While yoga is the foundation of Wanderlust Squaw Valley returning for its 11th year, music flows and anchors the event in a multitude of ways. It accompanies yoga classes, permeates the village between yoga sessions and fills the night air on the mountain. The landscape of musicians at the event has shifted over the years and increasingly more women are taking center stage.
Thievery Corporation, one of the headliners of Wanderlust this year is a show not to be missed. Their eclectic sound is uplifting and unique in every way. They blend and weave threads of many genres and styles of music with a heavy nod to world beat. They meld the richness of reggae, Middle Eastern, Indian classical, Latin, jazz, Brazilian and bossa nova with elements of dub, acid jazz, hip-hop and electronica. Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, who were both heavily influenced by Jamaican music, have been together since 1996.
Racquel Jones is one of three women performing in the group. Loulou Ghelichkhani and Natalia Clavier are two of the other female powerhouses in the band. Jones has been touring with Thievery for the last three years.
The Kingston Jamaican musician explained to me that she was in the studio recording a demo and was not happy with her work one day. While she was working to fine tune her recording, people were visiting the studio.
“I was mildly annoyed that guests were there,” Jones said, explaining that she didn’t know the day would become a life changer.
Eric Hilton of Thievery was one of the guests; he had a completely different impression of Jones’ recording work. He loved her sound. They met and she sent him a demo track with a Thievery remix in the background. Hilton had her come to D.C. to record with the group and she has been touring with them ever since.
“I am humbled. I get to stand on stage and represent my culture,” she said.
Jones is a deeply committed musician and trained visual artist. Speaking with her was like speaking with an old friend: easy and authentic. She started her musical career writing and performing spoken-word poetry with a full band behind her. She is deeply influenced by hip-hop and calls on artists such as Jay Z, NAS, Burning Spear and Lauryn Hill. She brings a fusion of reggae, hip-hop and dance hall with lots of syllables. Her sound is distinctive.
“It’s rhythmic and fast with aspects of reggae. Content topics are things I choose to say. I speak on behalf of the voice unspoken, the things that affect me and what my soul is feeling,” she said.
As Jones navigates her world, she is dedicated to balancing her inner self and her higher self to be her authentic self. She acknowledges the power of music and the responsibility of having a platform to make a difference with her art, her words and her music.
“Being a woman in the world of music I am learning and figuring it out. It can be hard to be a woman in this industry and being a black woman and a dark-skinned woman. Being vocal about who I am and how I want to be perceived is important,” she says.
Also breaking ground as a woman artist is DJ Seriousblack, aka Selena Tatum Isles. While Isles is no stranger to the Wanderlust family — she’s been performing at the event for the last seven years — she is the only female DJ performing at the festival. A mother and yoga instructor for the past 20 years, she started mixing music at age 15. It was while hanging out with her older cousins that she fell in love with mixing. She snuck into a party with a well-known DJ and that sealed her desire.
“I was always surrounded by music. My dad was a DJ and my mother was a yogi,” said Isles.
Her father played music in the house while she was growing up and Jones spent time perusing record stores with him. She was an elite athlete in track and field during high school and began practicing yoga after a catastrophic injury that ended her athletic career and changed her trajectory.
“Yoga brought me back to walking,” she said.
In Thailand, she learned to meditate and become a monk. Her teacher guided her to realize that her work was in the world. While taking yoga classes, she realized she wanted to hear more contemporary music and began mixing music for asana series. People started to request her mix tapes and she began making more music. Over the years she realized her calling was to bring conscious music to the world.
“I want to create memories for people, lasting impressions,” she said. “I like to bring happiness to people. When I DJ during a yoga class, the asana combined with music promotes a certain emotion. I’m an experience maker.”
In addition to the fabulous DJ Seriousblack and Racquel Jones, check out the numerous women performing at Wanderlust including the all-female band the Rainbow Girls.
Thievery Corporation performs on July 20 at 8:30 p.m. DJ Seriousblack performs on July 19 and July 20, both times at 10:30 p.m. | wanderlust.com