Swedish singer, activist and role-model Janice Kavander has released a powerful cover of the Ainbusk Singer's 1991 track 'Älska Mig', translating to 'Love Me'. After being presented with the opportunity to perform the song live on television, part of Swedish National Day celebrations, Janice took it upon herself to record the track, alongside friend and artist Oscar Zia. In the hopes to shed light over the current major civil rights movement occurring across the world, all proceeds from the single will be donated to her chosen organisation, Afripedia, an online community space connecting and celebrating creatives of African-descent. Janice explains the emotional attachment she has with the song, how singing it became more meaningful than ever and openly discusses her experience as a black woman in the music industry.
A: Introduce yourself!
J: My name is Janice, I’m 25 and I’ve been in the music industry for 4 years now. I released my first song in 2016, but previously I toured with many other artists, part of the backing vocals. I usually say I’ve almost done backing vocals for every single Swedish artist! I have a choir background, so I used to, and still do actually,...sing in a gospel choir, which I’ve been doing for around 10 years. I have a hard time letting it go!
A: When was your big breakthrough?
J: I think if you ask different people you’ll get different answers. I released my first three singles independently, my first song was actually listed on P3 (A Swedish radio station) as one of the best songs of 2016. I found this funny because my manager and I went to talk to labels and everyone said about my music that "they don't think it's for the Swedish audience”, that was fine because I wanted to go international. Of course it would’ve been nice to have my home country enjoy my music, so that’s why I chose to release independently.
And I mean...it went very well here. I was grateful to play in my hometown and at festivals in Sweden. I say that my single ‘Queen’ that I released in 2017 was not necessarily my big break but a good moment in my career, it was also the year I was nominated for a Swedish Grammy.
A: What was the thought process behind choosing the song ‘Älska Mig’?
J: In January I got a question from SVT that they were doing a programme on Swedish national day, where they were doing a celebration of Swedish classics, and they wanted relevant artists to sing them. When choosing the track I was thinking how I love to sing in Swedish but never make music in it. I ended up choosing a classic song, ‘Älska Mig’ from 1991 by Ainbusk singers. I’ve loved this song since I was a little kid, I remember when I heard it for the first time, it was the first time I actually got chills from music. That song has been with me for quite sometime and with all that’s been happening in the world, with the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the song became even more meaningful to me. I felt like there were days where I didn’t have any words. All my energy, all my force was basically taken, so when I sang the song I was like ‘shit this really hit me’. I was performing it with a great artist and friend of mine, Oscar Zia, and we hadn’t sang together before but that day when we sang the song, I can’t even describe it, it was so uplifting but still, it felt like we were screaming.
A: How has your personal experience in the music industry been as a black woman?
J: It’s been hard, actually, ‘cause I mean, even though people don’t really wanna see it or even think it, racism exists everywhere and it exists here in Sweden. I’ve felt like as a black woman and as an artist, I have to be better, I have to be EVEN better, I have to be 10/10 to get the recognition I deserve. I always want to work for what I do and challenge myself but it comes to a point where it feels meaningless because you’re here and you’re shouting and you feel like you're doing the same as everyone else but you don't get the same reaction. When I go on a TV show, I always have to check who is going to do my makeup and hair. There's been endless times where I’ve come to the studio and they don’t even have the colours for makeup and they especially don't have hairstylists experienced in curly hair or afro. It gives you a feeling that you're not even accounted for, that they’re not even thinking about you.
A: How have you been taking care of yourself during this time?
J: I've been hanging out a lot with my family, friends, and with other musicians. Just staying with my community and definitely staying off social media has helped a lot. There was a time when I was getting headaches just because I was on my phone all the time, trying to write, absorb everything whilst trying to stay updated. But I think it’s really important to get offline because it's a traumatic experience in many ways, seeing all these posts and videos all the time. Just reminders that you’re a black person without the same human rights. But I feel a lot better now that I make myself watch TV series totally disconnected to what’s happening in the media.
A: How long did it take you to record the track?
J: So it was a very quick process, I haven’t even registered that it happened. I contacted my friend Mats Sandahl aka MASAKA who is an amazing producer and also part of the black community. I had a strong feeling that I wanted to do something more, even before discussing it with my managers. I was like “I’ve already decided!”. Mats mentioned that he never watches TV but then randomly chose to switch it on one evening and there I was on his screen singing ‘Älska mig’ for SVT, he really felt everything I was feeling so thought why not, let's do this. We got into the studio, Oscar and Mats and I, and we recorded for around three hours and then it got sent off for mixing.
A: What do you want people to take away after hearing the track?
J: I would actually like to leave people with a force of energy, but also understand why I’m even putting it out. There are many people thinking that we ”import ideas from the US” about racism and that’s bullshit. Structural racism is here, in Sweden too. Also, I really hope the black and POC community in Sweden really connect with it, and get strength from the lyrics, because it’s lifted me during this time.
So, I hope to bring some light but I also hope white people who listen to the song will understand it, and that they actually educate themselves and make an effort to have these difficult conversations, and look within themselves too. It’s ‘great’ that you’re posting a black box in solidarity but that’s not nearly enough. Being anti-racist is not political, it’s an act of human rights.
A: Can you tell us about Afripedia?
J: All proceeds will be donated to the organisation Afripedia, who work with creative talents from Sweden and around the world who are of African descent, helping them to create more job opportunities and reach the million-dollar businesses that wouldn’t have been previously possible. I wanted to donate to an organisation where we can actually see where the funds are going. If you listen to the song, you can create a difference and change the future for the better. It’ll be so uplifting for me to follow up and see how the proceeds have created an impact.
A: Were you scared or nervous to release this track?
J: There could be some people who could be strongly against this, but I’ve been more “political” in my own music and interviews, and I’ve got enough backing so no, I’m not scared.
A: How do you feel that the track is was released on Juneteenth?
J: For me it’s quite symbolic because Midsummer is a holy Swedish tradition and falls on that day too. I think people should do more of these types of “projects”, because what we’re really doing is shining a light on what our society looks like. What we see in the media is not close to that. Representation is very needed and yet it is lacking. Sweden is far from just people with blue eyes and blonde hair. I’m a swede, born and raised, and I’m here too. So hopefully people aren’t too busy and spend a minute and listen to the song. I think it’s more important than ever, to take a stand, not just show solidarity, but also take action.
Listen to Älska Mig here.