InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights rapper with a cause, YaNi.
ELIXHER: When did you begin pursuing music as a passion?
YANI: I began in high school touring churches in the New York area. From there I was invited to churches and youth events all around the country. It soon manifested into trips overseas as a student artist/teacher. The passion to do this has been around since high school and I’m so happy I was blessed with this gift.
ELIXHER: How has your spirituality guided your personal and professional journey?
YANI: I believe part of my mission in life is to share my spiritual journey with my listeners. My music would be incomplete if that element wasn’t there. My inspiration and concepts are drawn from my everyday experiences, which help me develop as a being. The divine is where I draw inspiration, how I interpret who I am and how I gain the courage to share who I am with the masses.
ELIXHER: You have a very unique style. I know the mohawk must get you a lot of attention and you’re a preacher’s kid. Are people quick to make assumptions about who you are based on your look and your background?
YANI: People think I’m a lot more sociable and outgoing than I really am. I am an introvert that parades as an extrovert when its showtime. I spend a lot of time alone creating and perfecting my craft. People think PK’s are a mess or crazy and well we might be but I like to think of myself as down-to-earth and loving.
ELIXHER: There’s YaNi and there’s YaNi & The Peace People. Who are The Peace People?
YANI: YaNi & The Peace People is the band that leads the movement. The Peace People at large are all the people that support the band, our music, and community service projects. The Peace People are the ones who get it. Who fight for social justice issues, who fight for peace, who fight for unity for people of the world. Anyone can be a peace person. You have to have a heart for the people and care for your neighbor. That simple.
ELIXHER: How would you describe your music?
YANI: I describe it as alternative hip-hop. It’s a mash up of soul, gospel, jazz, rock and funk. The new sounds we are experimenting with will surprise my listeners, but in a pleasant way. The message of peace and wholeness remains the same just delivered in a brand new package.
ELIXHER: You talk about peace and have been referred to as the Peace President. Where does your message of peace come from?
YANI: Well my nickname has always been YaNi and when I found out YaNi means “peace” it struck a chord with me. It made me feel as if I was put here to bring peace to the masses. So I started with myself. I perfected my identity, went on to perfect the image and that is the YaNi people worldwide get today. It’s about realizing self and then actualizing positive change in the world.
ELIXHER: Your band knows you identify as queer. They have even performed in queer spaces. Did you have to talk to them about your sexuality before they joined the band? Did you expect them to support you the way they do?
YANI: Let’s leave the labels for clothes. I do identify as queer, mainly because I’m different. We’re all different and our differences are what make us the same. We love people so we bring good music to the masses. No matter what a person identifies as 9 times out of 10 they love good music and that’s what we bring. It touches the soul and makes the body move. We don’t have any issues with people’s sexualities. Homophobia isn’t accepted around here. I didn’t expect the guys to be so dedicated, but knowing their hearts are in the right place makes me want to do all I can to get us noticed.
ELIXHER: What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned as an artist?
YANI: Thank you goes a long way.
ELIXHER: Where would you like to go as an artist? Not specific to just travel but also your goals.
YANI: I just want to continue touching hearts with the music. I want the melodies to be sung in the middle of the night and I want my lyrics to be quoted long after I’m gone. I want people to know there are real artists out here putting their lives and souls into the music and that we do it for the listeners. I have dreams of us performing on all the continents and in as many countries as we can. That’d be the ultimate success in my eyes.
ELIXHER: What’s next for YaNi?
YANI: YaNi & The Peace People are set to release their band album in May. We are super excited about this endeavor. The Live Peace Tour featuring YaNi is currently underway and I have shows lined up in a bunch of states. I’m just looking forward to sharing myself with the masses and all those that love good music.
-Interview by Tia. N. Williams
Tia N. Williams is a graduate student at the University of Georgia pursuing her M.Ed in College Student Affairs Administration. Tia has developed a passion for empowering young people around social justice issues. She aspires to be a Dean of Students at a college or university in the future.