Midlands based artist and producer, Javina Greene, had a difficult start to her life but is now using her experiences to help others build their lives through music. She spoke to the founder of Cactus City Studio, Vanessa Threadgold about her safe space project she's building in the Midlands.
Picture: Javina Greene
CONTENT WARNING: The following article contains references to sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual exploitation and drugs.
In this article, I speak to Javina Greene, a spoken word artist, singer, songwriter and producer. Javina is also the founder of “Females About Music” (FAM) - which is a grassroots safe space project launching this month in the Midlands, with community sessions starting next year.
Females About Music, co-founded with Precious, a rapper and producer, and Sanna, a producer and singer/songwriter, also aims to create a safe space recording studio in the Midlands.
Javina Greene - possibly one of the most inspiring people I have ever been privileged enough to speak to. Javina had reached out to us via Cactus City’s instagram page. The nature of the message left me mindful that I didn’t want the responsibility of replying to fall on one of the social media team, but I also did not want the message to go unanswered, so I responded personally. We arranged a video call, of which I wasn’t sure where the conversation would go.
Javina opened our conversation by saying “I’ve had a really difficult life”.
I inhaled sharply. I’d already left a couple of hours free after our meeting just in case I needed to decompress from what we might talk about. I am used to having really tough conversations in the music industry, it’s become such a core part of my role and usually, that would prepare me to be emotionally drained for the rest of the day. The emotional labour women do for each other within the industry is great, albeit a stark necessity, often unpaid, and can often leave us with feelings of wanting to leave the industry altogether.
What happened next was not the emotionally draining conversation I geared myself up for. Despite the content, the conversation left me with a renewed sense of energy for the work we do. Javina has done a lot of work to become the positive advocate she is today. Whilst these things are relative, and we all go through hardships, objectively what Javina has gone through is someone who had a truly difficult life, however, with the support of collective agencies, she was able to find space to work through very difficult circumstances to a position where she can now support others.
Javina explained how she had gotten into an abusive relationship that spiralled into a life of being exploited, physically abused and addicted to drugs. That life left her alienated and abandoned by family, understandably so, however difficult that may be to accept.
The finer details of her past life aren’t something I will go into. It’s not important. It’s graphic, and with or without the consent to tell someone’s story it can feel like clickbait, and sensationalism. Something I’m vehemently against.
What matters is that Javina was able to get out, and found help. Javina described the moment she was able to escape. Her boyfriend at the time and his friend accused her of stealing drugs. Her then boyfriend uttered the words “we’ll talk care of you in a minute”. Javina knew she was in a really dangerous position - and had thoughts that maybe death would be an escape. She was disoriented, had not been using for a few days so physically struggling and nearly broken, but something in her knew she didn’t want to die that way. She saw her brother’s face, saw a gap in the door, which was slightly ajar, she made a run for it, escaped to a relative who asked another relative to take her in whilst she tried desperately to get a place in a chronically underfunded system of support for female victims of male violence.
This wasn’t the first time Javina had tried to get help - some members of her family disbelieved she had tried at all. Her family had done everything they could to help her in the midst of her issues. She had to prove to them she had engaged with the services before they would begin to lend their own support again.
Javina was offered a place at a refuge, and on the other side of the road she is now able to support others. Through working with women’s agencies, she learned more about the experience she had been through, and was able to stop taking on the blame for things that happened to her.
Javina began working in a support role, helping those who have gone through experiences of domestic violence. Javina is exceptionally knowledgeable and skilled in giving others the tools to work through emotions, thoughts, reactions and she clearly explains techniques. She does so without judgement or shame. She has an overwhelming drive for community, and wants to help women build their skills, whatever they may be, in safe environments.
"I was able to buy my own computer, where I used Garageband to develop my track ‘No More Silence’. That song ignited something within me."
Through this job she was able to get financially to a more stable position and began to find music was cathartic for her. “I was able to buy my own computer, where I used Garageband to develop my track ‘No More Silence’. That song ignited something within me. I felt my songs could inspire other women, give awareness to communities and create a safe space for someone to ask for help. To give encouragement for others to follow their dreams and seek a better future.”
As her journey progressed, she decided to move into further education, to study the thing that made her feel alive - music. However, as many of us know, the music industry is often exploitative in nature.
