Fueling the march for equal rights, forged in The Freedom Singers’ communal chants to the rallying cry of “We Shall Overcome,” music has always had the power to unite in times of great division. Nearly 66 years since the inception of the civil rights movement, Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” to Bill Withers’ 1972 hit “Lean On Me,” and other anthems, hymns and songs of freedom still ring out in the streets as the United States is in the midst of nationwide protests for Black Lives Matter.
Roused by the BLM protests to write a song that reflects the current state of events, Joy Oladokun penned one that speaks volumes in its title alone.
“Who Do I Turn To?” is the Arizona native’s stirring firsthand account of her emotions around the fight for the cause. Co-written with The Highwomen’s Natalie Hemby, “Who Do I Turn To” is an emotional story of frustration, fear, and uncertainty, all propulsed in lyrics I’m tired of watching my kind be accused when they’re young and their innocent / I’m tired of turning on the news and wondering why it happened again… This world was made for them / This world was made for me / How am I supposed to exist / When a friend is an enemy.
Breaking from releasing singles from her upcoming, second album, in defense of my own happiness, volume 1 (Amigo Records), out July 17, and a follow up to her 2016 debut Carry, Oladokun, who is of Nigerian descent, felt a responsibility to write something about what black people are feeling, including a fear of the police. “I want it out now to help an already traumatized people cope, heal, and put words to their struggle,” says Oladokun.
Stripped and bare, “Who Do I Turn To?” poses the questions so many black Americans are still asking following the death of George Floyd on May 25 and the many others who have lost their lives in police custody throughout the years.
“When Natalie [Hemby] and I started writing last week, we were just catching up and talking about life,” Oladokun tells American Songwriter. “It felt irresponsible to even write about something other than what’s going on. It was and still is at the forefront of my mind.”
Penetrating in its delivery, and Oladokun’s near cracking vocals, “Who Do I Turn To?” paints a stark picture and one that’s matter of fact in chorus If I can’t save my self / If it’s all black and white / If i can’t call for help / In the middle of the night / If I can’t turn to god / If I can’t turn to you / Who do I turn to.
“In the chorus, the line that is most important is “If I can’t save myself… in the middle of the night” because it’s illustrating that I don’t trust the police since I’m black,” says Oladokun. “I don’t trust the police enough to know that they would think I’m not robbing my own home. I don’t think a lot of people understand what that is like. The feeling sucks.”
“Who Do I Turn To?” is a reflection of all the injustices that black Americans have faced throughout the years, and the repeated events that have transpired long before the death of Floyd, reinforcing the reason for the fight today.
“Just a few weeks ago, hoards of people strapped on their AR-15s and waltzed into government buildings to demand their right to have brunch at a restaurant,” says Oladokun. “Dylan Roof killed nine people in Charleston, and police bought him Burger King afterwards. George Floyd was suspected of forgery and died. Breonna Taylor was asleep in her home and police kicked down the wrong door of a house and shot her. How do you defend yourself if you’re asleep?”
Oladokun adds, “That is why I can’t save myself. Even when I’m at my most innocent, police will still demonize me and a lot of people will still find ways to enable them to do so.”