Adia Victoria is a rare breed. Based in Nashville, the 30-year-old creative is a singer-songwriter, poet, and guitarist. This past year, she released her stellar debut albumBeyond the Bloodhounds.Victoria's musical medium is the blues, a genre that found her during her 20s when she was questioning everything.
"I started doing research, and it led me back to Robert Johnson and Victoria Spivey, Skip James, all these really cool black artists and I realized they'd been appropriated in the blues that's common now," she said. "It's all white men playing, and so it was very empowering for me to go back and see that this is black genius; this is black art."
Victoria was raised in South Carolina within a strict Seventh Day Adventist church that was completely controlled by a white community. "I remember feeling that something was being hidden from me," she says. "I felt there was this sense of danger attached to blackness."
The town that Victoria grew up in has been an old mill and textile town since the early-20th century. She notes that it is located a mere 15 minutes away from Gaffney, a city known by some as the "Peach Capital," but by many others as one of the worst cities historically for lynching. Victoria tells us how this area has a history of being extremely segregated and violent, and the sense of tension amongst the population hasn't gone away. "The black population had been so brutally oppressed to stay in their spot, there wasn't a lot of fight left in them," she adds.
After Victoria's parents divorced when she was 10, her mother moved them out of the city and into the mountains on the border of North and South Carolina. It was here in the wilderness of a tiny town called Campobello that she came into full contact with nature.
"I realized what it meant for me, spiritually, to be able to look past mankind and society and to deal with nature. It's kind of like my companion, as my figure of authority, it was no longer people telling me what to do," she says. "We're so small, that mountain's so big. I'm small, I'm going to look at that mountain, I'm going to write about that mountain, and I'm going to feel my smallness and my insignificance out here in nature. That's what saved my sanity I think."
When it was time for high school, Victoria's mother moved the family back to the suburbs of a conservative, Christian, middle-class town. The environment broke her, in a way, but was also a wake-up call because she realized that she didn't want to "lead a normal life." Victoria made the decision to drop out of high school and not go to college. Instead, she started "working, hustling, and trying to put together a plan" that would allow her to truly be inspired by her life. After watching the film Amélie, she saved up her money and flew to Paris by herself at the age of 18. As she tells the story, she proudly declares that she was "the first person in my family to cross the Atlantic that way."
By the time she hit 19, Victoria fled to Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, New York, where she stayed for about five years. It was the first time that she lived outside of her mother's home. Since then, Victoria has lived all over the country and traveled the globe in search of something greater for herself. "I feel like being from the South injected me with this sense of restlessness," she says. "Like I want to ramble, I want to make some tracks before they put me in the ground."
Right now, there's a new cultural awareness of black creatives following their truth. Through their chosen creative form of expression, they are saying what needs to be heard and presenting different narratives of the black experience in America. It's an empowering moment that Victoria is proud to be a part of, with the hope of continuing to expand the conversation. Within East Nashville specifically, Victoria hopes to cultivate a safe space for her fellow creatives beyond the white gaze. She's starting with the Solange-inspired event, And Do You Belong, which she describes as "a night where we celebrate black art and black genius" in the middle of her home base.
Victoria is determined to tell her story in whatever form fits the moment. During the holidays, she plans on spending some time writing new material for her next album. Pretty soon, she'll also be dropping a music video for the track "Horrible Weather." Victoria is currently working on a series of haikus "dealing with black beauty standards, black girlhood, being black, and having mental illness struggles," and writing a book of poetry tentatively titled Black and Blue that she aims to release at the top of next year.
It's like Victoria says, "Can you let me be a black woman and make my art and spread this message around?" Further explore the depths of her brilliant mind within the interview, below.
Tina Vaden: I read that people tried to lump you into the "pretty girl" trope and you've pushed back against that, rightfully so. I wondered what is your favorite part of yourself? The one that you embody, that has nothing to do with the pretty.
AV: My nerve. It allowed me to tell the world to fuck off. Starting from when I was in high school, I realized that I wanted nothing to do with what was being sold to me. Authority figures, they'd tell me things like, "You need to learn this equation" or "you need to learn how to do this." I'd just be like, "Why should I?" I was a terrible student because I didn't believe in the bullshit. I knew I had a greater purpose. I had to go out and figure out what it was; it wasn't just going to come to me. I don't mind working hard, it just depends on what I'm working toward. I wanted to be the person that decided what I was going to use my brilliance on; I didn't want it wasted on some stupid job getting approval from people.