Singer Jenn Johns Has A Recipe for Environmental Justice

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

Jenn Johns
Jenn Johns. (Leilani Lei)

Newscasters excitedly reported measurable rain in Northern California this week, as the region experienced its first storm in what we hope is an actual rainy season. Strong winds blew golden leaves from the trees and onto front lawns, alongside Halloween decorations.

"We’re going into a season where things have to slow down, get colder, die away," says multitalented musician Jenn Johns of this week's official start of autumn. "That which does not serve you must go.”

To usher in the fall equinox, Johns, a vocalist known for her high energy and deep spirituality, is set to "rock and burn down the stage" at the New Parish on Sept. 23 for The Gathering: A Harvest Ritual.

Jenn Johns performing at The New Parish in June 2021.
Jenn Johns performing at the New Parish in June 2021. (Leilani Lei)

Johns will be joined by a live band, as well as guest performances by Lalin St. Juste, Damon Tuner and DJs KKingboo and Aebldee. Along with music, there'll be healthy locally farmed vegan food available for purchase; the entire event is about a holistic approach to transitioning through the seasons and supporting Johns' latest album, Jenn Johns Live at the New Parish.

The eight-track project, which drops this week, covers a wide array of emotions and musical genres: reggae, Afrobeat, shoutouts to hip-hop and flavors from all around the African Diaspora. Johns recorded the album on June 23, 2021, and calls it a snapshot of the times.

Sponsored

Johns shows her vocal range, love of funk and connections to a higher power on the first track, "Opening." On "Xjan jxon" there's a moving monologue from mayoral candidate and community activist, Baba Greg Hodge.

Adding to the emotional weight of the show was the fact that Gift Of Gab, the talented Blackalicious MC who took Johns on her first tour, had passed just days prior. At the time of the recording, Johns hadn't yet been informed of his passing, but she says, "when I was look back on it, I feel like his spirit visited me in that space. There was a different kind of liberation."

Transition and liberation are running themes in the project, and in Johns' work as a whole. The evening of the recording, in fact, an audience member had recently been released after spending over 40 years in prison. But he wasn't just a spectator—his work is featured on the album.

Lonnie Morris, co-founder and president of the violence prevention program No More Tears, relayed lyrics to Johns via mailed letters and a series of phone calls while incarcerated.

On their collaborative song "Love Conquers," Johns sings, “People asking me when will the violence cease? / Fill the world with love, and peace will never cease / People asking me, when will there be peace? / Fill their hearts with love, and we will all be free."

Johns says she'll never let go of the packet Morris mailed to her from prison. While she offered a few small suggestions and added some melodies, she gives Morris credit for the lyrics. "Lonnie is a force of nature and those were his words," says Johns. "To me, I get the blessing of singing a song that he wrote." 

The album also features a verse from Mani Draper of Grand Nationxl, plus a live band consisting of Uriah Duffy, Mike Blankenship, Ben Misterka, Dame Drummer, Solas B. Lalgee, Howard Wiley and Geechi Taylor.

Johns is also currently working on what she says is a modern rendition of We Are The World, the classic 1985 call for famine relief in Africa. Her version, she says, is about "the moral imperative around climate justice." Johns is co-executive producing "Sasa Hivi" (a Swahili term meaning "right now"), a track of "Afro-Diasporic psychedelic soul," featuring a long list of well-known musicians and Dr. Cornel West.

It all comes back to Johns' belief that the biggest issue of our time is the environment. And as big as that problem may be, Johns says one path toward change is altering the way we consume this fall's harvest.

"Every person has one thing that they can do that changes the world, and at minimum, it’s the way that you eat."

Jenn Johns performs on Friday, Sept. 23, at the New Parish in Oakland. Details here.