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  WINDY CITY TIMES

MUSIC KOKUMO talks about moving to New York City, other endeavors
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2022-08-31

This article shared 515 times since Wed Aug 31, 2022
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NOTE: This article contains references to rape and violence.

The multifaceted artist KOKUMO, The Queen of Queer Soul has recently released a new album, Wildflowa': Da' Prelude Ta' Freedom Mixtape, featuring 16 tracks focusing on traumatology, Afro-Elysium and other topics.

KOKUMO's journey features many accomplishments. She wrote a poetry book, Reacquainted With Life, in 2016 that went on to win the Lambda Literary Award in the transgender poetry category during the 29th annual awards ceremony in 2017. KOKUMO also won the Motha Art Award in the non-cis female musician category in 2013.

Locally, she was also the recipient of a Windy City Times 30 Under 30 Award in 2011. KOKUMO also founded what she said is the first multimedia production company run by a non-cis woman: KOKUMOMEDIA, Inc. With this company she founded Chicago's first transgender pride event T.G.I.F. (Trans, GNC, Intersex Freedom) in 2012 under her KOKUMO Philanthropy subsidiary as well as KOKUMORECORDS and KOKUMO Magazine. Through her KOKUMORECORDS subsidiary, she launched the Underground Railroad music tour.

Windy City Times: You recently re-emerged after several years away from the public eye. Why did you step away and what made you re-emerge now?

KOKUMO, The Queen of Queer Soul: I got gang- raped at [a party] 2014 and after that I had to step away because I did not receive any support from the community. That threw me for a loop because—as a survivor of corrective rape, ritual abuse and family gang rape—I thought that when I was in my twenties that was over with, but here I was with my own LGBTQ community (people I thought were my sisters and brothers) getting gang-raped. After having all my innovations being stripped from me by the skinny, light-skinned girls; now my body was being taken from me in a setting I thought was safe. I had enough. My heart was devastated because I grew up in a family that did not love me.

I spent the last years of my twenties in a string of mental breakdowns, including time spent in a psych ward, [because of what happened] at [that party]. My mind could not process that I would never be loved as a Black, dark skinned, plus-size non-cis woman. My mother, brothers, cousins, uncles and aunts did not love me and I understood that but when I came into the LGBTQ community, I thought I had finally found love which was not true. To me, "community" is just a word used to get funding—which drove me mad. What I had to do was take all that pain, pray for understanding and deliverance from the grief, and then put it into a project which is where my latest album came from.

I am a survivor of physical, sexual, emotional and ritual abuse. The contributions I have made are because I want to be seen, heard and loved just like anybody else.

WCT: Why did you name your YouTube channel Queer Soul? How would you describe your musical style?

KOKUMO: For so long we have had trap and alternative R&B music but neither of those genres had a place for me as a non-cis woman. That is why I had to come up with a genre that spoke to who I am and that is why I named my channel Queer Soul.

"Queer soul" gives me the ability to be my proud, deep-voiced, oceanic, instrumented, unabashedly Black, dark skinned, plus-sized, queer, non-cis female self. My music is a testament to myself, and my instrument is my battle cry.

WCT: Talk about the meaning of your album title, Wildflowa': Da' Prelude Ta' Freedom Mixtape.

KOKUMO: This album is a part of a trilogy of albums that began in 2018 when I was living with my mother of origin at the time who would not talk about what happened to me as a child, so she kicked me out even though I was the one paying the bills, not her. That first album was titled Wildflowa'.

These albums are about my desire to be seen as a Black, dark skinned, non-cis woman. We do not all have to be skinny, but we do deserve to be heard. This is an album for every survivor, whoever you are and wherever you are.

