"Culture Rock Griot"



INTRO: Nicole Kali saying hello from Black Rockers United to GhettoSongBird, Samantha Hollins from Philadelphia.

They perform an astral alternative funk-soul rock with fellow soulsters Ronin Ali and Chris Nelson in Roxsploitation. How are you, Samantha? We are always happy to see you!

Samantha: I'm doing great. Thank you for having me!

NK: What's new in your life?

Samantha: What's new? Oh, my goodness! [Laughs] I take every day as it comes with this whole issue going on with the world right now. But I'm definitely trying to stay creative.

NK: I met you on Facebook in spring 2018, right?

Samantha: Wow, yeah.

NK: Yeah! And it was through becoming more active in Black Rockers United, actually, that I found you.

Samantha: Yes!

NK: And you had just interviewed with AudioInferno, and that's an African metal magazine the year before that. You talked about GhettoSongBird’s saga, how you began music. And I'm still blown away, completely!

Samantha: Thank you.


NK: So it all began in Philly with rock in your DNA, huh?

Samantha: Yes, it did. My mama put it there [Laughs]. My mom was HUGE with following all the bands in the '60's and '70s, going to all the shows. She saw Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Mandrill!

And there was a famous theater up the street from where she lived, called the Uptown Theater in North Philly. So she used to go there, to all the shows. And some of the musicians would come back to my grandmother house, they'd party and keep the vibe going on.

So she would tell me these stories and I'm like 'Wow. I wanna be a part of that!'

NK: What drew you to your mother's experience and how did you find music empowering?

Samantha: It was more freedom, the things they were saying, the LOUDNESS, the aggression, the feeling. And even the fact that they had smoke and all the lights and all that mood/vibe going on with the records. I used to sneak downstairs to the bottom of the steps, and watch the musicians and my mom just do their thing.

NK: You were groovin'!

Samantha: It crept up in me.

NK: I love that. I love to hear, Samantha, that you kept that groove going since you were a child, you know?

Samantha: Yes.

NK: That music’s ancestral for us, right? It lives in our blood, you know?

Samantha: Oh, yes!

NK: It's that legacy from Mom to daughter, you know? And it's the same when you listen meeting Parliament, Mandrill. And you took that and became the songbird on your window.

Samantha: Oh, wow, yes. Yes.

NK: Did you know that that's a spiritual sign, you know, when a songbird visits you. That's a twist of fate, it's a signal that better things are coming.

Samantha: I didn't know it at the time but later on I realized that, and it really made me take my position in music even more serious. It was no longer about chasing fame, and all that stuff that comes with fame. It was more about delivering the message from the universe, and letting it come through me and out to the people.

NK: Out to the people, wow. Not just for you and empowering you, making you feel more full but everyone around you.

Samantha: Yes, exactly.

NK: Your community. Music is family, you know?

Samantha: Yes, yes!


NK: And I feel that with you, I really do, that kinship of 'Wow, this is my soul sista. This is THE soul sista, you know, GhettoSongBird holdin' it down!'

So how does playing in Roxsploitation and that music family feel on that note?

Samantha: You know, I've been doing this for a long time since 2001. And musicians come and go. They've all been amazing. But something about that family connection, my best friend, my husband...that chemistry is always strong. Even if we're having a bad day! Even if someone misses a note, we still gel spiritually onstage and it makes that energy just flow to another level.

NK: It does. It really does. It's tangible, that love that y'all have for each other, you know. And it makes your music so much better! You know what I mean? It's so solid, you can always come back to GhettoSongBird and the songs that you've written, and feel that love, see how it's evolved.

Samantha: Yes!

NK: So when you play with Ronin and your children Clave, Ikembe, Lihlo and Jembe, how does it feel? Being in a family band?

Samantha: It feels natural. It was something that they watched us do since day one. My daughter just had her birthday, Lihlo. She's ten now and she represents to me that timeline of that shift when I became more of a grown-up, and maturity in music.

So having her by my side, backstage breastfeeding, changing diapers along the way? It just came natural to them, just a natural process of falling in line with us. We didn't tell them that they had to do it. They just picked up the instruments and started playing with us!

NK: I love it. I love that. I love that it was a choice for them and that they became just so immersed in it.

Samantha: They're like 'We're gonna rehearse and we're gonna do our own thing!'

NK: Yes! And happy belated birthday by the way, Lihlo.

Samantha: Thank you!

NK: Sweetheart. They're a lot like you but they're so different! Aren't you fascinated by that? They've taken your interests, went full-force at it but yet so unique and individual. Yeah.

Samantha: Yes! They're so much more outgoing than I was. It took me a while before I could actually get onstage, and feel comfortable and feel free. They're free because they've grown up with the musicians in the house with us.


NK: I feel that. Artists grow at incredibly different and complex rates like we just said, and within like, a year your creative flow can really shift as your children can. Adaptivity is what we do. It has to be an environment that supports our well-being. How do you make that environment that's loving and creatively conducive?

Samantha: It's very important because when I started out, I didn't have that. I'm going out into a scene blindly, just doing what I love. And every which way, there's the sexism and racism coming. And also just people even in your own circle, who want to compete against you and get you out of the way.

So now I'm to the point of having that family connection, having that family band and that social media support of people who are just like family to me. I go out to the shows, they come to meet and I get to connect with them on a different level. I really appreciate it, and I have much more gratitude for what I do at this point.

NK: Samantha, you deserve the support. You work so hard. The imprint you leave on music and how you express yourself. It's irreplaceable.

