Music and Meaning
I meet with Janel Antoneshia in the Secret Garden, the highest floor at The Library of Birmingham. At first, I notice her vehement smile and experience a moment of the love she yearns to share with the world. We hug, she plants a kiss on my cheek and I compliment the choice of clothing she has made to appliqué her perfectly carved eight figured physique. I tell Janel that the premise of "Music and Meaning" is to offer the world a musician’s theoretical standpoint and its influence on the music they create. To explore music and how it has impacted on the ways in which we view life. To ask unusual questions in hopes to find our own truth from the voices of the creators of art, to live in the life of musicians for some time, so that we too can feel a deeper level of their music when we listen to it. She nods in agreement and offers her justification of what the project has to offer. We turn and offer our eyes to the backdrop of Birmingham City. Soon after overlooking the cityscape we begin our adventure of conversing about music and life, taking visuals to reflect our aims and, simply taking in our surroundings. Meet Janel Antoneshia, the first of many who will selflessly offer themselves to experience their meanings, and their music.
Let’s start with your journey, who is Janel Antoneshia and when did you decide that music was for you?
Okay, so the journey so far has been beautiful, there’s been a lot of ups and downs, there have been a lot of times where I don’t feel like I can keep pushing for music. But I know it will be worth it when it happens. The journey included my friends, included God, and included me, meeting new people, learning new things and getting out of old ways. Like the whole 9-5 thing I realised I wasn’t able to actually have a full-time job as well as make enough time for music for it to actually work out, so that’s the biggest part of the journey so far. What would I say about me, what makes Janel Antoneshia “Janel Antoneshia”. I’m just, I’m just laid back, and I just love people, I love smiling at people, helping people, and I like when people reciprocate to that. Those are just a few small things about myself that I think make me, me.
When she says this, I begin to reflect on our encounter and just how much it reflected her answer. I am reminded that we walked through the city centre, catching up on where we are in life, whilst scanning empty spaces to walk into because the town was all too busy. As we drifted into our own world, she was still alert to the music of the city and stopped to recognise it. She pulled her purse out, dropped coins into the case of a man’s saxophone, and we continued. Moments later she greeted another man holding a Big Issue magazine. His smile brightened up as he noticed her, I realised that this is someone who is passionate about people.
I want to know about your influences?
It’s one of my least favourite questions because I’m always thinking I’m going to miss out some people but: Lauryn Hill, Nina Simone, I love love love Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald is one of the people I learnt about before I listened to her. I was listening to her music and thought your voice is banging. That’s more for the older generation. Bob Marley, I love Michael Jackson, Witney Houston. For the current artists: Post Malone. He’s been up there, he’s a trap musician, but he has a lot of melody in his music. He’s not just a rapper. People forget that some of these rappers are musicians.
If your music were a person what would he or she look like?
Wow, she would be, or he would have dreadlocks, very dark skin, super white teeth. I’d say like a bit rough around the edges but gorgeous. There’d be some off-things about him like from my personal self, I’d keep the birthmark because it’s still something different. It adds to my voice. I’d say I have a different tone. For my tone, that can be the birthmark on this person.
What aspects of your music would you say resemble that human being?
I’m not saying my music is pro-black, it’s never been about that, it’s just about life experiences. Being a Black Female and a Black Woman I already know you have to sometimes work twelve times harder and I want it to visibly represent that. The dreadlocks represent growth and hard times, it may not always look good, but it’s something that you grow with and you learn to accept how it’s going to be if it’s going to do its own thing. Like with music, it’s always changing. Some days I want to make gospel, other days I want to create trap, and I want people to smoke to my music or reflect on God; it’s hard to find a balance. But if he/she is rough around the edges but still polished and beautiful the music can show that.
If you could choose an artist to work with right now who would he/she be?
Stormzy. I’m not ashamed to say I didn’t like grime, I still don’t like it, but I love Stormzy because of what he has achieved, because of what he had, and how much work he put into it. You don’t need a record label to do this. I want to collaborate with Stormzy because he has shown me a different way and I’m not going to lie; when he dropped “Gang Signs & Prayer” I started crying out to that song and he reached out to me. He has been able to do—what in my heart I would love to do—which is bring God to a new generation in a different way. It made me think, you’re lucky to have God and I’m glad he’s aware of God, and he can put that through to his music for the younger generation to listen to [because] Grime gets a bad rep anyway. Black boys get a bad rep; it’s nice to see Stormzy doing that.
How would you describe Birmingham and what influence it’s had on music?
Without discovering the Birmingham scene Janel Antoneshia wouldn’t sound like Janel Antoneshia. The community in Birmingham is so much smaller. It’s a bit more close knitted because you know where to go for everything so I’ve managed to build a strong group of friends around the things I love and the things they love doing. Birmingham has definitely shaped Janel Antoneshia a lot...100%.
In terms of location, everything that’s around you makes you who you are, how you dress, where you go etc. If you could pick a building in Birmingham that reflects who you are the most, where would that be?
The Jam House. I look at the Jam house and I think this is where I’d love to have my first launch.
Do you listen to your own music?
All the time.
What’s your favourite song?
Where is your safe haven? Where do you love to be the most?
There was a time in my life where I thought, if I could feel how I feel in church but feel this all the time, that would be my ultimate Zen place. Because it’s like I feel like I’m such a calmer person. I’m not conscious about what people are thinking. I’m just more conscious about focusing on the bad things and fixing them. If I could always have that mind frame, plus the music, I feel like I could achieve a bit more.
What’s your greatest fear?
