Monthly Artist Feature (November 2020) – Jovani Williams

Artist’s Name: Jovani Williams 

Artist’s Age: 23

Artform: Music 

Why do you do what you do? When did you realize a passion for what you do?

I am firstly a musician, however, I see myself also as an artistic visionary. I play both viola and violin – having just completed my Bachelor’s in viola performance.

I started off late, by musical standards, on the violin at the age of 13, but it wasn’t until about 2 years after I really felt passionate about continuing this path for years to come.

What is your educational background?

I started my high school studies at Wolmers Boys High School but then took a year off after third-form because I was progressing so well in music and I needed a specifically structured musical environment to accommodate my musical studies.

After the year off, post third form, I finished 4th and 5th form at Hillel Academy where they were able to structure a program unique to my musical and academic needs. I then took another year off to prepare for music school and just completed by Bachelors in Viola performance at the Lynn University Conservatory of Music in Boca Raton Florida. 

What are some of the challenges that you have faced while trying to pursue your passion?

The arts in Jamaica are not given the support they deserve, and so growing up in Jamaica where Reggae and Dancehall dominate the music scene, it has been challenging create a platform upon which I can present the idea of classical music being something that can be sustained in Jamaica.

Have you encountered people who have been skeptical about your dreams?

Oh yes, a number of people are always quick to devalue anything related to the arts, citing “How will will you make money off of that” or “make sure you have a plan B in case that doesn’t work out”. A number of individuals view certain art forms as a hobby or just a creative outlet, however what people fail to understand is that people build careers off the ‘hobbies’. 

How did you initially react to those people and how do you act towards them now?

I know in the past when I heard and interacted with a lot of those kinds of comments, it definitely caused me to doubt myself and my decision. However, interestingly you find a lot of the times these same individuals will marvel at your artistic prowess but don’t really understand the value of people who do this for a living. They see it as a hobby as opposed to a ‘real profession’ yet still want musicians at their functions and artwork in their hotels. 

What are some of the fears that you face even today?

Probably not unlocking and expressing my full creative capacity. Many times I’m so hesitant to throw myself in the deep end, experimenting with new things because of my own personal fears of my own competency and how I will be received. I now realize that my true fear lies in looking back a couple years from now and not accomplishing what I could have because I was standing in the way of my own self. 

How do you deal with those fears?

Honestly, that’s something I’m still discovering. What I’ve found is that I’m fearful on my own abilities and so many times I rely on the positive comments or responses from colleagues, family members, or friends to help validate my own musical abilities … so it’s a learning process for me. 

How do you work? What is the method to your ‘madness’ and how do you filter your creativity?

Even though I’m first and foremost a musician, the artistic depths of this world are limitless. I therefore engross myself in all types of music, researching different art forms and just having a greater appreciation for other cultural expressions. There is so much colour in the world that inspires me daily, helping to fuel my own artistic expression. 

What role do you believe “the artist” has in society? / How do you feel your artform has the power to benefit society?

What a lot of people do not realize is that art is in EVERYTHING we do and engage with. The car we drive, the chair we sit on, the makeup on our face, the shoes we wear. Therefore our roles, although undermined at times, gives this world its vibrancy and the colour we interact with.

As it relates my own artform, music in whatever form continues to be a defining factor in many cultures. In Jamaica, our nation thrives on music. Some could even argue that we as a nation rose to prominence as a result of Bob Marley and his music. So there is no doubt that music has made its mark being impactful in many areas, and continues to benefit society and configure how we move and operate as a people.  

Out of all your work, which piece resonates the most with you?

Recently my father, who is also a musician, composed a piece for me for viola and piano.  It was an arrangement of Louise Bennetts’s ‘Dis Long Time Gyal Mi Neva See You’ and it has all the elements of Jamaican Folk as well as the virtuosity and technical aspects of the classical form. This particular piece is so special to me because I see it as a representation of me as a person, as a Jamaican, playing on a stereotypically “classical instrument” but being able to get best of both worlds. This is what I hope to accomplish in Jamaica, being able to amalgamate the two art forms in a way that promotes them both equally. 

Where do you see yourself going?

I can honestly say I’m not sure at the moment. Covid-19 has brought about changes in lifestyles worldwide, which has caused me to re-evaluate certain aspects of my life. My greatest ambition would be to come back to Jamaica after having completed by studies abroad to help change the cultural landscape in Jamaica, with a focus on education and promoting classical arts. There are musical related experiences that I wanted to engage in that are not offered in Jamaica, however, I trust God to lead and direct me in a path that He ordains for my life. 

By what terms do you measure success or perfection? When do you feel like you can say that your work is finished and ready to be experienced by others?

In terms of measuring success or perfection I’m probably not the best to explain. I’m a perfectionist at heart when it comes on to music; but what really is perfection, and is there really true perfection? I could play a recital and receive the highest compliments and reviews, however, I will always find something negative to comment on about myself and playing. This has been the case in my life for many years; the struggle to come to terms with my own self worth as a musician. Personally I think success can only be measured by the individual with regards to their own life. 

What elements of your career bring you the most stress? 

Probably practicing. No one likes practicing, and practicing literally is the foundation upon which we musicians are able to play and perform. It’s hard and stressful because it’s so tedious and energy-consuming.

The word “Ubuntu” means “I am because we are”; how have you seen that reflected in your own life?

Many times we see a lot of accomplished individuals being labeled as ‘self-made’ which implies that ‘I am because I am’ or because ‘I did’. However, what I have come to realize is the importance of community in the roles of our lives. As much as we think we have overcome obstacles on our own, and we rightly have, we cannot negate the fact that we did not step into certain roles solely on our own.

That first step you took that plunged you into the pool of opportunity… someone built the pool and filled it up whether we like to admit it or not. Where did the door come from that you walked through into a new opportunity? Regardless of the differences we face in this world, there is so much shared life that we engage in and I think that is innate within our human nature, not to operate isolation.

In the early stages of my musical development, because I engaged in a ‘non-traditional’ form of music playing classical violin, it was so easy to detach myself from the Jamaican culture as I oftentimes felt that I didn’t fit in. Looking back I now see how much my cultural background has impacted me as a person as well as a diverse musician. 

What is some advice that you would give to anyone who is trying to walk the same path as you?

If I had any advice to give anyone walking on the same path as me, it would be to not be so hard on yourself. We can easily rob ourselves from experiences and opportunities because we are too much in our head worrying about what others may think.

Nelson Mandela said, “there is no passion to be found in playing small—in settling for a life that’s less than what you’re capable of living”. Don’t limit yourselves and don’t be afraid to explore the depth of your own abilities. 

“What a lot of people do not realize is that art is in EVERYTHING we do and engage with. The car we drive, the chair we sit on, the makeup on our face, the shoes we wear. Therefore our roles, although undermined at times, gives this world its vibrancy and the colour we interact with.”

~ Jovani Williams