’s very healing. So I take this and think ‘how can I be Mother Marley?” Like Bob Marley and Mother Teresa together! *LOL*

I’m a technical person. I’m an engineer, I make anything. The stuff that’s on my sound cloud, I recorded it myself and I mixed it myself. I do all of my videos. I shoot for FlyPaper. I do all this stuff myself because that’s what my situation has looked like.

I want to create space that looks like somebodies home. Community centers and recreation centers are cool but people don’t feel really comfortable. I want every space to feel like it could be their home. If I plant a bunch of seeds in people it’s Inevitable for them to sprout. I’d rather go around planting seeds all day. If I teach other people to plant seeds, now there are more of us planting seeds. I can drop a lot of seeds, I just want to create a space where I can work and Invite people in to get their healings and tell their stories. I want environment to be there. I’m using yoga in the business plan. I want it to be incorporated all throughout so it can’t be shaken.

How did you come up with the name SunFables?

Well, I like stories and I like the Idea of fables. My friend used to tell me you’re a walking parable. But what’s wrong with that? They give you all the answers but they’re so vague it’s always up for interpretation. If you read it on Wednesday it’ll sound way different than what it sounds like on Thursday.  I like that because it creates room for people to create what they need.

The idea of helping somebody heal is helping them realize that they are their own healer. Everything you need is already Inside of you.

Sun or ‘sole’ comes from my many names: song bird, poetic song bird, and some people just started calling me the sun; I really make people feel good. I can go into a room and just make people feel good. I’m finally embracing that about myself. I can go into a room full of people that aren’t talking and I can get everybody talking even after I leave. That’s the beautiful thing! I’m just light. It’s just me being me, but reminding everybody that they have light, too. When someone calls me beautiful, I’m just a reflection of them. They think I’m great, I think they’re great! *LOL*

It’s like everything that you see in me you can have it. You can be even better or bigger. It’s personal to me but it’s also vague enough that everybody can wear it.

 What does your music look like moving forward?

Oh my God! Straight Gospel! And not like Christian gospel. I want my stuff to look like a revival. I want to create spaces where people can come and let go. I want to create a space where God can come and it doesn’t have to be a church.

I want to create space where people can be transparent and vulnerable but in the most sober way. I want my music to do that before they even have to pick up a drug! People can listen to it and cry if they need to, they can dance if they need to.

I went to an open mic. I’m still really fragile, especially with my angel MarShawn. But I went to an open mic and I literally sat In the back of that open mic, crying. So many people came up to me afterward and said thank you for crying. They just wanted to see somebody else do It. So I want to have performances and music where I can always give that person that’s listening or experiencing it permission to feel and just let down any ego or guards they put up. That’s the type of music I want to put out.

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