Who Is Yola? 5 Things About The Country Soul & R&B Star – Hollywood Life

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  • Yola (b. Yolanda Claire Quartey) is a British singer-songwriter, guitar god, and pure rockstar.
  • Her music incorporates multiple sounds, from R&B to country soul to Britpop.
  • She’s performing at the 2022 American Music Awards.

One of the possible sleeper highlights of the 2022 American Music Awards is the performance by Yola. The British performer is one of the many scheduled to hit the stage of Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater on Nov. 20 – including GloRilla, Pink, Anitta, Carrie Underwood, and Lionel Richie. For Yola, this is a moment when many new fans will get to hear this Grammy-nominated singer’s voice. So, ahead of the awards show, here’s what you need to know.


Yola Is An English Singer-Songwriter

Born in Bristol, England, Yola first rose to prominence as a member of the band Phantom Limb (2005-2012). As a vocalist, she has worked some incredible acts, including Massive Attack, culminating with a performance at the UK’s Glastonbury festival in 2009. Following two tragedies in the early 2010s, Yola relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, on a path of self-discovery, per stereogum.

Yola signed to Easy Eye Sound, the label run by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. she released her debut, Walk Through Fire, in 2019. It scored a handful of Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist, Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Performance, and Best American Roots Song (both for “Faraway Look”). In 2022, she was nominated for Best Americana Album with Stand for Myself and Best American Roots Song (“Diamond Studded Shoes”)

She is an honorary member of The Highwomenthe supergroup comprised of Natalie Hemby, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires.

She Played An Icon In ‘Elvis’

A viral meme that floats around the internet claims, “rock N’ roll was invented by a queer black woman.” The woman in question was Sister Rosetta Harpe, an unsung hero who fused “Delta blues, New Orleans jazz and gospel music into what would become her signature style,” per NPR. As a guitarist, Tharpe pioneered a sound while working in the music industry in the 1940s, creating music that would influence little Richard, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley.

While recent efforts have been made to recognize Sister Rosetta’s impact, she’s “not beloved enough, actually, I’d go so far as to say,” according to Yola, who played Tharpe in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic. “If she was as beloved as she should be, she would have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame way before 2018. It would have been decades ago. You know,” Yola told Variety in 2021. “If I invented something, I would expect to be first into the Hall of Fame!”

She Is Musically ‘Genre-Fluid’

While branding might try to pin Yola down in the country field, she has too many influences and voices to stay in a single box. Here are some people that are just like, ‘I didn’t get the memo. I didn’t even read her Instagram bio!” she said, which lists her as “Musically Genre Fluid.”

It’s there in writing! Yet what inevitably happens,” Yola told Variety. She noted the reaction to the preview cracks from her 2021 album, Stand For Myself. “They listen and go, ‘This isn’t country.’ Well, what was I trying to tell you?’ But it’s always going to be like that: People want to take hold of you and want you to implement their agenda. And sometimes that is done in a loving way, in that they’re like, ‘No, we want you! Be in our club! And here’s my deal: I’m in everyone’s club.”

“I guess I’d like people to recognize the unifying I’m doing in my music,” she told NME in 2022. “I like rock’n’roll, I like disco, I like soul, I like Americana – and I find myself in all those spaces. But those spaces aren’t separate from one another. Hopefully, people will notice that the connections I’m making musically show that everything is a lot more related than you think. That’s the message I want to spread.”

She’s Endured Tragedies

Yola was raised by her mother since her father wasn’t a presence in her life. “We grew up on the breadline, so it’s not as if music was seen as a realistic option,” she told the BBC in 2019. “The probability is always with you that it won’t go well.”

“I discovered that the hard way earlier in my musical development was when I wound up on the streets. So it wasn’t that [my mum] It was exactly wrong – it’s just that her approach was very absolute and I had to circumnavigate it with a whole lot of sneaking,” she said. She got enough money to move back home.

Sadly, she lost her mother in 2013. “I remember thinking about the size of my mother’s casket and how, for all the drama and difficulty it was in dealing with this woman, it all boils down to such a pitifully sized box,” she told Variety. It’s almost like the end to a ‘South Park’ episode, like a bloody joke: You’ve got to be fricking kidding me! That’s it? And a eureka moment. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do me from this point if this is it. … When I get out of this grief situation, I’ll learn guitar.”

Yola survived a house fire in 2014, which inspired her debut album and title track, Walk Through Fire. “The number of times that me and my team joke about how there’s no ‘Walk Through Fire 2.'” People were like, ‘Was that a figurative fire?’ No, it was real,” she told Variety. Hopefully, in life, you only go through being a human torch once. All of the physical pain, all of the emotional pain, we’re done with that. It’s not like we’re never going to have any emotions ever again, but burning, specifically, we’re done with.”

(Anthony Harvey/Shutterstock)

Yola Continues To Rise

At the 2022 American Music Awards, Yola was the Song of the Soul featured performer and winner, a distinction that “spotlights an emerging, mission-driven artist that has inspired change and invoked social justice through their lyrics,” per a press release. She would perform her song, “Break The Bough,” inspired by the loss of her mother.

“I have long dreamed of performing at the American Music Awards, and were honored to be included during the “SONG OF THE SOUL” moment. ‘Break The Bough’ creates a loving false construct of what I hope my mother experienced in her afterlife,” said Yola in a statement. “A mixture of all the things she held dear and brought her happiness during her life. Specifically, her pre-Windrush Barbados childhood, disco, and Sci-fi. I hope the song brings a little peace and joy to anyone who has lost someone close to them regardless of how challenging the relationship may have been.”

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