Healing Through Music: How Jhene Aiko Uses Her Voice To Heal The Masses
By: Gabrielle Weeden
From the moment her first EP dropped, Jhene Aiko caught the attention and the hearts of R&B listeners. Jhené Aiko has been one of contemporary R&B’s most influential artists since the early 2010s, with her light yet vivid soprano and subtle way of conveying emotional extremes from frustration to bliss. Jhene’s discography spans across a decade and includes features from many prominent artists. Her music is known for touching the hearts and souls of everyone who listens.
“I think we all are battling evil thoughts. I think it’s important to not ignore them but to try to understand where they are coming from and get through them instead of suppressing them.” – Jhene Aiko
Jhene was born on March 16, 1988 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents – Dr. Karamo Chilombo and Christina Yamamoto- raised Jhene and her four siblings in a middle-class family and allowed their children to pursue their passions when they were young. At the age of five, Jhene’s two older sisters, Jamila and Miyoko, were already established singers in the R&B musical group ‘Gyrl’. Even though she was young, Jhene’s voice was already crisp and clear, and she was capturing the attention of a lot of important people. Eventually, Jhene was invited to showcase her talents to producer, Chris Stokes. By the time Jhene was seven, she was writing rap lyrics making her own songs. She knew that she had a passion for music and for writing. When Jhene turned 12, she became a part of the band B2K and signed with ‘Epic Music’. That same year, B2K released their debut album which featured Jhene’s vocals. That album went on to win the ‘BET Award’ for Viewers Choice. In 2003, at the age of 15, Jhene tried to release her debut album through ‘Sony’ and ‘Epic Music’, however the album was never released due to complications with the record label. This setback caused Jhene to decide to put a pause on music and turn her focus to her education.
In 2011, Jhene decided to reenter the music scene as a solo artist. She released her first mixtape entitled ‘Sailing Souls’, which featured Kanye West, Miguel, Drake, Gucci Mane, and Kendrick Lamar. The following year, Jhene met with No I.D- who is a record producer and was the vice president of A&R at Def Jam- and was signed to his label. From there, the new team released the track ‘3:16AM’, which would become the first single on her debut EP, ‘Sail Out’. The EP was released on November 12, 2013. The EP was critically acclaimed and Jhene was praised for her vocals. In 2014, Jhene performed the song ‘From Time’ alongside Drake who was featured on the song, she later announced that she would be releasing her first studio album. The album was highly anticipated considering Drake was on her first track and received positive reviews once it was released for its production and lyrical content. In 2017, Jhene released her second album ‘Trip’, and her third album, ‘Chilombo’ was released in 2020. Jhene has been nominated for six Grammy awards and has won several other awards.
“You have to realize that you are everything and more just on your own.” – Jhene Aiko
Healing in Music
In 2020, Jhene released her third studio album ‘Chilombo’ and accompanied each track with singing bowls. Singing bowls are made from crystals and produce tones meant to resonate with listeners at a cellular level and taps into different chakras of the body. Jhene wanted ‘Chilombo’ to be an album full of sound healing and therapeutic vibes for all who listen. She has been learning about sound healing for the majority of her life and she practices and studies with Jeralyn Glass, a well-known musician and sound healer. Jhene struggled with substance abuse from the time she was a teenager up until she was in her mid-twenties. She had experienced a few traumatic events in her life, including the death of her brother whom she was very close too, and was struggling to heal internally from all the pain. After using weed and alcohol to self-meditate, Jhene decided to look for another avenue of healing and came across sound healing. As soon as she started the practice, she stated that she felt an inner peace that she had not felt in years. Once Jhene began to understand the true healing in using sound bowls, she decided to implement this practice into her music to try and help others. Anyone who listens to Jhene’s vocals, will probably testify that they could feel the peace through their headphones. Her angelic voice just captures the listener and forces them to really listen to what she is talking about. Jhene’s lyrics are usually about self-healing, love, finding peace, and pursuing passions.
