Interview with Rev. Yolanda aka Roger Anthony Mapes, a versatile artist, activist and spiritual person

"Music reflects that process. Music is Inspiration itself. It is The Universal Life Force Energy expressing Itself as Music through me."

Rev. Yolanda: Divine Creative Impulse

Rev. Yolanda aka Roger Anthony Mapes is an accomplished, award-winning singer/songwriter, performance artist, activist and spiritual person. Roger was born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama –The Hit Recording Capital of The World. He joined his first band, Stained Glass Bluegrass, when he was only 17 years old. At age 28 Roger moved to New York City and began exploring theater and performance art. During this exploration he spent some time living in the Radical Faerie Community in Vermont. It was during this time that Yolanda was born (1993)! Yolanda developed a loyal following in Vermont with his/her original musical blend of rock, pop, country and jazz with her band Yolanda & The Plastic Family. They rocked the downtown scene in NYC celebrating the release of his first CD Yolanda & The Plastic Family.

Rev. Roger Anthony “Yolanda” Mapes was inducted into the GLBT Hall of Fame for Activism, Art Excellence and Community Awareness in 2005. It was around this time that Roger/Yolanda began a spiritual journey which led him/her to One Spirit Interfaith Seminary where s/he became Rev. Yolanda, an ordained Interfaith Minister in June of 2011. Rev. Yolanda’s Old Time Gospel Hour -the live, autobiographical Gospel Music show was realized in January of 2012 and the release of yet another album “Country” and “Gospel Kirtan” followed shortly thereafter. Rev. Yolanda has also been seen on “Family Stories” for the Discovery Channel playing Vivian Wheeler (the current Guiness Book of World Record-holder for bearded lady), and a feature film about his/her life by director Ike Allen is set to be released in early 2014. Rev. Yolanda is an eccentric and ecstatic performer with a southern rock, country gospel style. He brings his message of Non Duality into every event by merging GLBT and Mainstream Popular Culture with Integrated Spirituality. With a soulful voice, a message of oneness, great costumes, and a wicked sense of humor, his shows and CDs emphasize love, beautiful melodies, interesting stories, and a bit of inspiration. Roger/Yolanda is also a fine artist, who paints abstract expressionist paintings. His/Her paintings on canvas and clothing are in private collections all over the world.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

I am the cause of my mood according to my thoughts. Music reflects that process. Music is Inspiration itself. It is The Universal Life Force Energy expressing Itself as Music through me.

Do you know why the people write songs and plays music? 

As a songwriter myself- I write and sing and play music because I must...it is my Path in this life to do so.

"My dream is to travel the world and to sing for thousands of people as an ambassador of good will to all living beings."

How started the thought the idea of Rev. Yolanda? 

Rev. Yolanda is not a character I created for stage. Rev. Yolanda is totally me in full self expression. My entire name is Rev. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes. I am a legal ordained Interfaith Minister and was ordained with my full name. I prefer to be called Rev. Yolanda whether I am dressed in “women's clothes” or not. I consider “Rev. Yolanda” my sacred name...somewhat like when a person receives a sacred name from their Guru or Teacher to symbolize their “awakening” into a committed Spiritual path. I took on the name Yolanda 20 years ago when I realized I was a person of “Transcendent Gender” that loves to wear what are considered to be “women's clothes”. In 1994, I began to perform in “women's clothes” with my rock and roll band The Plastic Family. In 2009 I left Rock and Roll and went to Interfaith Seminary because I felt called to music ministry and Country Gospel Music. I added the title “Rev.” to my name Yolanda, when I graduated from seminary in 2011.

What characterize the philosophy of Rev. Yolanda?

To live my life fully committed to love and forgiveness as a daily spiritual practice.

How can be the arts to crush the shackles of the human spirit and mind?

The Arts cannot relieve anyone of their suffering. That can only be done by the individual themselves in the private inner sanctuary of their heart as they listen for the Voice of Universal Love. After one realizes their own personal connection to The Divine... after the realization of how deeply they are loved by Life itself... then one begins to see how to deal with their own suffering and the suffering of others. It is an individual, personal path. That path finds many ways to express its Joy of Life and The Arts are one of those ways. Political Activism can also be one of those ways.. along with Education, or Spiritual Leadership, Parenting, Human Services.... and so on. 

What was the relation between music, visual art and activism?

I believe that all artistic expression comes from the heart and soul of the artist expressing it...therefore the relationship between art and activism depends on whether the artist is an activist or not.

"Rev. Yolanda is not a character I created for stage. Rev. Yolanda is totally me in full self expression."

How we can change the mind of people?

We cannot change anyone's mind. We can, however, be the example of what we want to see more of in the world. Through the example of living our personal lives in a powerfully authentic way -some people will change their minds and go in the same direction we are going.

What would be your first decisions as minister of education?

To make each child go home with the parents of another child in their class and live as that child lives for a month. Then keep swapping children and families until everyone in the class had an opportunity to live with each parent for a month. I would assign each student to keep a daily journal. After all the children had this experience with each other's family, I would have them all come back to class and write about their experiences.

What are your hopes and fears for the future?

In all honesty, I don't entertain hopes and fears. I make a commitment to myself to understand myself and others as best I can. I make a daily habit of the spiritual practice of love and forgiveness and I let things be exactly as they are. In this way, I find that my life is more joyous than I could ever hope for and I don't fear my fellow humans because I know that I am sustained by the flow of life and the love of God.

What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to the new generation?

