Yola Brings Black Beauty To Country Music

Many people use the term “through the fire” to figuratively describe how they’ve gone through hardships in life. For country soul singer Yola, it literally describes part of her journey to becoming the entertaining sensation and melanin goddess she is today. Growing up in a small town outside of Bristol in the UK, she’s seen her fair share of hard times.

From literally living on the streets of London to experiencing stress-induced voice loss—the universe truly tested her will. At one point she literally fought through the fire when she was engulfed in flames during a small house fire years ago. But the singer doesn’t want that to be her legacy. It was just the beginning of her journey, and came at a time when everything else was lining up in her favor. Even a fire couldn’t derail her positive destiny. The scars from that fire exist as a reminder that she’s been through so much, and she not only survived, but she’s thriving.

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Today, equipped with her acoustic guitar, the singer is booked and busy. Yesterday, she announced a world tour appropriately titled Walk Through The Fire, that will span across Europe, Canada, and the U.S., including New Orleans, Memphis, and Nashville among other cities. And on October 16, the Grammy Museum will host a special conversation and performance with Yola in Los Angeles.

With music that cross-sects country with funk, folk, gospel and soul, she’s bringing an original sound (James Brown once told her that she’s “got it”). She’s also bringing a love for Black beauty to the country genre, and receiving nothing but love from fans and followers. Big hair, big lips, and unapologetically Black are part of her look. And before she hit the road, she chatted with ESSENCE about all things beauty in her country soul world.

What are some of the products and the brands that you can’t live without?

For stage specifically I’ve got big old hair situations. I’ve always got some form of extensions or wig situation on the go. I get that from Gina Knight Wig Design in London. I live off natural texture extensions depending on if I want to blend it with my hair or if I want to rest my hair out. Then Fenty is when you’re hot and you’re under that big hairdo. It does not budge. When I’m doing photo shoots, I’m using Pat McGrath. Skin Fetish just blew my tiny mind.

Have you picked up and new beauty hacks or tricks since you’ve officially been in the music industry?

Number one, spend money. That’s a really big part of it. I know that seems really basic. If someone’s like I can do this thing for cheap I’m like don’t do it. I don’t want crap on my skin. Also, just making sure that you have a good tone before you put your makeup on. Apple cider vinegar-based toners have really been great.

Your skin looks pretty flawless.

You can’t beat sun protection and exfoliation. I’ll mix up lemon juice, tomato juice, cucumber, and sandalwood and do a fruit peel. Making sure that my skin surface is smooth means that I’m putting makeup onto a better surface. I’m dealing with that base level. That’s been probably the biggest hack of this year. That, and if I did not have my Butter Bar skincare facial regime, I’d be breaking out.

I love how the “Shady Grove” video gives these two perspectives of this Black girl’s routine. Was that the main focus that you were highlighting, Black beauty and Black hair?

I wanted people to see the routine that I have to go through, things that people might not see if they don’t have friends of color. There’s so many people around the world that might not know a natural texture hair routine. For everybody hair is emotional. I wanted to show what I did, my routine, how that related to me, and how that played into my day. I wanted it to be a Black beauty experience.

What does that typically look like for you?

I do a twist out to travel because I don’t know where I’m going to be. I don’t know what the weather’s going to be like. If I do all my hair up and then get that really annoying thing where your ends decide to curl up into a little dreadlock or that nape of the neck little monster that turns up. You know if you’ve got natural hair you need a steam situation. It’s a whole thing.

So big natural hair is your signature?

I remember there was a time when I was terrified to wear natural texture hair. I felt as though I would either blend in somehow. It’s the whole negative consequence that you can get from wearing a natural hair texture in some spaces as well. I think it maybe spoke more to the spaces that I was in than anything. Then getting over the hump of natural hair texture fear I went straight to 4C.

I’m ever aware that representation is important. I’m on the darker side of the color palette of Black women. It feels even more important to represent my life in a way that shows my lens and maybe to march through spaces with a brand of White boy entitlement of going, “I want that. I’m having it.”

If you could create a beauty mantra for yourself or your fans what would it be?

Work on you. Work on who you are and live from the inside out. That’s definitely what I’ve done. My fashion and beauty have come from the inside. As much as my music, it’s an expression of how I feel.

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