You may have heard her sultry voice in radio jingles for Virginia Lottery, United Way, and more. She’s starred in stage roles, written almost 100 songs, recorded two CD’s, and is releasing a third next month.
Yet Petersburg resident Jamela Bullock ultimately hopes to combine the healing powers of physical touch and music and feels most at home as a certified professional massage therapist. She is committed to carving her unique creative and professional niche by capitalizing on diverse talents.
Jamela was born in Germany, where her father, David, served in the Army. Before she was five, her family, which includes brothers David Jr. and Lekema, moved to Fort Lee. Her mother Emily was a professional singer and had been signed to a German label. Music surrounded Jamela from birth. But once in Virginia, Emily became very involved in church. Jamela remembers, “We weren’t even allowed to listen to music unless it was gospel music. No MTV, no BET.”
All the while, Jamela played guitar and wrote songs. “But then I kind of got rebellious, so I would sneak and listen to conscious rap,” she admits. “The older I got, I was really absorbed into beats.”
She earned her Associate’s degree at Richard Bland College, and studied creative writing and music at a college in Alabama. In 2005, back in Richmond, she released “Wonderfully Flawed,” and opened for hip-hop artist and actor, Common. Live performance has always been central to Jamela’s self-expression. Today she performs at least twice a week. You may catch her at “Say Word” on Wednesdays at Tea-Co near VCU; in Shockoe Bottom at Big Daddy’s with Lyric Ave; and at Tropical Soul in Jackson Ward, where she often performs with the band Chicken Grease. Her last release, a self-titled EP produced by Terence Thompson and Shawn Peterson, came two years ago.
But with the New Year, arrives a CD. “I’ve been waiting on this project for a long time,” Jamela says. “It’s going to be a nice combination of ballads and some up tempo tracks.” Likely to be titled “Mama’s House,” it was recorded at Richmond studio Da Spot, and appropriately features a track recorded with her mother. A release party is planned at Richmond’s eclectic boutique, House of Lukaya.
Jamela’s songwriting combines meaningful lyrics with a musical foundation that lends itself to potent live shows. “The new band that I am working with is called the Blacktastics,” she says. The Blacktastics feature one instrument not often seen in popular music; electric cello, played by musician Sister Free. Jamela describes meeting Sister Free a few years ago at Happily Natural Day, a grassroots arts and culture festival. “All these years have passed and we decided that we wanted to work together. It’s just crazy about the connections that you make. They come back around. Timing is everything.”
This spring, Jamela and the Blacktastics will be heading out on a tour she is booking herself. “I think there are a lot of different avenues for music. When people hear my name, I really want them to know that they’re really going to hear something powerful and meaningful and creative. I don’t want to put myself in a box, or for it to be the same every time you see me. It’s going to be positive, but I may want to do a German bass track. I may want to do a straight gospel song.”
Gospel? From the woman who sneaked away to listen to hip hop? “I’m not necessarily a religious person, but I’m very much a spiritual person.”
For many years, Jamela admits that she “denounced” strict religion. “I ended up feeling really kind of lost. That was what I grew up with and that was real for me. Now I have my own variation and spin on religion. I believe we can all speak to God and God can speak to us. We all have our own personal relationship with God.”
Emphasizing balance, Jamela says, “What feels good, what is good, and what looks good, those are all things that we struggle with. When you can line those things up, you can really be an effective person. I’d really like to do music and massage because I’m really interested in both very equally. I’ve been singing for so long. But for some reason, when I do massage, I’m so at peace. I really want to set up a healing type of place to get yourself in tune – a place of relaxation where you can hear what you need to hear, and block out the madness of the world.”
She’s got ambitious goals, and plenty of them. But Jamela is confident. “I think I can incorporate all those things together.” She continues to act in local theatre, and will soon appear at the Henrico Theatre for “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.” She recently starred in Redemption Productions’ “Lost Boys,” portraying a singer torn between two loves.
Art imitating life? Jamela says no. For several years, she dated another musician and she admits, “When the relationship was going well, it was good. But when it wasn’t going well, it really affected the music. It’s definitely been a learning experience for me not to mix business with pleasure. I’ve got a really nice circle of friends around me now. We have a common goal: to move forward in our talent. You only have a small window to give people the essence of who you are.”
Although she loves Richmond, Jamela is looking around for where she can best realize her goals. When the time comes, she’ll make her move. “I like change,” she says. “I’m always moving everything around in my room, and in my house.”
But one thing won’t change: “Music is not a hobby. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, music is always in my head and my heart. The only thing I’m worried about is I don’t want people to try and make me something that I’m not.”
Written by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Photographed by Thomas Roberts, www.TRPhotoz.vze.com
Makeup by Ayonna Draggs, www.BeautyByAyonna.com