Band of the Week: DoNormaal

The new album is about a quiet black princess who must follow her heart back to a tetherball court

By Gwendolyn Elliott

DoNormaal

January 25, 2017

With so much happening in Seattle’s bustling music scene these days, how do you even know where to start? Allow the highly trained culture curators of Seattlemag.com to help with Band of the Week. This week, we catch up with Christy Karefa-Johnson, aka DoNormaal, a Seattle transplant from California and rising hip-hop artist whose hypnotic 2015 debut LP, Jump or Die, was noted for its trance-like, down-tempo rhythms and slick, fluid poetry. DoNormaal performs at the annual Timbrrr! Music Festival in Leavenworth this weekend. 

In three sentences, tell us the story of your path to music: I’ve always been writing and I’ve always loved music, since I was born. I wrote a lot of short stories and poems, a few songs here and there throughout my childhood and teen years. But it was kids that I met at school studying poetry that encouraged me to start making music seriously. Casfly, JHi and the notorious Raven Matthews. I don’t know how long it would have taken me to start otherwise, but a desire to rap had been bubbling at my surface for some time. It’s sweet and heartbreaking to realize that in a way I was waiting for permission. But when I finally let myself go there, I was so ready and my material was immediately good and original. So I can’t say I wasted any time.

Tell us about the new project (themes, inspiration, personnel, release details, etc.): The Third Daughter will be my third project and it is the story of a quiet black princess held hostage by the internalized shame of the world, a space cadet with little or no friends, highly sensitive but not brittle, meditating on daydreams for hours in the sun, alone, wondering about her dad, her love of god and magic, eating dirt, adoring her fam, sometimes hanging with the kids in special ed, practicing compulsive rituals, taking great solace in her imagination and in a defiant self-appreciation until she gets older. The weight of the shame begins to jade her, and she must slowly start to follow her beating heart back to a familiar and lonely tetherball court. It’ll be out March 22, my dad’s birthday. 

What does being an artist in Seattle mean to you? A lot of hard work. There aren’t that many people around to help us. You have to be an artist, a manager, an organizer and a promotor here. I’m only very good at one of those things. Although, I think I’ve gotten lucky. I am contacted to play so much that it ends up being OK. I appreciate that, except when I get paid poorly, am the sole person responsible for getting people out to the shows or am the only black person or femme on the bill. That happens too much. I’m going to the sun, I think. But what a legendary moment in my life Seattle represents. For me and my music, a divine Genesis, the perfect place for the beginning of something, but just one revelatory stop in what has always been a nomadic life journey to and from so many places.

What BIG question should we ask, and what’s the answer? Are you crazy and crying on stage and on the bus every time? The answer is yes, thoroughly, but if I’m trying to learn something from that erasure of what “they” taught me and then translate it into a couple things that will help to inspire and rebuild as “we” go about the crumble of many tiny revolutions, I have no issue with this. I am smart and have one of the billions of keys that we need, I just have to press it and find a way to get it to you all and learn more.

What’s next? It really is getting worldwide and I’m growing braver. I’m praying to get even better, have better things to say and better ways of saying them, love more, because I think that’s what I have to offer. I don’t want to leave my earthly body without giving my gifts in as realized a way as my brothers and sisters and siblings here deserve it.

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