Where does music come from? And how is it that someone knows how to sing exactly what your soul is saying? Who thinks up of these melodies, these chords, these lyrics that encapsulate everything you thought was just a whisper to yourself? When I was younger, and deeply in the throes of teenage angst, I would try to write songs. They were terrible, but they were what I was feeling at the time. And even with the copied tunes that sounded exactly like what I was watching on whatever Disney was feeding me, it still meant more to me than what I heard on television. So I guess…music comes from within yourself, and what you feel.
Especially for people like Yazmin Lacey, who was writing for herself since her teenage years as well. No one in Yazmin’s family makes music, but there was a lot of music in their house as she was growing up. A lot of reggae, dancehall, funk,
Growing up in South London in a neighbourhood touched by violence and abuse led to an early awareness of how decisions in childhood could influence adult life. And even though there are struggles that she went through, she dealt with them in her music. For example, one of her singles, A Mother Lost, talks about how difficult it is to lose a child. Another speaks on women perpetuating self-hate. ‘It’s all there in the songs,’ she said. ‘Everyone has times when you feel less happy.’ And so even though she had been writing from teenagehood, she only performed for the first time in front of people when she was 24.
She did not set out to become a musician. Music is something she did for those close to her only. It was a sort of escape, but what she did not know that her little moments of escape would eventually lead her down a path that would put her on the world’s stage. The first time she stood in front of people to perform, it was out of a goading from someone she had met, just a night before. This new friend was having an open night at a local in London, and liked the tone of her voice, and figured would Yazmin be keen on singing at her gig?
Yazmin does not quite remember saying yes…at least not meaningfully. What she remembers is seeing her name on posters advertising the event, and so she was like, “oh boy. I guess I have to do it now…”
That evening she sat on a stool, a guitarist by her side, a spotlight shining down on her, and an expectant crowd gathered. She only had a couple of songs she’d mastered for the performance. Her nerves did not allow her to make eye contact with anyone in the audience, so she stared right ahead and then opened her pipes.
Her voice sounds like honey on a hot griddle – smooth and searing at the same time. So much so that sometimes you forget what she’s supposed to be singing about. And that’s probably what the lady saw in her that night too.
Heal the people around you
Even though the music was an important – yet secret – part of Yazmin’s life, it was something she did for herself, for fun – and not for everyone else. Her real life was in the world of community and charities. Her background in charity work helped her work in charitable organisations, and even run her own, before the music eventually took over and allowed her to perform on international stages, such as Safaricom Jazz.
“The reason Ghetto Classics interested me is because I went to work in charities. It’s a big passion of mine. I think it’s everyone’s collective responsibility to [make the world]work for young people.”
And so, she started her own project, which would pick up children from schools and nurseries in Nottingham, who needed extra help from social services – you know, those in families affected by violence, crime, abuse and neglect and such – after school and give them activities to keep them off the street.’ And after that, she would be driving three hours away to do a gig, and then drive back home, and start the day all over again – because she believed, like Whitney Houston did, that the children are the future.
Now, trustees run her project in Nottingham, but her dream the dream is to figure out, somehow, a way to merge the music and charity work. “A lot of people who I know make negative decisions because they haven’t had certain securities in their childhood. The knockoff effect is traumatised, neglected kids, who are then in charge of shaping the future when we’re too old to do it.”
Heal the world
“Music is a healing source for the world. Music is one of the solutions to the problems in the world. It’s never been about the money.”
There have been a lot of highlights in Yazmin’s career – being nominated for Single of the Year, playing for the Winter Jazz Festival in New York, having her music bring her to countries like Kenya to work with Ghetto Classics , trying to do the same thing that she was trying to go back home – but she says some of her personal triumphs, outside of spreading her feelings around the world, is when someone reciprocates those feelings. ‘When people message me saying they play my song every day when they wake up…that’s a highlight.’
Yazmin’s music is that kind of jazz that speaks to you directly, and that’s why she’s going to be playing at Safaricom International Jazz Festival this Sunday. Because, while Safaricom Jazz is about good times, of course, and beautiful people, it’s also about the stuff that heals your soul. It is about the music that moves you.