Melody. Intelligence. Heart. Conscience. Soul. These are the hallmarks of singer/songwriter Joy Oladokun, a singular artist from Arizona who’s made major waves with her acclaimed debut album In Defense of My Happiness. She is exactly the kind of artist – fresh, distinctive, and extraordinarily talented – that we like to capture on ACL in the early stages of their career, so we were thrilled to showcase her debut taping.
Dressed in a “black sheep” cap and an obviously beloved Prince tee shirt, the musician and her five-piece band took the stage and began with “If You Got a Problem,” a slice of reggae-tinged, devotional R&B. “It’s been a weird year,” Oladokun noted as she donned her electric guitar at the end of the song. “I’m so honored that we can do this together.” After noting that “Problem” was about her girlfriend, she set up the folk-popping next song “Smoke” by explaining her use of weed to cut through the social anxiety from which she suffers. “This is a Fleetwood Mac rip-off song,” she cheekily admitted as she and harmony singer Jaime Woods went into the intro of “Sorry Isn’t Good Enough,” another subtly reggae-influenced pop song that injected venom into its sweet melody. Oladokun switched from the personal to political with “I See America,” a song reflecting both her anger at the continuing police brutality directed at Black Americans, as well as a commentary on the cycle of violence that’s been prevalent her entire life—she was born the same year as Rodney King—with the through line to George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police. The 70s soul groove made the acid easier to ingest, though switching to electric guitar and a faithful cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” kept the rage boiling, especially when it interpolated the chorus of “I See America.”
“This next song is about going to Thai food with an ex,” Oladokun said as she re-donned her acoustic guitar. “That’s honestly more of an intro than she deserves.” Accompanied only by her acoustic, she, Woods and guitarist Elliot Skinner sang the ballad in soulful three-part harmony. She then addressed another old pal with “Breathe Again,” taking on her previously mentioned social anxiety with a luminous ballad. Inspired by the death of her friend, the late rapper Mac Miller, she sang “Taking the Heat” as a reminder to take care of yourself and your friends and not to assume everything’s always alright. Oladokun and band then reworked a Stevie Wonder classic, turning “Jesus Children of America” into a rock/funk/country hybrid that sounded distinctly her own. To keep the good vibes coming, she presented “Look Up,” a song intended to send courage into the darkness: “You know trouble’s always gonna be there/Don’t let it bring you to your knees.” Oladokun returned to her own life experience for “Jordan,” a song that deals with growing up gay while raised in a church that didn’t recognize the legitimacy of that life path. The track sublimated gospel into its passionate folk pop to shine the light of hope into what could have been a dark time of her development. “Trauma, processed through psychedelics” was how she describe the penultimate tune “Somebody Like Me,” a catchy new song that was a plea for understanding, patience and contact for folks with anxiety and inner pain.
Oladokun ended the show with a “smoosh” of Prince’s Sign O’ the Times anthem “The Cross” with her own spiritual examination “Sunday.” It was a one-two punch of the desire for divine love and earthly acceptance, and a perfect way to end the powerful set. Oladokun is a treasure waiting to be discovered, and we’re thrilled that viewers will get the chance when the episode airs later this year as part of our Season 47 on your local PBS station.