October 21st, 2014 Last Updated on: October 21st, 2014
Fancy Shawl Dancer Jessa Calderon celebrates her Native heritage at Powwows. This Tongva/Chumash/Mexica entertainer is also a talented singer/songwriter/rapper. She shares her love of music, traditional culture and the latest on her new CD with Powwows.com!
Q) Great to visit with you! Start us off with the basics, please?
A) Haku Haku. Thank you. As I am sure you have gathered by now my name is Jessa Calderon. I am the proud daughter of Joe and Tina Calderon. The tribes that I represent are Tongva, Chumash and Mexica. I am a mother to a beautiful little boy named Honor Alsukush. I am a massage therapist, singer, song writer, rapper, fancy shawl dancer amongst many other things that I am very proud of.
Q) You are definitely multi-talented! What do you think led you to your love for music?
A) The love for music runs in my veins. Everyone in my family is somehow involved in some form of music. My parents for instance, both sing on Northern traditional drums. For me, music is as necessary as food. I began writing poetry around the age of 11. By age 12 my poetry began to turn into raps. By age 13 I spit my first flow in front of a circle of guys who were taking turns busting rhymes. That was my first real music high. It was thrilling to bust something that actually sounded good plus receive props from a crowd of guys. Eventually I would go on to work with other rap artists in the game including my late brother Steven who went by Custom Rhymes. I took many breaks for many different reasons. When my brother past away, I felt as though I might put the microphone down for good. I would play my old songs for my son. He became my greatest fan. When my son was about two years old, he constantly asked me to sing to him and play my songs over and over. He brought me back to the love of creating music that I always had deep within. I began to write again. I started meeting people who made beats. A few beats were given to me. That was the start to making my album. It started off as a “just for fun” kind of thing. Until of course James Morales from Native Hoop Magazine found me. He pushed me to set a date for the completion of my album. The date by the way is set for November 2014 so be on the lookout for it. The album will be titled “Vision Of Loveliness”. That’s actually what my dad called me growing up. I thought it would sound good as an album title.
Q) As you record your new CD, what are some of the musical memories that motivate you?
A) Around age 14 my performances were usually at random. By being around my brother Steven and other hip hop heads. Whether at a backyard party or just a big crowd, usually someone would call me out and I had to bust out with something. I have shared the stage with many amazing talents throughout the years.
Aside from music, I definitely believe my son to be my greatest accomplishment. He says he’s going to grow up to be a ball player. A Los Angeles Dodger to be exact. I have him playing t-ball for now. It was also a great accomplishment for me to receive a high school diploma, followed by a massage therapy certificate. Massage therapy has been a very big part of my life. I have as much passion for massage as I do for music. I believe them both to be healing to those I touch/reach.
Q) Our Native ways are healing, too! How do you walk in your culture and traditions?
A) Although my parents raised us in the native way, I spent much of my childhood not caring or embracing my heritage as I should have. I danced fancy shawl from age 6 to 13. I then took a long break. I spent a lot of time doing careless stupid things and hanging out with people who were just as “lost” as I was. I learned some great lessons along that path however. When I became pregnant I realized how important family is. I began to get closer to my parents. I started to join them when they would attend the bird singing and dancing events. I felt a pull toward this lifestyle. I thought it to be necessary to have my son grow up in this scene because it is a part of who we are. I have made a song for the bird singers. I have written a few songs that mention the native way of life that I have experienced.
I believe it is important for us to follow our teachings as much as possible. Especially respect. I cannot stress that one enough. We must respect everybody and everything. It is lack of respect for ourselves, each other and nature that has a chunk of the world living as blindly and sad as they are. I was raised to give thanks for everything you have. I was taught to acknowledge and give thanks as well as leave an offering to the plants before you pick them. We also do the same with the water before we take or enter any. It makes sense to me. Give in order to receive. When you acknowledge and speak to the plants they actually grow more abundantly. Just like us, they have life. When we live with love in our hearts, when we share our love with all we encounter, it creates a positive that is necessary to live with. Our ancestors understood that. I believe that when the westernized ways of living were forced on us. It dumbed down society and created a great negative. I am pleased to see many eyes being opened today. I hope that my music will open many more eyes. I hope that it helps people to understand that in so many ways they are not alone. I hope my music can bring happiness and healing to those who listen.
