Interviews

Janet May Talks “New York, I Am Home” and Activism on Behalf of Incarcerated Women

Janet May recently zoned in on her craft and her passions, shining in both aspects and doing good wherever she can. May put her all into her activism by helping open a shelter, called Casa de Luz, in Mexico that helps LGBTQ+ immigrants travel to the U.S. safely. She is also a part of a monthly residency at Riker’s Island Women’s Jail, helping bring awareness to incarceration, and if that doesn’t keep her busy enough, she can also be seen running many protests around NYC.

Even though her music and activism continue to keep her on her toes, Janet May took some time to talk to us at Soundigest about her new single, “New York, I am Home,” on ode to a city that’s just a busy as she is.

Your newest single, “New York, I am Home,” is a ballad about the great NYC. What made you want to write a song about a city that has such a mixed reputation?

It’s a city I love so much I wrote a song about it. New York holds it down. It has proven to be the backdrop of a lot in my life, and I wanted to portray my life here.

How would you say this newest single differs from some of your earlier work?

“New York, I am Home” is a piano ballad. It really was written just the way it is on the recording. There is some iPhone recorded noise from Tompkins Square Park, but that’s really it. Those things are unique to this release.

With your single “Lessons to Learn,” you mentioned that the song has a “march feeling” to it. Was this your intention for this new single, or did it just happen to come out that powerful when it was finished?

Thanks — the song naturally builds on itself. I intended for it to be empowering. To summon the harshest stuff in life. Call out the darkness and pull it into the light.

Where did you get the inspiration for “Lessons to Learn?”

I wanted to acknowledge the challenges we all face. It is like a heartbeat we all share. We can’t escape our humanity, the darkness and the light. I wanted to embrace the hardships, call them out of the dark and to own them.

What do you hope fans take away from this new single and from your music as a whole?

Try to write candidly, and to share my truth. My songwriting is always based on my experiences. I also began writing these songs with the idea that music has magical powers, of healing and connection, and can travel. I honor the role of storytellers and artists throughout history to challenge and shape society by contributing.

Aside from music, you’re also an activist. Can you tell us a little bit more on what you’re doing at your monthly residency at Riker’s Island Women’s Jail?

I am playing my songs in Riker’s Women’s Jail, nicknamed Rosie’s. I wanted to bring my music in to meet with women while they are dealing with incarceration in real-time. The women I have met are mothers, sisters, cousins, loved ones. They are incredible and hold a space for me to play my songs, and share my stories. I’m grateful to share that moment with them in some of the hardest moments of their lives. Their feedback is that they feel peace and escapism through the work.

We heard that we can look out for more activation around mass incarceration awareness in the new year. Is there anything fans and fellow activists should keep an eye out for?

I want to highlight the work of the Women’s Prison Association. I’m playing at the WPA’s Hopper Home, which is a shelter for women leaving incarceration. I am part of the WPA Arts program, but the work of the WPA extends beyond art and therapy, and into real support, like housing and job training. Any support and love for the WPA is like providing a lifeline for a woman who has been through the system and is in need of support to re-enter society, chase her dreams, support her family and gain a deserved career path.

How would you say your activism affects your music?

With activism and with music, I don’t think you ever feel like you have completed the journey. There are wins and moments of excitement, as well as a wealth of deeper experiences. Activism and art are fundamentally connected, as I feel it is the role of the artist to travel outside the norm, and dig deeper. Ultimately, the idea is to voice your findings and push those boundaries, create new language and help to organize a movement.

Can we look forward to any live performances or tours in 2020?

I begin a US national tour that will run all of February, supporting Palace. I will also continue my residency performing on Riker’s Island.

Take a look at the video for “New York, I am Home” below, and catch Janet May on tour with Palace.

Featured Image: WMA Agency

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