When I was doing my Underground Railroad tour, which was a tribute to Harriet Tubman, I went city to city singing to Black queer people about freedom and what it looks like. During that final stop in Baltimore, I had a psychotic break. This was after I was gang raped … . I was in a shelter in Baltimore because I had to leave the place I was staying at the time because it was not safe. I remember walking through West Baltimore barefoot after a verbal altercation with some cis women in the shelter and hearing someone say, "That woman is wild" and I thought to myself, that is the greatest compliment I have ever heard because if a woman is not wild, they will not make it. I have really had to learn to tap into my savagery, fierceness, the lioness within me and God. So, this trilogy is my exploration into what it means to be a wild woman.

I wrote a poem called "Wildflowa" that explains the meaning of my current album:

i have cried

arms stretched to a god i don't believe in

but sumbody said i shud

tears

falling like niagra

creating oceans where i leave them

all in search of home

i long for the untilled soil

from whence i sprang

both unannounced and unwelcomed

waving my arms and sangin' a song nobody wanted ta hear

but happy

cuz i

was where the wildflowas grow

on land most dare not tread

where the monster in me could lie dormant

so the child in me could run free

cart-wheeling, and rolling down heels until riverbeds put me to sleep

did i tell you that i have cried?

because i belong where the wildflowas grow

but have been plucked from nature where i was promised

and thrown into cellophane and sold

like a universe

tricked into a pocket dimension

like a pola' bear wakin' up in the Amazon

my wings dun turnt ta cement

n my smile a bagga bricks

somebody take me where the wildflowas grow

for that is my natural habitat

where seed is promise

dirt is the only religion

and the wind is a high-five from God

i ask you

would you sell the sun

or auction off the moon

then why a flower

especially

one meant to be wild?

wild

meaning

primitive

unruly

and uncontrollable

flower

the symbol of beauty

grace

and fragility

wildflower

a species of flower known to grow in the most unexpected and inhospitable of places

i be's a wildflowa

primitive yet graceful

unruly but fragile

uncontrollable and all the more beautiful for it

wildflowas

bloom

and dance a jig of divine contradiction

for I promise

you

are the most beautiful oxymoron

there eva was

and will be!

This album and the title is an ode to wild femmes and, quite frankly, an ode to scapegoats. Recently, I learned about the term "scapegoat child," [which] exists in every dysfunctional family. That scapegoat child is, for whatever oppressive reasons, is deemed as the problem for the whole family. I was the scapegoat child. I was always going to be vilified for all of my intersecting identities. I was blamed for all the mistakes my other family members made. I wanted to create an album for every scapegoat child, so they know they deserve more from the life that was handed to them. My message is to be wild and be free.

The final album in the trilogy will be called Wildflowa': A Black Girl in Bloom, which will focus on what it means to heal.

WCT: What do you want to tease from your album, including using the words "traumatology" and "Afro-Elysium" for some of your song title choices?

KOKUMO: I use "traumatology" because it is the story and study of abuse. Where it stems from and how it matriculates through the body. What we know about traumatology, which is a science, is that it creates physical disease and mental illness as well as results in people's deaths. After doing an emotional inventory of my lifelong trauma of having a mother who thought I was a demon, both parents being addicted to crack leading to me being trafficked so they could get a hit and my cis female cousins correctively raping me from my early childhood to my early twenties I was able to put that to music with these traumatology tracks. Whatever your story is you can listen to these songs and find out what your traumatology is and make peace with it so you can move forward. We make peace with our trauma, or our trauma will leave us in pieces.

"Afro-Elysium" is what propelled this album forward. I grew up in a demonic environment with a highly religious Christian Southern Baptist family where everything that is not cisgender and heterosexual is demonized. After all this suffering I experienced, they say that it builds character and brings reward so I asked myself when I leave this Earth will there be a heaven just for me and all the queer people so we do not have to explain or justify ourselves to anyone anymore. That is where the concept of Afro-Elysium comes from. [Elysium is the concept of the afterlife that some Ancient Greeks believed in].