I started listening to Jhene Aiko when I was in 8th grade. Shortly after I found her music, my life began to flip upside down. My home life was very rocky, which was causing me to act out in school. For the first time in my life, I was experiencing emotions that I did not know how to handle. I was sad all the time and could feel my personality beginning to shift. Around the same time, I came across a song by Jhene entitled, ‘W.A.Y.S.’, which stands for Why Arent You Smiling. I listened to that song every single day, multiple times. Jhene literally reminded me that through it all, I still needed to find a reason to smile. I say often that song was one of the reason why I was able to get out of the deep funk I was in. Over the years, Jhene has released other music that has spoke to my soul and helped me through rough times. Anytime I feel stressed I put on a song from her ‘Chilombo’ album and let the singing bowls send me peace.
Creating a New Style
Once Jhene realized that she wanted to mix singing bowls into her music style, she had to figure out how to do that. It was very challenging trying to figure out the logistics of recording and incorporating the singing bowls into standard R&B instrumentation. Jhene had to hire a specialized engineer to join her team in Hawaii while she was recording ‘Chilombo’. The engineer oversaw handling the bowls and making sure the four custom microphones were properly connected. The original idea for the album was to pair each song with a chakra. However, once Jhene surpassed seven songs, she decided to make the key to each song match up with a specific chakra sound. What Jhene and her engineers did had never been done before. She created a new sound for R&B music.
- BET Her Awards (2014)- The Worst
- Soul Train Music Award (2015)- Best Collaboration
- NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Album (2020) – Chilombo
- Nominated for six Grammy’s
After releasing her second album, ‘Trip’, Jhene journeyed out on a mission to encourage young teens to get more involved in reading and writing through her #PennyPens Campaign. Jhene was always passionate about writing and wanted to use her platform to encourage younger people to take writing and reading more serious. In 2017, Jhene used her platform to create a foundation called WAYS. WAYS stands for “why aren’t you smiling”, which is a term Jhene’s late brother Miyagi would say during his fight with cancer. Unfortunately, her brother did not survive the battle, but his legacy has stayed with Jhene and has prompted her to raise money for other young people fighting cancer.
- Frank Ocean
- Victoria Monet
- Kendrick Lamar
- Kid Cudi
Jhene continues to use her platform to make a difference this world. She still practices sound healing and has recently released an ‘NPR Tiny Desk Concert’ featuring the singing bowls. Jhene has a bright future ahead of her and we are excited to see what’s next.
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Lamarre, Carl. “Jhene Aiko Launches WAYS Foundation, Donates $15,000 to 5-Year-Old Battling Leukemia: Exclusive.” Billboard, 29 Dec. 2017, www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/8084974/jhene-aiko-ways-foundation-exclusive.
Lamarre, Carl. “Why Jhene Aiko Believes Her New Album ‘Is An Eruption’.” Billboard, 6 Mar. 2020, www.billboard.com/articles/columns/hip-hop/9324139/jhene-aiko-new-album-chilombo-interview.
TheFamousPeople, Editors. “Who Is Jhené Aiko? Everything You Need to Know.” Jhene Aiko Biography – Facts, Childhood, Family Life & Achievements of Singer., 2020, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/jhen-aiko-14805.php#:~:text=Childhood%20%26%20Early%20Life&text=She%20was%20raised%20in%20a,half%2DJapanese%20and%20Spanish%20descent.
Weiner, Natalie. “With Singing Bowls for Your Chakras and Slinky R&B, Jhené Aiko Wants to Heal You.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 10 Dec. 2020, www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/music/story/2020-12-10/jhene-aiko-chilombo-grammys-2021.
Xu, Ying. “Jhene Aiko Integrates Sound Healing with R&B.” Old Gold & Black, 2021, wfuogb.com/12226/life/jhene-aiko-integrates-sound-healing-with-rb/.