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Jully Black interview: ‘The next album is ready’

Canada's Queen of R&B is about to release a new record and also readying Canada to read 'The Marrow Thieves'

Jully Black is back! A new album and a high-profile panel gig on CBC's Canada Reads
Jully Black is back! A new album and a high-profile panel gig on CBC's Canada Reads Supplied photo

Only fans are truly up-to-date with Jully Black’s discography these days.

Canada’s Queen of R&B/Soul intentionally avoided iTunes, Google Play and traditional release distribution with her last two full-length albums — 2016’s Jully Black the LP and 2012’s Dropping W(8)  — which are currently only available as merchandise on her tour stops.

So, if you’re counting, that’s about nine years since her last wide release, 2009’s The Black Book.

Fortunately, Black is releasing her newly completed sixth studio album, The Re-Education of Jully Black, to audiences beyond her touring circle. The release date is TBA, so keep refreshing your Apple Music artist pages, everyone!

In the meantime, Black is all over CBC as part of the annual Canada Reads book panel. She’s defending Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves for this year’s prize. The debates air from March 26-29 on CBC Radio One and CBC TV.

It’s been a long time since we’ve chatted with you, Jully. Can you catch us up with what you’ve been up to lately?

Jully BlackSince The Black Book, I’ve recorded two other full-length albums and they are available at my live show only. We kinda took the Prince route on that in that regard. It’s a singles-driven market nowadays, so it’s nice when we do a concert, that all of the attendees are so excited to learn that there’s a new body of work at the merch[andise] table that’s not available online.

Wow. I need to really escape iTunes and get out into the real world. What about your work outside of music?

In the interim, I’ve been truly doing a lot of soul-searching to really find out, Who is Jully Black?Who am I?What on earth am I here for? I recorded singles and put out albums without a creative purpose attached to it. I became uninterested; I lost my interest in that after a while. That was a self-serving mindset, you know? Being an artist can be a selfish space. So I took some time. My mom passed away recently, so I was spending time taking care of her in the cancer fight. Beyond that, there’s been such wonderful new ventures. My women’s empowerment movement has now been registered as a charity, “Empowered in My Skin,” with my best friend Nkechi Nwafor-Robinson.

You’ve always had that double-layer to your career. On social media, you’ve been a long-time supporter of mental health, faith and physical fitness. Is that an important part of your journey, especially since you mentioned that being an artist can be “self-serving”?

Yes, yes, exactly! We’re here to serve. We are here to serve one another. You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama or Oprah or all that.

But back to the music. Why did you decide to go the Prince route with your last two albums?

I got tired of being buried in the noise. There’s lots of music every single day and, I don’t want to get too business-y, but the word, you know –

Royalties?

The royalties. The profits. I’m not waiting on mechanicals, I’m not waiting on SOCAN to send me something. It’s kinda right there. I like that [at my concerts], hey, you bought this CD for $10, $15, I sign it, it’s easy. Boom! Done!

What you’re doing is a choice, but are the economics of putting an album out on iTunes so bad? Are you making more by selling your albums at your concerts rather than putting them out on Spotify, Google Play and all that?

It’s not a forever plan. That was specific to these projects. The next project is ready, we’re just looking into brand new distribution and stuff. I left Universal in 2015, officially. It’s a brand new album, The Re-Education of Jully Black and that’s going to be distributed, proper.

So, the other project you’re doing is Canada Reads. Can you explain, in your own words, why you chose the book you’re defending?

Well, the book chose me. I didn’t read a couple of chapters of each book and say, “This is the one.” I left it totally to God. I’m a woman of faith, and I realized that I’m going to move out of the way and the right thing will happen. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is the book that chose me and I believe that the author, our personalities, our spirits, and our purpose in life to keep our heritage alive — we’re totally in alignment. I got a lot of personal truths from it, especially how to persevere after grief.

I’m excited that you chose that book. Are you feeling competitive? What is your thinking about winning or losing Canada Reads?

I’m democratic with it. I always say, winner-gagnant. There’s no competition, really, because I’m going to tell the truth, and all the books are so amazing. I know why Canada should read my book… it’s not about [being] better-than.

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About the Author

Robert Ballantyne

Robert Ballantyne is Popjournalism's Editor-in-Chief. Previously, he was a producer at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star and other media outlets. In addition to leading the Popjournalism team of writers, he built and designed its website.

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