The first of the three Afro-Elysium songs tell the story of a dark skinned non-cis woman who died by suicide. The second song is where she goes to heaven and the first person she sees is Marsha P Johnson and all the beautiful non-cis women who have been murdered and they are voguing, singing, dancing and doing sex work in peace. The woman meets God who is also a non-cis woman. God tells her that she should not have killed herself and sends her back to Earth with a mission to keep doing the work to make things safer for the next generations. The third song is about her being back on Earth living her truth and kicking the world's fucking ass. That is what the whole album is about.

WCT: Talk about your new record company, Born Worthy Records, including the name choice.

KOKUMO: I chose the name because I was born worthy and we all were born worthy. This is especially true for non-cis women of color, and especially dark skinned plus sized non-cis Black women realizing they were born worthy.

WCT: Why did you upload all your songs to your Queer Soul YouTube and Spotify channels and essentially make them free to the public?

KOKUMO: That is where the colorism and sizeism comes into play. I do not have the machine and financial backing yet. I must tell my truth and pray that my KOKUMITES, which is what I call my fans, will receive me as a musician. At the end of the day as long as people are listening to my music we can heal together from our collective trauma.

In the future, I hope to be able to monetize my music, but for right now I want to get my story out and inspire other people to tell their stories as well.

WCT: Why did you leave Chicago and move to New York City?

KOKUMO: I had to leave in 2020 because my mother wrongfully called the police on me and got me arrested, which led to me being repeatedly attacked physically. I wanted to leave behind all the trauma my relatives inflicted on me. I thank God and her angels that I got out of Chicago.

Also, after all the advocacy work I had done in Chicago, I felt like I deserved better. I built up so much LGBTQ infrastructure in Chicago and then I see that there are other people who are being inducted into Chicago's LGBT Hall of Fame before me, which felt like a dismissal of all the work I had done. I got tired of what I call the social-justice industry in Chicago. For so many of these people, it is all about the virtue-signaling and getting a platform, not actually being in community with and helping other people. I felt unsafe in these spaces. I gave the city all that I had, and I did not want to be there anymore.

I moved to New York City because, outside of Chicago, I was partially raised there and North Carolina. I always said that I am down south, Midwest, east coast type of girl. I had to go where I could be free. The healthcare is better here. It is bigger and a better city. There is not as much trauma here. I did not have to stay in places that constantly challenged me to prove my worth. In New York City, I can walk the streets and be seen as the woman I am without any problems. I do not have to worry about running into enemies who could still hurt me.

WCT: What other projects are you working on?

KOKUMO: I am working on the follow-up album to Wildflowa', which is titled Tethys (Goddess Of The Forgotten). I named it Tethys after the forgotten Tethys Ocean that existed on Earth about 200 million years ago. What if Tethys corporealized into a water goddess who said, "Do you remember me? I gave you your first breath, yet you forgot me." This new album is a euphemism and allegory of what it means to be forgotten as a woman. If all those women came back in one form, the original water goddess Tethys.

WCT: What overarching message do you want to share with the readers?

KOKUMO: To my KOKUMITES a poem called Survivor's Guide from my book Reacquainted With Life:

I am not what you did to me.

I am not what you did to me.

I am not what you did to me.

I am not what you did to me.

I am not what you did to me.

I am not what you did to me.

Also, no matter what the abuse, how frequent and/or how intimate the person is who did it to you we are not what is done to us. We are our ability to survive, overcome, persist and move on regardless of our circumstances. That is what Wildflowa': Da' Prelude Ta' Freedom Mixtape is all about. I am telling my story and you should feel empowered to tell yours. I am not dying with anybody's secret or from anybody's secret.

See KOKUMO's Queer Soul YouTube channel, KOKUMO's Spotify channel, instagram.com/bornworthyrecords/ and windycitytimes.com/lgbt/BOOKS-KOKUMO-becomes-Reacquainted-with-Life/57008.html to read more about her book.

NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


This article shared 515 times since Wed Aug 31, 2022
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