KNOW THYSELF

"Music and Visual Art is…an expression of The Divine Creative Impulse."

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?

My husband Rev. Glen Ganaway makes me laugh every single day. He is my personal guru, teacher and goofball. We laugh and sing together and play like little kids.

I have become very emotional, lately, over the song HAPPY by Pharrell Williams. Its the most perfect song ever and I cry with joy whenever I hear it. In fact I am performing it in my next show on March 16 in NYC.

Some music styles can be fads but the Gospel, Blues and Jazz is always with us. Why do think that is?

Because they speak to the “everyman” in ways that are easily understood. These musical styles celebrate life on life's terms with hope for a better tomorrow. These musical styles have a way of helping us heal our personal pain.

Which incident of music history you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting with you?

The day that The Rolling Stones came to my hometown Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at FAME Studios.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

There's no particular geographic location I want to go-I simply want to be onstage singing for thousands of people. I don't care where that happens just as long as its a joyous celebration of LOVE with me singing for thousands of people. 

Why did you think that the Muscle Shoals sound continued to generate such a devoted following?

It was and still is a successful mixture of Black and White Culture. Funky soulful rhythms, feelings, lyrics, spirituality, and talent that does not segregate but,instead, brings people together... and it was developed during the Civil Rights movement in the South.. a volatile racial time in America.

"I believe that all artistic expression comes from the heart and soul of the artist expressing it...therefore the relationship between art and activism depends on whether the artist is an activist or not."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Gospel and Southern Rock?

"Country music is often erroneously thought of as solely the creation of European Americans. However, a great deal of style—and of course, the banjo, a major instrument in most early American folk songs—came from African Americans. One of the reasons country music was created by African Americans, as well as European Americans, is because blacks and whites in rural communities in the south often worked and played together, just as recollected by DeFord Bailey in the PBS documentary, DeFord Bailey: A Legend Lost"-Wikipedia

I think these quotes say it all. Blues, Soul, Country, Black Gospel/White Gospel and Southern Rock all developed as a result of the common Southern poor folks -poor whites and poor blacks who brought their ancestral musical traditions together to develop new forms. In the early 20th century- African musical traditions mixed with Christianity and everyday suffering to create a secular musical response (Blues, Soul, early Rock), and a Spiritual musical response (Black Gospel). Southern white poor folks (NOT the land owners) sometimes worked side by side with Blacks and shared Irish, Celtic, Spanish and Italian musical traditions to create a secular response (Country Music-and later Rock and later Southern Rock) and a Spiritual response (Southern or Country Gospel Music...sometimes called Quartet Music or “White” Gospel or Country Soul). The music that was created was a mixture of African and European cultures and instruments (ex: African banjo-Irish fiddle-Spanish-guitar).

What is your dream and what is your nightmare?

I don't have nightmares.. I truly do not. I have trust in the human race as expressions of The Divine Mind and I believe that there is a bigger picture that we cannot imagine from our small human viewpoint. I believe that the bigger picture is for the good of all life on this planet and that it will unfold the way it is supposed to unfold. We can resist the unfolding or get on board with the flow of Life. The choice is an individual one to make. 

My dream is to travel the world and to sing for thousands of people as an ambassador of good will to all living beings.

Happiness is……

My life exactly as it is now. I do not need anything to change in order to be happy. If I never accomplished a single goal that I have set for myself-I would remain the happiest person alive because I know myself well and I allow Life to flow through me.

"To live my life fully committed to love and forgiveness as a daily spiritual practice."

Music and Visual Art is…

an expression of The Divine Creative Impulse.     

How you would spend a day with Roger Mapes?

First of all -the day would be spent with Rev. Roger Anthony Yolanda Mapes, because I take all of myself with me wherever I go. If you were with me on a typical day, we'd wake up around 9 or so and have a morning meditation with A Course In Miracles lesson for the day. Then I would spend some time on the computer answering email and posting on Facebook. Then I would go to a rehearsal, costume fitting, wig styling, or to facilitate a tarot card reading, counseling session, spiritual gathering, wedding, funeral service, or baby blessing. Depending on the day (usually 2 days of the week) I would go to my art studio and work on my paintings. When I get home-I'll cook a vegan meal for myself and cook some meat for my husband after that we might watch a movie together. On Thursday nights we broadcast a radio show from our home. On Wednesday nights we facilitate our weekly “church” service. On most Sunday nights I perform my show Rev Yolanda's Old time Gospel Hour.

What would you say to Aristophanes?

One of my most famous and notorious costumes was inspired by Lysistrata. The original comedy manipulated gender roles. Besides women acting like men (having political clout), there were men acting like women (all actors were male). The male characters wore large, erect leather phalluses like the one whose absence Lysistrata laments. So I devised a costume that transformed myself into a hermaphrodite creature ...claiming all the emotional power of a woman with the phallic power of a man (mine was 4 ft long and made of foam runner).

What would you like to ask the GOD?

God is not a being somewhere outside of myself sitting on a throne who judges people and awards prizes (like Santa Claus) to those who ask “Him” in the correct way (whatever that is). God is Universal Life Source Energy that flows through all living beings...humans, bugs, animals, plants, stars, space..etc. We are expressions in this world of this Life Force Energy that permeates and animates the universe. There is nothing to “ask” God for. We already have everything we need to create a peaceful loving world for ourselves and others. What I would like to ask humans (as expressions of The Divine) is “are you willing to remember who you really are?”

Rev. Yolanda - Official website

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