TRUTH Magazine: Yolo is such a unique name. Where does it come from?
Yolo Akili: I first came across the name Yolo in 2005. I was reading the Alice Walker novel “Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart”. It’s a powerful narrative about a woman who goes on a spiritual quest to rediscover her zest for life. In the book, one of her partners is named Yolo, and it was the strangest thing ‘cause after I read the name, I kept repeating it over and over again in my head. In an odd way, it felt so familiar. The name’s origin, from my research, is Potwin Indian, and it means, “a peaceful place in a river that is abounding with rushes.” I had been searching for a name for some time, and I really liked the way this one felt. So I slept on it, and I asked the ancestors to let me know if it was right. That night, and for weeks on end, I would have dreams where friends and family members were telling me over and over again, “Your name is Yolo; your name is Yolo.” It was quite a powerful experience.
TM: So, it would appear that Alice Walker played a large role in you becoming the person you are today. Who are some other influential females in your life?
YA: Influential females in my life? Oh my god, that’s like, the impossible question to answer. So, I’ll go the safe route and say my grandmother, my mother, Layli Maparyan, Liz Greene, Erykah Badu and the Goddess.
TM: Much of your work revolves around the idea of spiritual wellness. How would you help another person find this?
YA: I would guide them towards themselves. I believe everything that we need to know is within us. It’s about trusting that internal compass, and sometimes we need someone to help us find it because it’s often covered in a muck of insecurity, trauma and pain. A part of my work in this life is helping people find that compass within themselves by giving them the tools, inspiration and different emotional narratives so that they can trust themselves.
TM: Do you associate spirituality with religion, and would you consider yourself a religious person?
YA: Spirit, for me, is the energy that animates all life. Spirituality is simply the acknowledgement of how the spirit functions and expresses itself. Religion is a culturally specific method of interpreting and recoloring broader spiritual principles. Spirituality deals with the default realities of the universe, such as cause and effect, attraction, impact and intent. Religion deals with how unique locales and cultures have interpreted those principles based on specific prejudices, biases and norms. Within each religious tradition, the same spiritual principles can be found, even as they are often hidden under the nuances of a culture’s psychology and myth.
I am not religious, but I don’t have a problem with religion. My problem is religious systems and institutions that exert dominance upon people and religious themes that encourage prejudice and inequity.
My parents, particularly my father, were highly skeptical about religion. They saw to it that I wasn’t indoctrinated into any particular faith. So, I didn’t grow up going to church every Sunday or knowing the Bible verses and quotes. I spent a great deal of my life in the South, so the Bible and Christianity were always omnipresent, but they weren’t inscribed in me through experience. My parent’s choice to remove me from religious spaces allowed me to explore what “God” meant on my own terms. That journey led me to where I am today.
TM: You seem to be very appreciative of your parents for the religious freedom that they gave you growing up. Was it difficult for you to come out to your parents, and what is your relationship with them like now?
YA: I never really came out to my family as gay. It was just kind of understood. I did however, come out as a vegetarian, and oh child, were they pissed about that! (laughs)
My relationship with my parents is ridiculous. My parents are a Gemini-Capricorn couple intent on causing mischief! My parents are great people, and we are good friends.
TM: What would you tell people who are struggling to come out?
YA: For anyone struggling with “coming out,” I say embrace your own timeline. Don’t feel pressured to come out as a political act if that isn’t your thing. Share your sexuality, or whatever you wish to share, when you feel that you are ready. Don’t worry about when that time will come. When it comes, it comes. And don’t always expect fireworks or dragons to come with it. Sometimes, it’s just leaves in the wind.
TM: Why did you decide to move to New York City?
YA: I think that when the universe wants you somewhere, then there is a drive awakened within you that isn’t always easily explainable. I was seeking a black queer male community, and I just needed something different in my life than what I had. Some of it was also me seeking a different facet of myself that I felt I couldn’t express in Atlanta.
Living in New York has definitely helped me grow. It has helped me understand the depths of how capitalism and oppression have impacted us. I mean, I feel like New York is western capitalism embodied! And so, here you have all the beauty, all the challenges and all the nuances expressed in perhaps their purist form. It has been quite an eye-opening experience. Personally, New York has helped me to expand my vision. It has also forced me to be disciplined. In such a heavy space, not meditating or doing my yoga has direct consequences. I can feel it in my body in a profound way when I’m not practicing a conscious connection to spirit. Because of that, living in New York has made me stronger.
TM: What would you like to change about the world at large, and what would you like to change about the LGBT community?
YA: There are so many things that I would change about the world. I think I would start by finding a way to mass introduce people to healthier emotional narratives and different ways of seeing themselves that don’t focus on the idea of innate inadequacy.
I don’t know if I have any gripes with the LGBTQ community that I don’t have with the world community at large. We all are still growing. Just like I wish for everyone, I hope that we can learn to be more introspective and empathetic. I hope for us to become more compassionate, more consciously interconnected and less selfish. And those are the same things I wish for myself as well.
TM: We hear that you have a lot of projects up your sleeve; what are you working on now?
YA: I am birthing a book, and it has been quite a process. It’s an inspirational book, and it’s the most amazing, beautiful thing that I have ever created. I am very excited about it. Hopefully, you’ll be hearing more about it in the next year. I’ve also been speaking and doing keynote presentations at many universities on issues of gender, race and homophobia, which has been really enjoyable.
As for other projects, I have been working on creative videos for more tracks from my album, “Purple Galaxy.” My next releases will be videos for the songs “They Will Hunt Us” and “Purple Galaxy,” which will conclude my video projects with this album. With these works, I’ve enlisted the support of a team, so it’s taking longer than I expected, but it’s so going to be worth the wait! The first three video poems, “Concretely,” “To My Teachers” and “Are We the Kind of Boys We Want?” did really well, and I’m excited to expand the vision through visual art.
TM: You’ve already done so much with your life; what do you still want to accomplish?
YA: I want to experience life from more angles and degrees. And I want to continue to create art that offers whole and healing perspectives. When I’m done here, I want people to be able to access what I left and let it nourish them, enrich them and give them a reason to grow on.
Learn more about Yolo by visiting his website, www.yoloakili.com, and download his music on iTunes, CD baby, or Amazon.