College is more than a repetitive schedule and studying. It is a critical time period to find your passion and to grow as a person. I was fortunate to sit down with JMU senior communication major, Donjuan, to learn about her inspiring journey as a musician and hear what she has to say about the beauty of self-identity.
Q: Describe yourself in a few words.
A: I think my favorite thing about myself is my ability to be reflexive and self-critical. I’m creative, artistic and pretty emotional too. I think that comes with being an artist because I feel a lot. I think that’s definitely a common misconception about me. I come out very sarcastic and not too in touch with my insides, but I definitely have an emotional grounding.
Q: What is your relationship with music?
A: Right now, music is pretty much everything. It’s what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s tough being in school trying to finish up my degree, but feeling this huge pull toward that side of myself, and knowing that’s what I’ve decided that I want to be for the rest of my life. I also have a job, so I feel like I’m moving in the opposite direction. So that’s really tough for me. I’ve been through a lot of loss this year. I lost my dad’s mom last semester, my mom’s mom this semester, and my mom just got diagnosed with breast cancer. Among other things, music has been the only solace for me during this time. So it really is a huge part of my life and one of the most important things to me.
Q: So, is music your number one passion?
A: It’s definitely my passion and a way I can express myself. It’s hard for me to explain when people ask me what I want to do with the rest of my life because that’s it. That’s the only thing I can think of and the only thing I really want. And that was journey for me in terms of my identity that grew as I grew as a person. It wasn’t always a priority and it wasn’t always my number one desire.
Q: Do you have any other passions?
A: I really enjoy anything artistic, like I love to paint. I really like fashion for the reason that I can express myself again. Anything where I’m able to say, “Hey, here’s my identity. What’s up?” is something that I’m passionate about.
Q: Would you say music is a way to escape reality?
A: Music doesn’t help me escape. It makes me face everything I’m feeling at the moment. It’s such a passion-driven and vulnerable process that whenever I pick up my guitar or open my mouth to sing I’m confronted with this tidal wave of emotion.
Q: That’s beautiful. When did you realize it was your desire to pursue music?
A: I think around the time that I was graduating high school. I was heavily involved in choir in high school so that started making things real for me. I think my few experiences on stage were, “Oh my God, I’ll never get this feeling anywhere else. This is where I need to be.” I started taking things really seriously and started doing solo work when I came here.
Q: What are your plans for your music?
A: A lot of what I love about music is collaborating with others and being immersed in that kind of community. I also love live music and I enjoy recording too. But being on stage and doing that live performance and connecting with an audience is what I really thrive off and what motivates me. So I think a location where I can do that is really important. I’ve been thinking about LA. I’ve been thinking about Austin, maybe.
Q: What musicians do you look up to?
A: Favorite band of all time — Red Hot Chili Peppers. That will never change. They are just SO funky, SO revolutionary and still relevant.
Q: I listened to your covers and I love your sound. Do you have a favorite genre?
A: I’m open to really every kind of music. I gravitate more toward alternative, indie-pop, rock — anything with a live instrument pretty much. I’m not super into country music, but I appreciate the artistry behind it. That’s kind of how I feel about my own artistic endeavor. I don’t ever want to confine myself to one genre, that’s limiting. I want to make my own genre. I want to integrate a bunch of different sounds and that’s just me, that’s just Donjuan.
Q: What influences your songwriting?
A: Myself, my life experiences, but then also I just research a lot. I’m always listening to new music. Lykke Li inspires the shit out of me right now. The more music I consume, the more I digest, the more I’m inspired and want to deliver a message and share beautiful music with anyone I can.
Q: Tell me about your acappella group experience with Low Key here at JMU.
A: I got into Low Key the fall semester of my freshmen year, which was huge because it’s super competitive. They were the only a capella group that I had auditioned for. That was very atypical because people usually just audition for every one they can and see where they get in whereas I was very focused: “I want to be in a co-ed group, and I want to be in this group.” What I love about this group is it’s more of a family than it is a singing group so we’re just like friends who like to sing together as opposed to people who like to sing together that became friends.
Q: Which one would you say is more difficult: solo with live instruments or group a capella?
A: It’s really hard for me now to kind of fit my voice in a group of people, but that’s not what Low Key is about anyway. We’re all so diverse and individual with our singing style and who we are, so I feel at home with them. It’s just that I think it’s more difficult for me to sing in a group and try to fit my voice into a certain way of sounding. I enjoy my solo endeavor more, but I love being with these people.
Q: Any advice you’d like to share to fellow aspiring musicians?
A: Be yourself. That’s so cliché, but stay true to who you are — musically and not.
Donjuan will be a consultant with Booz Allen after graduation, which she claims is “so scary because it’s a huge corporate-American firm and so far from what I want.” But like anything else in life, she is treating it like a stepping-stone in order to get what she ultimately wants — a full time career in music.