SPOTLIGHT SERIES | Ingrid D. Johnson on Healing, Advocacy, and Reconnection Through Song

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Ingrid D. Johnson

Welcome to Spotlight Series, a monthly feature shining a light on emerging local music makers in the stellar music community in Manitoba. Come back every month for a new interview!

By Cierra Bettens

Musician, poet, filmmaker, founder, and community leader. Ingrid D. Johnson embodies all of these roles, yet they barely begin to describe the impact that the multidisciplinary artist has had on the local arts community. 

With her new album “Dreamer” on track to be released in 2022, Johnson has accumulated over a decade’s worth of music-making and community outreach experience. 

Johnson’s musical journey is rooted in familial (re)connection, hardship, and finding joy. At the age of four, she immigrated to Canada from Jamaica. Though she didn’t reconnect with her father until 2019, stories about his musicianship percolated in her household.

“When I was growing up with my mom, the only thing I knew about my dad was that he was a musician, and so when I was a kid, I used to make up songs in my room all the time,” Johnson says.

Music continued to play a seminal role in her life, acting as an outlet to cope with trauma from sexual abuse and being in the child welfare system. At the same time, it was a starting point to build connections and discover the healing power of making music. 

A few years after beginning to take voice lessons, Johnson started the Funky Fresh Crew, a musical hybrid of pop, R&B, jazz, and gospel music. 

When asked about her songwriting process, Johnson elaborated on how melodies and harmonies evolve in her mind until each component merges into a whole.

“Before I write songs, 99% of the time I hear them playing in my head, I hear what instruments need to be involved in making them. The whole production is already in my head,” Johnson says.

As both a poet and songwriter, carefully constructed lyrics are a core part of her process as well.

“I’m very passionate about lyrics. They have a lot of meaning to me. I don’t just write words for word’s sake—they really have to tell a story,” she says. 

“Rainbows”, a single the musician released this year, is a sensual blend of pop and R&B, charged with delight and desire. Mastery of multiple genres is clear throughout Johnson’s solo discography. 

Outside of her solo work, Johnson is the founder and director of In the Closet Productions, a production company that advocates for artists struggling to find their voice in the music industry. 

“I always wanted (In the Closet) to be a production company that makes great music and art that advocates for people who are voiceless, either by helping them bring their music to life or by promoting issues that society might not be comfortable with,” Johnson says. 

Merging advocacy with musicianship, Johnson shamelessly brings topics that have been rendered as “controversial” to the fore. In doing so, the musician says she hopes to foster more dialogue on issues like sexual abuse and trauma. While she moves forward with her forthcoming album, Johnson is also working on a podcast called Writing Through the Pain that details her experiences growing up in the child welfare system through a collection of memoirs. 

In any case, Johnson’s community-centred persona, exceptional musicianship, and lifelong commitment to advocacy mean that fresh opportunities are never too far away. 

“Every day is different. Opportunities pop up when I least expect them to, so I just keep working on my stuff and waiting for them to come,” she says. 

Cierra Bettens is a prairie writer, editor and student based in Treaty 1. She edits the arts and culture section of The Uniter.

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