CREATIVE EXPRESSION: SPRITUALIST, SINGER, PAINTER, INSTRUMENTS
INTERVIEW AND NARRATIVE BY KENNEDY GACHIRI
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SARAH DE BURGH
It gets intriguing when a person’s expression goes beyond aura and form. There’s a magic there. “Growing up…I leaned on my imagination to escape my reality. So I told myself that my grandmother was really Mary Poppins and I believed that my grandmother was Mary Poppins cause she raised me…and I would watch [her] at least 50 times a day. So I think having a big imagination and having this love and joy for anything magical and whimsical and theatrical…I think that’s where me exploring spirituality came from. Because to me it’s all enchantment. …I take little pieces from various beliefs and I create what makes me feel good. What makes me feel that God is in me,” Jypsy says. Jypsy Jeyfree defies labels and nomenclature. An attempt would be to describe her as a singer, a painter, an instrumentalist, a nurturer…and yes, a spiritualist.
We are seated in the backyard of a coffee shop in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. The gaping holes of an abandoned church look down on us as if to bear witness to the divine turn that this exchange has taken. “I see God in everyone. …I see God in books as I read. I see God in conversations. I think that God is…a universal law of dialogue in some sense. When I meditate I hear God in my mind. So God for me is a form of communication…I don’t know how to say it. God is just everywhere. I see God in things too. …When an artist creates something, it took some level of channeling of some kind of energy to make you…[realize] that vision. And it takes some type of energy for you to even receive that vision,” Jypsy says. How does Jypsy make herself receptive to that energy? “By just being. Just being true. Being real. Being transparent. Being organic. Just being,” she says.
For Jypsy, “just being” was a skill that she honed out of necessity. A way to create an internal oasis from the chaos around her. “I grew up with both my parents being addicts and they didn’t raise me. I had a troubled relationship with my father. My mother was present but being present isn’t always the best thing in a state of mind where everybody’s mom is not present like [that],” Jypsy starts. She continues, “…Changing homes. …Moving around. Moving from my mom’s home to my grandmother’s home and then leaving my grandmother’s home and going back. …My grandmother saved us from going to foster homes.”
Jypsy has built a home in New York with a partner who is a prominent collaborator in her art. Steff Reed is an acclaimed singer, composer, and educator who has just released his marquee album The Power of Love Experience: a work that features Jypsy as producer and singer. “When we first met, [Steff] approached me at a friendship level,” Jypsy starts. “But there was a spark of interest there because we both had business cards that we shared with each other. And both of our socials at the time began with, ‘Who is…’ So here is this man who hands me a card that says, ‘Who is Steff Reed?’ and I’m like, ‘Whoa! And mine at the time is, ‘Who is JeyFree?’…Every time we met there was some magic. There was a magical piece or element to it,” she says. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the burgeoning love birds. The relationship would be tested early on.
“One time, [Steff and I] met up and it so happened that the sun was about to set and some guy asked us to photo him proposing to his partner. …When that happened, I [told Steff], ‘Listen, I don’t know what’s going on but don’t ever call me again,’” Jypsy says laughing. Wait. What?! “I’m laughing about it now but at the time it was hard because…I was so strong and faithful and committed to my [then] partner,” she explains. The intense feelings that Jypsy was developing for Steff were further complicated by the fact that Jypsy was in a monogamous relationship with a woman at the time. “It hurt. There was a tear that shed in his eye. It was an unspoken feeling that we never vocalized in those moments but we felt. …I don’t believe in infidelity and wasn’t going to have this conversation with my partner, ‘So I met this guy who I’ve been having these magical encounters with.’ [Steff] always stood in my mind,” she says.
As a self-described “artistic nomad,” Jypsy seized the opportunity of a lifetime to go on a trip to Kenya and spend time creating art with Africa’s most iconic nomadic tribe: the Maasai. Jypsy resisted initial attempts at glamorizing her as “Beyonce.” “I wanted to be known as me. The woman who struggles with identity sometimes. The woman who struggles with insecurity sometimes. And I just wanted to be stripped of the visual layers and actually have a conversation. …I did oil portraits of women and I put glitter in their eyes… …I drew some Maasai women in the same glitter in their eyes and covering their mouths and talking from that point of view too.” Jypsy says. The trip was organized by the Awakenings Movement, a Houston based NGO, and organizations on the ground in Kenya.
