Jully Black on ‘Canada Reads’ and her upcoming new album

Supplied photo
Canadian singer-songwriter Jully Black is back with a new album and is part of the panel of 2018's 'Canada Reads' Supplied photo

The time is ripe for the return of Jully Black. With a big gig as one of CBC's Canada Reads panelists and a new album, The Re-Education of Jully Black, on the way, 2018 is set to be a big year for the R&B star.

It's been a long time since we've chatted with you, Jully. Can you catch us up with what you've been up to lately?

Since [2009's] The Black Book, I’ve recorded two other full-length albums and they are available at my live show only. We kinda took the Prince route on that in that regard. It’s a singles-driven market nowadays, so it's nice when we do a concert, that all of the attendees are so excited to learn that there's a new body of work at the merch[andise] table that's not available online.

Wow. I need to really escape iTunes and get out into the real world. What about your work outside of music?

In the interim, I’ve been truly doing a lot of soul-searching to really find out, Who is Jully Black? Who am I? What on earth am I here for? I recorded singles and put out albums without a creative purpose attached to it. I became uninterested; I lost my interest in that after a while. That was a self-serving mindset, you know? Being an artist can be a selfish space. So I took some time. My mom passed away recently, so I was spending time taking care of her in the cancer fight. Beyond that, there’s been such wonderful new ventures. My women’s empowerment movement has now been registered as a charity, “Empowered in My Skin,” with my best friend Nkechi Nwafor-Robinson.

You've always had that double-layer to your career. On social media, you've been a long-time supporter of mental health, faith and physical fitness. Is that an important part of your journey, especially since you mentioned that being an artist can be "self-serving"?

Yes, yes, exactly! We’re here to serve. We are here to serve one another. You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama or Oprah or all that.

But back to the music. Why did you decide to go the Prince route with your last two albums?

I got tired of being buried in the noise. There’s lots of music every single day and, I don’t want to get too business-y, but the word, you know –

Royalties?

The royalties. The profits. I’m not waiting on mechanicals, I’m not waiting on SOCAN to send me something. It’s kinda right there. I like that [at my concerts], hey, you bought this CD for $10, $15, I sign it, it’s easy. Boom! Done!

What you’re doing is a choice, but are the economics of putting an album out on iTunes so bad? Are you making more by selling your albums at your concerts rather than putting them out on Spotify, Google Play and all that?

It’s not a forever plan. That was specific to these projects. The next project is ready, we’re just looking into brand new distribution and stuff. I left Universal in 2015, officially. It’s a brand new album, The Re-Education of Jully Black and that’s going to be distributed, proper.

So, the other project you’re doing is Canada Reads. Can you explain, in your own words, why you chose the book you're defending?

Well, the book chose me. I didn’t read a couple of chapters of each book and say, "This is the one." I left it totally to God. I’m a woman of faith, and I realized that I’m going to move out of the way and the right thing will happen. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is the book that chose me and I believe that the author, our personalities, our spirits, and our purpose in life to keep our heritage alive — we’re totally in alignment. I got a lot of personal truths from it, especially how to persevere after grief.

I’m excited that you chose that book. Are you feeling competitive? What is your thinking about winning or losing Canada Reads?

I’m democratic with it. I always say, winner-gagnant. There's no competition, really, because I’m going to tell the truth, and all the books are so amazing. I know why Canada should read my book… it’s not about [being] better-than.

I’m glad that your next album is going to be about reaching out. You mentioned Prince and your album title references Lauryn Hill's classic, but those two aren’t known for being the most fan-friendly artists.

I admit that I haven’t experienced that side of Lauryn, but the Miseducation is classic. It’s undeniable.

In the meantime, while we wait for release details for your album, there's the Canada Reads debates between on March 26-29 on CBC Radio One and CBC TV. You're also starring in a Toronto musical called Amazing Grace in April?

Yes, I’m starring in a play for the first time. I’ve done theatre, [with a role in] Da Kink in My Hair, but I wasn’t the star. This musical production came my way, and the character is deep and troubled and conflicted, but loves the lord. I'm bringing the character to life…and tickets are on sale now.

Postscript

Watch a preview of Amazing Grace

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About Robert J. Ballantyne

Robert Ballantyne is Artsculture's Creative Director. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets.

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