I know it's hard to deal with the adversity of misogynoir, of racism and sexism in the industry, and competition. But just know that you earned your spot. And stay on your path. You're beautiful.

Samantha: Much respect. Thank you.

NK: BRU is down to hear a favorite lyric or moment from your musicology, Samantha! Let's hear it from GhettoSongBird

Samantha: All right, one, two, three! "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here/Angels and monsters, watchin' over my fears/Brimstone and the lights takin' over my heart and soul-"

NK: Yas, girl!

Samantha: "Won't you marry me, sweet rock 'n roll?" That was 'First Time I Fell in Love with Rock 'n Roll'.

NK: Yas! Yes, oh, I loved that.

Samantha: Thank you.

NK: When did you write that? That was so lit!

Samantha: Wow, it had be around 2006.

NK: And what's the name of that track so everybody can go find it?

Samantha: 'First Time I Fell in Love with Rock 'n Roll'. I'm actually in the process of recording that song after all these years of performing it live.

NK: Beautiful, best of luck, I can't wait to hear it!

Samantha: Thank you.

NK: Don't forget it to drop it in Black Rockers United for us, a'ight?

Samantha: Oh, I will, always.


NK: We’re musical community. And we're connected to each other as people across distance, struggles. And is 2020 the year that everyone is forced to be more supportive, look at how art informs us, is our livelihood just getting along? Is that what it is?

Samantha: It is! It has to be at this point. All the competition and backfighting has to stop. We really have to align ourselves, and really dig deep within our gifts and whatever strengths we have? Connect them like the stars in the universe.

Because they don't conquer and divide, they don't do anything but shine. And there is room for all of us to shine!

NK: There is room for every single one of us to shine.

Samantha: Yeah!

NK: There is room for all of us to be in this network together and to have our moment!

Samantha: Yes.

And I think growing as an artist and as a person is accepting that, you know?

Samantha: Yes, yeah!

NK: It's realizing that there's ways for all of us to progress and do that together. That's amazing, Samantha.

NK: So how does Sister Rosetta Tharpe resonate in your art and heart? You absolutely look alike. Is her spirit? Is it a coincidence? Who knows?


Samantha: You know what, I found out about Sister Rosetta Tharpe, maybe three years ago. I was doing my research on her because I was working on my Culture Rock project. I went to North Philly where she actually lived at her last years.

I actually went to go see her house. And I felt my spirit going to find her grave! I get to the cemetery and I'm like 'That's IT.' I went right to her grave and I was drawn to it. So I always wondered, not knowing all these years that I grew up only five blocks away from where she lived. Is that a connection to where I come in as a singer-songwriter-guitarist?

Because I had no plans of doing that. I wanted to be a filmmaker. I went to school, studied film/video and the business of music. I wanted to be a songwriter as well, and a writer. But I never thought of being a rock artist, so...

Now that I look back on it and everything, I wonder how it's connected. I'm very inspired by her now that I'm actually understanding her music and where she'd come from as an artist, and the creator of this genre that I love so much.

NK: You're absolutely right. And I think there's something to it. Hearing it from you now, my friend, that you were just drawn to her presence even though she wasn't here physically with us anymore. And that you didn't even know her but you continued up on her path of rock 'n roll. And now you love it so much to the point that you play it all the time. No, I think that's, that definitely is destiny.

Samantha: Yes.

NK: I'm glad that she inspired you so much. She gave us this genre, and it's fulfilling to play it in honor of her, you know? Rock 'n roll!

Samantha: It is. And now that I know about her, I have to honor her in everything that I do.


NK: Yeah. Absolutely. What was it like growing up in Philadelphia, the mixture of sound? And how did you become a filmmaker, I'm fascinated by that?

Samantha:[Laughs] Growing up in Philadelphia? It's a soul town. I thought I could just take my guitar out and plug up and do my thing, but I didn't realize it's a soul sound. So I had to go to New York and L.A to kinda, get my vibe connecting with people that was more like me. Finding my tribe.

As far as playing in Philadelphia, again, it wasn't as okay. I had to really, really dig deep and find places that I could use to build. And not only for myself but the sistas and brothas that were coming up under me or even some before me that were blocked out of the situation.

NK: So you had to migrate out of your city to really rock the way you wanted. But you found your community along the way.

Samantha: Yes, yes, I did.


NK: Right on, GhettoSongBird! So is there anything else that you would like to share with us, what's new? What plans are you excited for in 2020? And how can we support you as BRU, as Black Rockers United?

Samantha: Well, I have a project that I'm working on that's definitely coming. It's called the Culture Rock Griot. it's a blog I've been working on for about two years now. When I went to Botswana, I wanted to connect with the artists there and interview, and get some footage and put together a documentary.

But with the whole pandemic shutting things down, I wasn't able to go back out there on the road and get the rest of the footage.

So I'm like 'What can I do with all of this'? So I'm using it toward the blog right now. And it should be up and running very soon! Just follow me on my social media channels, everything's under GhettoSongBird or Samantha Hollins, GhettoSongBird. And keep updated because it's really gonna be cool. It's really exciting.

NK: Awesome! The griot of the modern-day era from Botswana to Philadelphia! I'm so proud that Black Rockers United can uplift one another, especially now because we need it more than ever!

Samantha: Oh, yes.

NK: Stay safe, GhettoSongBird, and thanks for coming! Rock on forever and don't be a stranger, okay?

Samantha: Thank you! Rock on!

Samantha: Yes, I surely won't!

GhettoSongBird's sound rocks , and ! Stay united in rock!