IF THE NAME MYKIA JOVAN DOESN'T RING ANY BELLS, JUST WAIT.
Jovan’s star is on the rise this year, and her soulful voice — by turns sad and sultry — may be the voice singing the next song that gets stuck in your head.
During high school, she studied theater at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. She didn’t begin to think of music as a career until after college, although she had been writing avidly since her days at school. After graduation, she transitioned to musical theater, but over time she began to shed acting and focused on “emoting things and telling stories through music.”
Her closest brush with silver screen stardom came in the 2017 comedy Girls Trip, in which she plays one of R&B artist Ne-Yo’s backup singers during a performance at Essence Festival. The role, though small, was serendipitous — in July, she’ll make her Essence Festival debut, after making her New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival debut in April. She also performs as part of the all-female troupe Vessels, which explores the power of song to heal the wounds of the Middle Passage and African slavery. Jovan and her newly expanded band also will go on tour later this summer with Couches, a show produced by apparel and event company Dopeciety.
She credits her genre-bending musical catalog to her time gigging and touring with Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers — the three years she spent with the band sparked her interest in music beyond jazz, such as rap and trap music. Before working with Ruffins, she began to establish a name for herself in a regular Friday night spot at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street, crooning jazz standards and experimenting with other types of music. She released her first full-length original studio album Elliyahu in September 2017.
“Eliyahu is a Hebrew name meaning ‘highest most exalted one,’” she says, and the songs on the album play with the theme of exaltation and idolatry. She secularized the word, adding an extra “l” to the spelling.
“[The songs are about] where do you place God,” she says. “Are you going to look outside of yourself for your … development, for your fulfillment, or are you going to activate the God inside of yourself?”
She teases out these ideas in a tempestuous mix of love songs, songs about reconciling old relationships and “pointing the finger a lot.” There also are songs like “16 Shots” that address the social inequities that are roiling the world, the country and her native Hollygrove neighborhood, where she recalls a family friend mistakenly was identified as the burglar of a convenience store. He was fatally shot. These events inspired her collaboration with Matthew Kincaid, founder of New Orleans-based social justice awareness program Overcoming Racism, for last year’s Medicine Show, a storytelling performance that brought together spoken word artists, comedians and songwriters like Jovan to talk about ways to improve the wellbeing of their communities.
“Music has been an outlet for me to sort out things in the public eye,” Jovan says. “I’ve been really grateful for my residency at the Blue Nile to try out new music and to really use it as a therapy session to get my ideas out and play around with different genres.”
Her recent success hasn’t changed her impetus for creating music and performing.
“I like to be able to make contact with my audience,” she says. “Anytime I can really connect with someone in the midst of the show — that’s really important to me. … I feel like we’re having an exchange, and it’s not just me entertaining. Somebody is actually receiving something. That’s so important.”
Where you can see her next:
The Good Vibes/Ford Superlounge at Essence Festival, 8 p.m. – 8:45 p.m. Friday, July 6
Valentine’s Day card from her sister with hologram of caterpillar morphing into a butterfly
Quartz — “It relaxes me.”
Adventure log for writing on the go
Murray and Lanman’s Florida Water cologne
Favorite snowball stand? Plum Street. I went to Lusher and [Eleanor] McMain [Schools], and it was right there.
The Lakefront or The Fly? The Fly. The Lakefront is so cool, but I feel like you have to be really cute when you go there.
Oak trees or magnolia trees? Oak trees. Oak trees have saved my life. Have you ever leaned against an oak tree after a hard day?
What’s something that you have to carry with you at all times? A crystal or a worry stone.
Guilty pleasure? Scrolling on Instagram. I’m a huge lurker.
What very New Orleans thing have you never done? I’ve never been to Mother’s (Restaurant).