Tracy Chapman’s song, Fast Car, tells the story of longing for a better life. Over the course of the song’s four and a half minutes, you’re taken on a ride of yearning, frustration, resignation, and hope.
It is a simple but beautiful song about the complexity of trying to better yourself and your situation.
I heard the song at a pivotal moment in my life where, like the characters in Chapman’s song, I too was longing to escape – to in her words, “leave tonight or live and die this way.”
That is the beauty of music; a lyric written by a stranger touches you in a way as if you had written it yourself.
Singer/songwriter, Joy Oladokun, describes this process as “helping myself and others process this world.”
Oladokun was first inspired to pursue music as a ten year old, when her father played a concert video of Tracy Chapman performing at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute.
She told me sheepishly that her first song was about Lord of the Rings but her second was written for her mom who was having a bad day. She continues to write music to heal herself and others. After a friend’s grandmother died, she wrote her a song to help her grieve. When a fellow musician was struggling with their new release, she penned another song to help them cope.
She said she knew she made it, when her Spotify followers reached two. Meaning that one other person was finding value in her music.
Today she has more than three million followers and some of her songs have been listened to more than forty million times. Her songs have been on shows like This is Us and Grey’s Anatomy. Last year, she performed for the President at the Respect for Marriage Act signing.
I discovered her music through this New York Times profile at a time when, like first hearing Chapman’s music, it served as a mirror to my own struggles.
Recently, when driving in my own fast car, I was listening to Oladokun’s song, Trying. It tells the story of trying to hold two competing thoughts in our own mind. How can we personally experience joy or pride in our accomplishments while also recognizing that people we love are struggling in profound ways at the same time?
As I listened to it, I was driving away from my family in Pennsylvania. I had just spent a week there helping my mom after her surgery and witnessing an unspeakable tragedy unfold for another family member. I drove away, leaving them to pick up the pieces. as I had just received multiple pieces of good news related to my writing and work.
The song which Oladokun wrote to process her own feelings was helping me process my own.
I can’t recommend her music strongly enough. Songs like “Sunday” and “Jordan” help reconcile her religion and her sexuality. “Let it be me” builds a bridge between her father and her queerness. “i see america” tries to make sense of race. “Taking Things for Granted” helps heal the pain of not being seen.
For all the heavy topics covered in her music, there is – as her name might suggest – joy infused throughout.
To hear songs like “Look Up”, “Revolution”, or “Somehow” is to be lifted by hope. Hope that comes simply from trying. Trying to make sense of our world. Trying to help others do the same. One person, one song at a time.