Many of us share that same love Javina has for music, its healing qualities, the strong emotions it evokes. It’s what keeps many of us in the industry when things get tough. However, we also share a tough relationship with the industry itself.
At Cactus City we often speak about starting at the root cause of problems we see, which is one of the reasons why the recording studio is the place we focussed on. Being an early barrier to the careers of many women, and a place lots of us have had horrendous experiences. However, we know and hear of many misogynistic experiences women have in education too. We also do know how this is changing, and we are receiving many more positive reports of music education experiences than we have in the past, but it doesn’t mean that the dinosaurs who were running the music industry in the 80s and before don’t still have influence in the education space with women still underrepresented in engineering, boardrooms, composing and radio.
“As women, we move or speak with safety in mind”
Those educational experiences began to become triggering for Javina. Javina asked to be inducted to the recording studio, so she didn’t need to be accompanied in the space. She had been recording at home using a basic DAW and set up, and felt she was ready to up skill and move into a more professional space. That request was denied. She booked a session, one hour. During that hour multiple male “artists” came in to play their songs. Her session was reduced to 15 minutes, and her motivation to work reduced to nothing. She felt she was treated differently in the recording studio space because she was a woman, dismissed, ignored. Unvalued.
PTSD is complex, it can be difficult to explain why or how things might trigger us.
Not wanting to go through this again, she pushed again to do her induction so she was able to use the studio without the need for an engineer to be there. She then started running sessions for women, being mindful about people hanging around outside of the studio, and paying to safety at all times.
“As women, we move or speak with safety in mind” - she noted.
We wrapped up our conversation, 90 minutes after the time the meeting was initially scheduled to end (I was grateful for the spare two hours I allowed myself at this point), with a deep dive into some of Javina’s intellectual property concerns, and other legal issues. One thing that FAM care about, is not only the protection of women, but the protection of their rights and ownership of their work.
She was so excited to speak to her co-founders about the things we discussed. She thanked me for helping her to articulate things that she felt she couldn’t - despite being one of the most articulate people I have ever encountered.
We aren’t sad, we aren’t even angry most of the time. We are excited about change and about helping each other.
At a time when I thought I would not be able to push through much longer, she has inspired me.
Javina was a breath of fresh air. She was excited that Females About Music were not the only ones trying to create safer spaces in music. The confirmation that they aren’t the only ones working to make spaces safer, and that others know it’s needed provided some confidence in a ruthless environment.
In this arena, funding is difficult to access. It makes the work hard, and sometimes feel thankless. Thankfully everyone on our team gets paid, aside from me. I have personally funded a lot of our work, not always knowing where to access the funding, or not always being confident enough to seek it knowing that women, and especially women of colour, are least likely to get funding by a long margin. The lack of funding is felt by those who need the help most. One written response to the government inquiry into misogyny in music, asking about where help can be found, said there was no help available, and that all there was is a bunch of “sad women’s groups..”
We aren’t sad, we aren’t even angry most of the time. We are excited about change and about helping each other. I do appreciate the sentiment though.
However, although we may present a polished look from the outside, we are all imperfect beings, often using humour and laughter to get us through the trauma. Javina and I shared a laugh over this.
“Can we get rid of the peace and love stuff, and just have a coffee and rant!” she laughed.
Salli and I typically reach for a glass or wine, or a margarita. We don’t judge each other for it. It’s not perfect but it gets us through.
Javina is still healing. On her instagram she explains the reasons for why her skin has scarring, and talks about how the abuse started and spiralled. She’s kind, raw, direct. Javina reminds me of the reasons we started the Cactus City project in the first place. And of the reasons we continue to do what we do. Despite our business goals and achievements I will always say don’t forget about the grass roots of this. If we lose touch with that we lose everything. Javina is currently being supported by the Inspired Leadership Foundation and I Know A Woman.
Females About Music is currently fundraising for a music video for the song “No More Silence” and launch - which aims to showcase a number of different female creative talents.
You can donate to Females About Music, via the GoFundMe. The GoFundMe has a comprehensive and transparent breakdown of where the funding will be spent.
Javina would like to give special thanks to an inspiring tutor, Joel Harris at ACM Birmingham, for helping her to build confidence during her musical journey.
Javina Greene - Instagram
For a list of resources for help with issues touched on this piece please visit our Resources page.
To donate to Cactus City Studio please visit cactuscity.org/donate