Kyshona (pronounced Kuh-Shauna) Armstrong began her career as a musical therapist, writing her first songs with the students and inmates under her care. As she began to write independently, she lent “her voice and music to those that feel they have been silenced or forgotten,” making her a unique figure in Nashville’s creative community and songwriting culture. As she explains in a Tedx Nashville talk, her background led her to “abandon the idea of writing to a ‘hook'” and, instead, she “leans into her therapeutic training to write to a mantra.” We look at her work in this week’s Saturday Soundtrack.
Kyshona’s album Listen — released in 2020 — blends “roots, rock, R&B, and folk with lyrical prowess to uplift the marginalized…It’s for every silent scream, every heavy load, every fearful thought, and the simmering sense of anger that the silenced, the lost, and the forgotten try to hide from the world.”
The title track makes it clear where her sentiments lie.
“Why you gotta interrupt / When I’m done talking / I need you to keep it shut / This ain’t up for discussion...
I’m standing right in front of you / Trying to tell you my truth / The only thing I ask of you / Is listen.”
In describing her thoughts about the album, she told an interviewer,
“What I tried to set forth in this album is just: Listen. From every corner that you look at it, we’re all just screaming at each other. Nobody’s really listening. The thing about ‘Listen.’ is that it’s a whole sentence. It’s the most difficult thing to do. When we’re listening to someone share their story we automatically want to relate to them, ‘I have a story similar to that!’ Or, ‘I know what I can do to help them!’ That takes us out the moment with another person.“
An early album from 2010 — Home Again — included the song Time, performed here live in 2012. It shows the promise of this young “music therapist gone rogue.”
Kyshona…has a natural gift for using music to tap into emotion. I first explored her music through The Bluegrass Situation. I wanted to know more when I read,
“Everyone is making political records. Everyone is making albums that speak to ‘this moment.’ Too few of them are making music that speaks to the people who inhabit this moment.“
Burdens Down — included here in a powerful live version — is from the 2017 album The Ride 2.0. “I’ve hit rock bottom…but I’m gonna take that rock / Throw it in the river / And lay my burdens down.”
Another song from the Listen album is Fallen People. She writes about it in the liner notes to the music video,
“In a time when we are all so divided, this song was written as a reminder that each and every one of us has an obstacle we’re trying to overcome, an emotional wound we are living with and a struggle that we’re walking with everyday. THAT is where we can all be united… in the hurting.“
Over the last few years, Kyshona has shared the stage with a host of top-flight performers. I especially enjoy her collaboration — alongside Adia Victoria*, Allison Russell, and Kam Franklin — with the talented alt-country singer Margo Price in this spell-binding version of Hey Child from Price’s That’s How Rumors Get Started. When you go past the mass market in Nashville, you will discover some unexpected performances.
Near the end of her interview “The gospel according to Kyshona” in The Bluegrass Situation, she says the following:
“I have faith in a higher power. That’s what gets me through. But I also know that that’s not how everybody comes at life. Not everybody has the foundation that I do. I’m just here to let people know: I see you. You’re not alone. I know it doesn’t feel good right now, but somebody is out here. You might not even know them, but they get it. And let someone else know that you see them, too.“
We could all do better at letting someone else know that we see them.
More to come…
Image: Cover of Kyshona CD “The Ride 2.0” credit Kyshona.com
*Look for a Adia Victoria Soundtrack in October.