My greatest fear, I wouldn’t say wasting time with music but spending so much of my time. I don’t see it as a fear it’s just more of a “you tried so hard with this thing and it didn’t even happen so you probably were not that great to begin with” but then it’s like you don’t have to be famous to achieve all of these things. I’m also scared of [not] making it to heaven; we may as well throw that in there because that’s part of Janel Antoneshia. My spiritual journey has been one of the toughest things for me and I like to make people know that about me.
What role would you say God has played in your music?
The first song I wrote was entitled, “Dear Love”. Which was like an open letter to God, I’d always said I want to make music that reflects and always thinks about God. It doesn’t have to be “Jesus is the way” but something that can resonate with people. I feel like God wants to allow me to use music. Some Christians don’t feel the way I’m doing it is the way God would want it. I’m going to have to be content that I’ll get to where I need to get to. And I’ll achieve what I need to achieve because, it’s not just for me why I’m doing music, there’s a lot of benefits for me in this. I know what having money will allow me to do. It’s also about having that influence. If a certain celeb comes out saying do this, people will listen to them. I want that influence for example where they say “Janel Antoneshia will invest some time into an orphanage”. If you start talking about that stuff people who love and gravitate towards your music will automatically be interested in what you’re doing.
What’s your take on being female in this world? How has this, or how will this influence you as a musician?
I grew up with a single parent; I grew up with my mum. So in my head being a woman has always just been getting it done and getting it done properly. I always say if I could be half of what my mum has been doing, that would be hella dope. But for me, politically when you involve everything else, being a black woman and trying to do anything in life really; I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. British record labels don’t know what to do with a strong black female singer but they know how to market a white strong female singer. I’ve seen it, whereas with Americans… they know what to do.
What’s your take on race relations? How has that influenced your music and you as an individual?
I didn’t even get to finish the first question because this ties in so perfectly. I am pro-black, so pro-black, but I’m not pro-black to the point where I don’t see why a black woman cannot date a white man and vice versa. I love interracial relationships, my problem is when people want to date you for certain qualities because of how they think it will look. In my video “I’ve Fallen”, I made sure I could represent interracial love. As much as people know me they know I’m pro-black and when it comes to race issues I have a lot to say about it. I’ve been quiet recently, but I feel like I’m repeating myself a lot. A lot of black people are feeling that the Asians are feeling that. Within the Asian community, the Muslims are feeling that. It’s a massive big pot adding up to this big fat thing called race issues. It’s not a question I can answer right now but in terms of relationships, I feel any two people can be together as long as it’s for the right reasons. In terms of pushing, I know, we already have to do better so I guess it helps to try to be better people. Racism will always be there. You have to be tough. Being a black woman, I’ve learnt that you just have to be tough.
What is the true meaning of life?
I think the true meaning of life that everyone can come to agree is that unfortunately, we are all going to die one day. Live and be the best person you can. I used to think what if someone doesn’t hear about God and they die? There’s a thing called a conscience. Babies have a conscience; people with disabilities have a conscience, no matter what their learning difficulties are. We all have it so if we can just not damage our conscience, and just live in the best way we know how to. I feel like God can understand that even if we died and didn’t get to know about him. But, it’s complicated. Live the best life you can, it all comes back. A full circle. It all comes back to love. God is love. Even if it’s not God that you believe in, find something that works for you.
I’m going to challenge you. 20 seconds to give me, on the spot, something that you would put in a song. The topic is Truth…
I love you for loving me always.
I love you for loving me on my bad days.
Because it’s true that you know me.
Better than I know me.
Thank you. What do you want to be remembered for?
Janel Antoneshia that was always smiling. Janel Antoneshia that was sometimes goofy. Janel Antoneshia who started something powerful in Jamaica, especially with little black boys and girls that don’t have parents around them. I wish we could advertise more about adopting in the Black and Asian communities. Statistically white people are adopting the most which isn’t a bad thing but it would be nice to have everybody doing that. I want to be remembered in Jamaica for doing something. There’s a guy from the eighteen hundreds, who said it is better to build strong children than to fix broken men. And it’s so true. I want to invest my whole life into kids and music. Music will help pave a way to gain access to the people. I’m really passionate about it.
One of my favourite songs is “I write for you”. You refer to the person as “you”, who is “you”?
Unrequited love. When they like everything about you, but they can’t be with you. Doing all the right things but why aren’t we together? Sometimes it’s good to write things because you get a nice song out of it. It’s the most popular song on there, my least favourite. In terms of sound, it didn’t sound how I wanted it. I wanted to express myself.
For me, I wanted to know. Because “you” for me changes from God to someone you love, or can even be something. It gives me that freedom. The cover of it reads:
“You usually inspire me with one look.
Inspire me to write sweet,
And almost pathetic little love songs of
How I can’t imagine my journey with you not in it”
It was partly about God and about a lover. Though I didn’t write the song for God, when I wrote that little piece it was about God and a lover. It sounded good, but I changed it and it became the cover.
I’ve fallen. At one point, it was on repeat every day. I have my feelings for it. Tell me about your journey. You always leave us to decide who “you” is.
It’s my favourite. “I’ve fallen” represents a lot going through my head. I was in a very emotional place and that song reflected it. As much as I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones, I see my song on there.
Are there any other songs that have moved you?
“Crying glass”. I wrote that song for my mum. It sums up everything about my mum.
Have you got anything for us to look forward to?
I have shows coming up. I post on my social media and you can keep up with that.
I’m going to read a random quote for you to reflect on. I’ll read, you reflect…
“No one can manipulate anyone else in any relationship. Both parties know what they’re doing. Even if one of them complains later on that they were used”. (Paulo Coelho, The Witch of Portobello).
I disagree with that. Wholeheartedly. Because it doesn’t have to be intimate relationships, but once someone has a hold of you, your mind frame completely changes. Yes, we are accountable for our own actions, but sometimes you have to take into account what makes a person do a certain thing.