Depicting crying eyes with glitter is a device that Jypsy uses to show that majesty and vulnerability can coexist in the same person and at the same time. During a recent art installation at the Brooklyn Commons, Jypsy used this technique to tell a deeply personal narrative through portraits. “They’re all versions of [me]. They are all self-portraits. It was a purge of my artistry from the beginning to where I am right now. And being able to look that person in the mirror. I chose tears because throughout the years,…I battle openly with depression and anxiety. [And] having the highs and lows of artistry. Going from performing at Brooklyn Bowl to having to carry a book bag on my back [as I resumed my role as a nanny and babysitter]. Or performing at a festival upstate and then coming back and having to clean someone else’s dishes. All in the midst of the same week. So, for me, it was facing my depression head on. So I wanted to show the glamor part of me but inside there was still a sad girl. …I chose gold tears because it was like if the…gold inside me was shining through… My healing from that was knowing that I am still a god. Still a queen. So that’s how it looks from the [inside out],” Jypsy says.
Touring and meeting people is in Jypsy’s DNA. It is the path to her present. “I want to find home all over the world. I want to perform for people. And sing for people. And bring people together. And meet people all over the world. And then come back and open up a nice creative space. A store or gallery. Where you can buy things that I’ve found in my travels. And clothes. Everything bohemian. That’s my goal,” Jypsy starts. It is a sentiment that resonates with the origin of her name. And just how did her name come about? “I took ‘Jana’ which is my government name, and ‘Freeman’ which is my last name…and came up with ‘Jeyfree.’ It was Jeyfree for a long time and then when I moved to New York, everyone I was meeting was like, ‘You’re a gypsy!’ So I feel like the people were giving me that name. So when it came time to put out my first single ‘Jypsy Train,’ I [decided] to add Jypsy to my name. …[I’m] a nomad in my artistry. …[Being] multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary, I am kind of all over the place artistry-wise. …I’m stamping something that’s looked at negatively as something that’s beautiful,” she adds. Jypsy is single handedly re-conceptualizing the meaning of gypsy.
Jypsy Land is the company that Jypsy founded. “I call it the wild women. The women who like their incense. That pray. That meditate. That will wear a scarf on their head that’s meant to be on their waist. The women that are buying crystals. The women that are reading Tarot Card books to learn how to do Tarot. The women who like cowboy boots and dresses. It’s for the free spirits. …The women who wear two belts… I’m not the only one. …I know I’m not the only bohemian hippy. And so Jypsy Land [will be] the face of this magical space to feel comfortable to express who you are. It’s a place where…when you walk [in], [you feel that you’ve] found a tribe,” Jypsy says. When you walk into a Jypsy Land store, how would it look like? Or feel like? What would it smell like? “When you walk in, you’re embraced with everything from sage to frankincense to vanilla… Each piece of the space will be its own world. The lavender section could have…candles [and] amethyst crystals keeping it all in that purple chakra world. Then you walk over and you might find mint candles with mint-green jumpsuits… All these areas in this one space that talk to your chakras and what you’re going to feel. …In the back will be an art space that people can rent. I would want to give it to the people. …I don’t want you to be able to show your art if you’re rich,” Jypsy says.
Jypsy credits art for giving her a sense of connectedness and purpose. A series of tattooed lines on her right wrist speak to this. What do they mean? “I used to doodle when I was younger… I used to make these lines and I never knew what they were. As I have found music,…[it] eventually clicked. It was music that saved my life and I had it tattooed on me. So [the lines represent] soundwaves. Or it can be the cell tower [icon] on your phone. Showing that you’re tapped in… Frequencies,” she says. Jypsy knows how being tapped in feels like. “I am deeply connected when I am turnt on. And turnt on meaning that I’m tapped in. I feel good. I look good. I smell good. I’ve had my coffee. I’m making money. I’m performing. I’m on stage. I feel the most myself when I’m on stage. I feel like that’s when I can give back to my ancestors and I have my ancestors with me and it’s a way of allowing the true me to reveal itself on stage,” she says.
Being her true self while on stage goes back to being spiritually connected. “The idea in society is to over-popularize artistry. But we don’t talk about the spiritual connection to art. …When I entertain and I perform, that’s all spirituality. I look at it as…music is spiritual. Have you ever heard a song and you’re happy go lucky and [then another] song comes on and it has a tone that’s very sad and it’s about heartbreak? Why am I automatically sad? It’s spirit. It’s all energy,” Jypsy concludes.