Q) What a wonderful outlook! As a Mom and as a Musician,how do you hope to bring happiness and healing to our precious Native Youth?
A) I am sure that like me, most youth will find themselves exploring other paths some time in their lives. That’s okay. We are all here to explore and experience. I would just say be sure to take it all in and embrace any and every experience, including the bad ones. They are what will help you to grow as a person. I hope that like me, you realize how important family, culture and traditions really are. We have a responsibility to keep our Native ways alive and teach them to the following generations. I hope that like me, you will find your way back. More so, that you find yourself walking the red road. I must admit that there was a time I never thought I could spend a day sober. Now that I have spent years sober, I am now at my happiest in life. I come to realize that drugs or alcohol don’t really help you cope with anything. They will actually cause you to hide from issues and loved ones. Any problem you may have, I encourage you to face it. Deal with it. We all have problems. It is how we deal with them that make all the difference.
Q) As you reflect on the problems you have endured, what kind of lessons did you learn from them?
A) I could write a book on this subject. I won’t get onto much detail. However, it is pain and personal issues that have helped me to be a better writer. Because of the many obstacles I have faced, it is easy for others to relate to me. I have songs that talk about struggles of all sorts. I notice that’s what captures my audience’s attention the most. I have actually had people cry to me and explain that they could relate to a certain song that I sang. Often they will tell me about their experience. I enjoy the feeling of knowing that I have touched somebody with my words. One really big obstacle for me has been overcoming fear. I still find myself battling that one at times. I have the understanding that fear is a normal feeling. It is something that needs to be faced. Facing it is the only way to discover there was nothing to have feared in the first place. As far as enjoying my success, I haven’t really been able to sit back and enjoy it much. I have been too busy creating it still. I have come a long ways, yes. But I have a long ways to go. I do however give thanks daily for the constant success’ I have and continue to achieve.
Q) What do you credit as the secret to your success?
A) Be humble. Know you are great. But never think that you are better than any or everyone. The truth is there will always be someone better than us who can take our place in a heartbeat. Do what you love because you love it. Don’t do it because you think you will become rich and famous. Many people won’t make it that far. I have personally come to find that the abuse of drugs and alcohol and being in abusive relationships are the most destructive. They will hold you back and keep you so far from your dreams.
Q)Good words! As others follow your example, who are some of your musical role models?
A) My all-time favorite musician is my brother Gilbert. He plays the guitar and sings. He is the person who brought my talents to the surface. He taught me how to sing and read. I also grew up loving Carlos Santana. He plays the guitar just as beautifully as my brother. I could recall wanting to be a lot like Selena Quintanilla Tupac and Left eye from TLC. I wanted to sing like an angel and rap like one too.
Q) What do you think will help others to succeed in music as you have?
A) Do your homework. College is more important than you think in order to get far in this industry. It is very important to understand business. Be open to criticism. You will hear a lot of it. Don’t let it get you angry or hurt you. Sometimes it will help you if you really listen and try to apply what was said to your work or style. Don’t change it all up though because of what others say. Sometimes they are simply speaking out of envy. Don’t be afraid to venture out or meet new people.
Many people in the industry will try to use you. Don’t let that happen. It is very important to protect yourself. Copyright your work. Yes you have to pay for it. It is worth the investment. That says you own the rights to the lyrics that you wrote. If someone tried to steal them or sue you, you will have the proof in legal documentation. Also, register with BMI or ASCAP. They will ensure that you get paid for any of your music being sold or played.
Q) What would you like us to know that we don't already know about you?
A) I have an amazing group of people backing me up. You may not see them all. But they’re there, from my family to friends. I have so many people that are some way helping me along the road to success. I am grateful to each and every one of them.
Q) Thanks so much for sharing with us. We sure do appreciate you!
A) Thank You!
Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture »