Princess Nokia had just put out new music, pre-1995. And Afropunk invited her to play. Arianna Gill, bassist and creator of the collective BRUJAS, saw SZA for the first time. She stayed for her entire show, totally spellbound. And she only had two supporting musicians, a keyboardist and drummer.
“I was so compelled by her craft. So I just wrote on Twitter ‘Princess Nokia, SZA, that was so awesome. Hit me up if you need a bass player.’”
And SZA actually responded. She had seen Gill, loved her, and wanted her.
“She talked to her manager and that was it. The first gig of hers I played was actually at my college.”
So SZA’s manager books her flight from New York to Ohio.
“And I’m like I’m already here! And they’re like what do you mean you’re already there?
And I was like no I go here.”
They didn’t realize she was still in college. She stayed up all night learning SZA’s songs, getting complaints about the twang of her bass all night. But Gill was the Resident Advisor, so she kept playing.“I was the worst. My resident would come up and ask me to turn it down because they were trying to sleep. And I’m like, okay who you gonna tell? H life? That’s me. ”She plays her first show at her own college, and then tour began. She’d be on the bus after shows, and while everyone caught up on their sleep Gill finished her finals.
“I was just like pumping out these papers. It took a toll on my body and health in general. But what was I going to do? I was going to school for music and got this great job. And I was still finishing school so I had to do it.”
Gill is soft spoken but holds the room in her palm. She brings a calm kind of powerful energy to the room— funny, humble, sharp as hell.
And despite landing an insane gig before she even graduated, feelings of self-doubt crept into her conscience on occasion. Gill talked about the common and unfortunate truth, that often it appears as a female identifying problem.
“Right now I’m living in this weird space because I launched out of my experiences with this whole feminist platform called BRUJAS, which I’m sure some people are familiar with— and I’m having a problem with that particularly this week because the whole female identifying power movement has been co-opted.”
“It’s becoming this thing we are acquainting ourselves with, becoming comfortable with and ignoring the way it intersects with all these other problems our world is having.
Namely the entire economic structure of capitalism.”
Gill explains putting women in power within these systems does not fix the problem— it runs much deeper.
“Like the Grammys or the Golden Globes are becoming such a spectacle. And it just perpetuates a really problematic system where not a lot of people are living comfortably under. So I’m feeling a little complicit right now.”
Gill’s been trying to using identity politics, namely gender justice as a sort of comfort while our governments, food system and entire planet deteriorates. And while she’s still a social justice figure, it can be difficult to feel jazzed talking about feminism sometimes.
The fight takes energy. And it takes energy to be a female identifying person. Energy which predatory men try to sabotage.
“I will tell you the music industry is the most dangerous industry for women and female identifying people. I’m sure there’s a lot of dangerous work places for women, but the music industry is extremely volatile. I experienced weekly accounts of sexual assault while I was on tour.”
People lose it when they are around celebrities. Suddenly people think boundaries have changed when wealth and fame are involved. People treat it like a party, and you are treated like an object of entertainment, not a human in the entertainment industry.
“I have had a lot of traumatizing experiences, and it would take a lot of money to get me back on the road. Just because of how unsafe I felt all the time. I was just not safe.
Literally not safe.”
Those she relied on for food, transportation to and from hotels, and other basic needs as a touring artist leveraged their relationships and access to what she needed. Things to survive.
“Especially as a supporting musician, your wellness is the lowest priority for the management company,” Gill said. “I’ve learned enough that I can take what I’ve learned and only create with people I feel comfortable with.