Meet April's Leona of The Month: @Aja_Monet
The Poet, the performer, the singer, the songwriter, the educator, the human rights advocate. Aja Monet is truly a multi-talented woman. Harry Belafonte once referred to her as, “The true definition of an artist.” Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, this Jamaican/Cuban’s interest in singing, songwriting, and poetry fused together and became real to her at an early age. “I loved songs because of their words and I wanted to wield words the ways some of my favorite emcees and singers did.”
At age 14, Aja began writing poetry and at age 19 she went on to become the youngest winner of the legendary Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam. Aja has performed her captivating words in various countries, on various stages, for various people. And plans to release a full length collection of her poetry early next year.
In the interview below, Aja talks about inspiration, writing about hurtful relationships, and the purpose of her Miami-based studio, Smoke Signals.
In what ways did Brooklyn, NY inspire your creativity?
I see Brooklyn as an approach and perspective that informs what I create. I learned to read people in Brooklyn and it prepared me for the world.
One of the hardest poems to write was a poem about my mother called “Birth, mark.” I cried a lot while writing it. Mother/daughter relationships are so complicated. Any poem I write that speaks to how someone I love has hurt me, I want to protect them from my own hurt. Even if what I write is true and valid, I still feel horrible about revealing the ways I’ve been hurt by people I love. I don’t want to ever paint any person with a broad brush and sometimes I don’t do that well. All my poems are love poems to self. I write the poem for myself and then I worry about what it means to share one’s pain with others, and if they will truly understand the meaning of the poem, how it came to be and why it exists. Once I put the words down, it feels so powerful, sometimes too powerful. I know my words have power and they announce my intimate and deepest thoughts. I don’t want to hurt people with my words. I want to heal. I’m still learning how to do that.
What kinds of feelings does performing your music or poetry bring about?
I don’t think I ever have negative feelings when I perform but I do pick up on feelings from the audience. Feelings are ways my intuition communicates with me. I try to listen to them and trust what I feel to be a demand to actively pay attention. Solitude informs my ability to listen to feelings and what they mean. I need space away from performing in order to have a deep relationship with myself and to become a better performer.
Are there any books that influenced or shifted your writing style?
Every book I read shapes how I write. There are certain writers where their voice is so strong in their writing that I love and admire. I really love Jamaica Kincaid, June Jordan, and Ntozake Shange.
You recently opened Smoke Signals Studio in Miami, FL. What is the studio’s purpose? Why didn’t you open the studio in NYC?
My partner umi selah and I love music. I moved to Miami to be closer to him and his work in the community there. The organization he works with is called the Dream Defenders and they are based in Florida so he can’t just get up and leave. They’ve spent the past year trying to focus more on local organizing in Florida and ways that they can be a better agent of change there. He inspires me and I want to help his work in any way that I can. Miami is a fairly new city and Smoke Signals Studio was a dream we both had once we realized the home we found together had extra space. People forget Miami is the South and surprisingly there aren’t as many resources as I had access to in New York City when it comes to arts education etc. I could stay in New York where there’s an abundance of opportunities and resources or I could move closer to the person I love and help create more opportunities for the communities he’s working in. I think it just felt right. Miami is far more complex than South Beach. We have a lot of beautiful visions and hopes for Smoke Signals Studio and we look forward to all that is in store.
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Who or what inspires you?
It might sound corny but my biggest inspiration is Umi. He really is a brilliant human being who makes me want to be better each day. He pushes me to be great.
What makes you fearless?
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