JoVia Armstrong’s “The Antidote Suite” Releases Grief and Embraces Change

Black music is the art of storytelling. It encompasses the pain, the grief, the joy, and the triumph of Blackness as it exists not only in America but across terrains. It connects the world to Black culture without coercion or protest – graying the lines of contempt, disarming control, and allowing for unity inherent to the human experience.

The Afrofuturistic sonic ideations of Detroit-bred percussionist, composer, producer, and educator JoVia Armstrong interweaves space and time, permitting healing, meditation, reflection, and reaction. A creative amalgam with many identities, Armstrong is a Sabian endorsee, the founder of Eunoia Society, a constituent of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), an award-winning educator mentoring and orienting the next generation of artists, and a Ph.D. student at the University of California Irvine’s Integrated Composition Improvisation and Technology program.

It was after moving to Chicago that Armstrong dared to create, immersing herself in R&B, jazz, funk, and soul. It enabled her to dream up her self-produced debut album, Fuzzy Blue Robe Chronicles (2009), which caught the attention of renowned Chicago House/Detroit Techno DJ Theo Parrish who reproduced her song Gullah Geechee.

JoVia Armstrong--Photo by Michael Jackson

JoVia Armstrong–Photo by Michael Jackson

Her latest undertaking is The Antidote Suite, out July 15, 2022, on Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Music label. Commissioned by curator Bridget Cooks for The Black Index exhibition, the album is a sonic roadmap interspersed with Eunoia Society violinist Leslie DeShazor and an unparalleled roster of notable guests including bassist Isaiah Sharkey, guitarist Jeff Parker, vocalist Yaw Agyeman, rapper Teh’Ray Hale, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and pianist/Rhodes player Amr Fahmy.

Armstrong guides the ensemble on a hybrid Cajon kit, which makes the spirit of her arrangements pop off the page. Armstrong describes The Antidote Suite as “a sonically woven tapestry of space and rhythm…both meditative and reactive.” If the music existed in a way where the frequencies could be touched, it would feel like the quilts grandma used to make with patches of history, being, and belonging.

Upon pressing play, instantly a reverberating echo chamber of murmurs institutes an otherworldly sound seemingly having no rhythm. Unhurriedly, it diverts as high hats and cymbals grumble in the background, producing goosebumps induced by a surge of serotonin. A violin weaves in like a ballerina stepping out of first position, creating a legato melody anticipated from inception.

Guitar echoes behind the violin and sweeps the first composition, Breathe, to a close. Transitioning into an ode to the powerful Yoruba Orisha who is the master of storms, Meditations on Oya encourages dance as gusts of wind carry the piece into the chords of a piano. Accompanied by a jazz-like melody, the track picks up with frantic encouragement from meticulously placed African drums.

JoVia Armstrong--Photo by Michael Jackson

JoVia Armstrong–Photo by Michael Jackson

Zebra is one of the stand-out tracks due to its exploratory Hip Hop sound. Haunting vocals set the tone as a blend of Midwest meets East Coast instrumentation disrupts what was. Existing in the gray space Armstrong calls “the middle,” Zebra examines one of the constants in our reality – change – and how important it is to “know yourself so that when the rain comes you don’t wash away,” which is so eloquently parroted through the cadence of rapper Teh’Ray Hale.

Because each composition pours so fluidly into one another, there’s a longing for the album to be one prolonged track rather than snapped into five respective parts. The reflective metamorphoses seem to be disrupted by each interval, fracturing the trance produced. But overall, Breathe, Meditations On Oya, Beautifully Black, and Shades and Shapes light up the sacral and ignite the crown, inspiring movement when stagnation is present. Beautifully Black is a heart chakra cleanse for Black culture, releasing the grief of the past to welcome a vibrant future, while Shades and Shapes is all about the backbone of the Black nuclear family, the Black woman.

The Antidote Suite is not without a community of creatives behind it. From the album artwork to the various rhythms swallowing up the energetic aura, it all comes together and unites the body, the soul, and the mind, providing relaxation that comes with a bit of disruption. It is what is needed amidst so much change. It is the antidote to our pain, an energetic release.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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