Indy Like a Local
Who is Okara?
A native Hoosier, Imani has parlayed a homegrown passion for music into performing on stage at venues across Indy.
Q. What planted the seed of your love of music and performing?
Hmm. The seed was planted at the impetus of my resistance! I've been singing and humming to myself and around the house since before I can remember. Growing up, it was nourished by my dad singing and recording just for himself in his home studio, Saturday nights spent dancing and singing at the top of our lungs all night as a family, and my first talent show duetting with a sixth-grade friend of mine.
Q. Do you have a specific approach to songwriting? What inspires you in writing a song?
My approach is sort of following the spark, the inspiration, unless there's a commissioned deadline! (laughs). Otherwise, it's simple but methodical: I naturally am led by the melody and lyrics, which bubble up from within me and get sort of beefed up by my life as an avid reader, then honed in by the contours of the arrangement. So, typically, lyrics and basic melody, then the piece gets filled in by instruments, most often arranged in real time by my bandmates in The Call.
I'm led, always, by direct personal experience of my own life, the lives of those around me, and the echoes of my ancestors’ lives. That's my perspective always, introspective, ponderous, wondersome, or just raw. I write with full openness and authenticity to my own existence, as a way to affirm and reflect that openness in others, in my audience.
Q. Would you describe your sound in a certain way?
I continue to attempt describing my sound with existing terms, but it always becomes sort of a listing of elements and influences. I'm naturally moody and atmospheric, but the stylings draw from classical art song, neo-soul, alternative R&B, soul, blues, music of diasporic African traditions, and oh-so-much jazz.
Q. Where might we see you performing around Indy?
This spring, I'll be kicking off headlining season at The Jazz Kitchen April 27, bolstered by the skillful stylings of Premium Blend. My band, The Call, will be at Broad Ripple Park for their Original Music Series July 22. Keep your ears peeled!
Q. What other musicians or artists here do you admire?
Obviously, I admire and adore the cats in Premium Blend. Clint Breeze & The Groove continue to inspire me collectively and individually. I'm forever grateful and in awe of the loving and grueling work Joshua Thompson does as a musicologist and teaching artist. Psywren Simone, Allison Victoria, Kim Kenny Green, Angela Brown, and Rene King consistently inspire my mastery of craft and command of stage and public spaces. I honor and admire Deborah Asante, Chantel Massey, Dr. Lasana Kazembe, and Jared Thompson for their writing, programming, community, and cultural engagement, and all the other ways they shed light. Visual and multimedia artists like Rae Parker, Ess McKee, Shamira Wilson, and Courtney "Wavy Blayne" McCrary. I just want to go on and on ’cause I love all these, and more, phenomenal makers in the city, and I'm just happy to be here!
Q. Do you have other creative pursuits aside from music?
I'm a literature nerd first and foremost, which is why I introduce myself as a writer, vocalist, or musician. My voice is a conduit, but philosophy and deep thought are the source. In recent years, I've had the pleasure of truly beginning my career in writing with my blogs for Classical Music Indy's award-winning podcast, Melanated Moments in Classical Music, hosted by Joshua Thompson and Angela Brown. I even had the delight of seeing my WFYI music talk radio dreams come true, writing and broadcasting blurbs for their radio syndication on 90.1 FM.
What are some of your favorites around the city?
Almost Famous has lush jazz lounge aesthetics I adore, tasty and sort of healthy morsels, and appearances of all my favorite sorts: contemporary jazz, drag shows, and brunch! The Chatterbox and The Jazz Kitchen are legendary, and The Cabaret is a singer's dream.
Blacktoberfest (the inaugural festival was October 2021) and Melanin in May Festival from Don't Sleep Naptown, led by Dominic Dorsey, are stupendous, light-filled gatherings of the Black creative community. Unplugged, hosted by Taleb Fazle, Tony Styxx, and DJ Boogie, featuring Fazle's Phases (sweet and tasty adult beverages); WOW, or Watch Out Wednesdays, hosted by the marvelous performer Valerie Phelps, has breathed fresh air into a music institution of Indy that's older than most of us and being newly enjoyed by a wider range of performers and patrons these days. The Shed, hosted by Kenny Phelps; Rob Dixon's open-mic nights at the Mousetrap; That Peace Open Mic; and so many more beautiful, nourishing open-mic events here in Indy are the life's blood of so many new and returning artists. Shout out to all of them!