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Canadian singer Jully Black sang Canada's National Anthem ahead of the NBA All-Star game between Team Giannis and Team LeBron at the Vivint arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 19.Illustration by Photo Illustration by The Globe and Mail. Source image: AFP/Getty Images

When Toronto-born singer Jully Black sang the Canadian national anthem at the NBA all-star game in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Feb. 19, she changed one key word, singing “our home on native land.” Needless to say, it caused quite a stir, winning her considerable criticism, but even more love from the Indigenous community.

Using her platform to take a bold stance – and make headlines – isn’t new for the entertainer. She last went viral in 2018 while discussing privilege on Canada Reads with fashion maven Jeanne Beker. And in-between standing up for what she believes in, Black is keeping pretty damn busy: Last year, she dropped her seventh album, Three Rocks and a Slingshot, and two years before that, she made her musical-theatre debut playing the lead role in Caroline, Or Change in Toronto. She’s also found time to grow her non-profit, the Jully Black Foundation, which provides educational support for young women in Ontario, and her own fitness community, 100 Strong and Sexy.

Somehow, still, the multihyphenate finds downtime, whether it’s with friends, a glass of wine, or an especially good oxtail bowl. And those are the moments, she says, that have given her the strength and the energy to, well, do it all.

I know you previously chose to no longer sing the anthem after unmarked graves were discovered on the lands of former residential schools. What motivated you to perform it now, and with a change in lyrics?

When I was on the shortlist to do the anthem for the Raptors playoffs, I was wrestling with that – wondering, if they do call me, what do I do? I was thinking about my career, but I was also thinking about truth and integrity. And then, when it didn’t happen, I was disappointed.

When it came around to the all-star game, it was right after Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show. I also thought of Beyonce’s Super Bowl moment a few years before. And here’s Jully, with an opportunity to impact change. I knew that I wanted to take the light off of me.

This one-word change, I was rehearsing it at home – I felt something I can’t even put into words. But I also didn’t want it to be gimmicky. So I reached out to two of my Indigenous friends. If they had said this won’t fly, I wouldn’t have done it. But to feel their energy, I felt the shift from ally to accomplice. It was time for me to walk my talk, and the rest is history.

How have the reactions made you feel?

There’s been more support than backlash. I’m happy it’s become a conversation. If everybody was praising this, I’d think something’s fishy.

For those who are so angry, I would love to just ask them, why are you so mad? What’s living inside of you that needs to be healed? How privileged are you that you feel that you can say, “This is not Indigenous land.” That’s a problem to me, especially as a first-generation Canadian born to Jamaican parents who migrated to Canada and settled.

Why do you feel there is a special power to claiming our voice and the language we use?

As a musician, especially, I’ve realized music is such a universal language. And me being able to swap this word out to give credit, to pay homage, to tell the truth – that was a loving gesture through language.

Let’s talk about your music. You’d taken a bit of a hiatus, and came back last year with your new album, Three Rocks and a Slingshot. What did that time in-between teach you?

In 2017, my mom got sick, and she passed away after 81 beautiful years. I started to wrestle with my purpose. But I got to the point where I was like, is this side of my voice the most impactful? That’s where I had the opportunity to do theatre, and become a storyteller in a whole other way.

And I took on a Goliath: inner saboteur limiting beliefs. I was wondering if I’m a failure, why I hadn’t accomplished my childhood dreams, am I washed up? I needed to pause and sit with myself and ask, “Who am I if there’s no music?”

It was eye-opening. I sold my house, bought a condo; I downsized my living and I upsized my life. It was the perfect recipe to create the Jully I am today, full of grace, happiness, compassion. I feel like a Jesus-sandals-wearing, granola-eating hippie, and I love it.

You’re singing, you’re writing, you’re acting, you’re an activist. So what does it look like when Jully Black finally takes a break?

It looks like SkinnyPop and moscato. It looks like my best friends. But really, there isn’t an actual break. I often say, “There’s no retirement from purpose.”

Being a born-and-raised Toronto girl, what’s your go-to spot for a drink or dinner?

SugarKane on Danforth and Pape is a beautiful fusion of Caribbean food done well. Their oxtail bowl is next level.

You’ve also got a fitness community for women, called 100 Strong and Sexy. How does it help you stay body positive?

It’s not just about exercising. We have non-scale victories, which include book club, prayer meditation. We have women who have different abilities. There’s a woman named Simone Carpio in a wheelchair who is a part of our step group, the Sassy Step Sisters. That started because I realized when you step, all your step moves are arms. So I reached out, I said, “You need to be a part of the step group.” She laughed, and now here we are. It’s unreal. What’s most important is that we are restoring faith in female friendships. It’s not just one thing.

You’ve built quite a following on TikTok over the last two years. How has that offered you a new platform?

TikTok, for me, is like Jolly Ranchers: It’s candy. I was anti-TikTok for a long time, like, “Oh, it’s another platform I don’t have the energy or capacity for.” And then a girlfriend of mine, she loves it so much, and she’s a mom and a wife and in the corporate space, but TikTok is her escape. So I was like, “Okay, could you be my coach?” She’ll always tell me, “Just don’t take it seriously.” It’s a different world, but I’m having a good time with it.

Are there writers who you’re obsessed with, and ground your soul?

Marisa Peer has a book called Ultimate Confidence, which has been very helpful. It’s shown me that people look at confidence like it’s something you put on, like it’s this outfit, purse or dress. To me, confidence is about vulnerability and being totally okay to be exposed.

There’s so many people that think they know me because they’re still stuck with the Jully of the past that had bitterness and resentment, that was trying to defend the Jully from the block, from Jane and Finch – but that’s not the energy. To re-engineer my existence, I do meditation and prayer, I work out and eat well, I have mantras and boundaries. This was and is the re-engineering of Jully Black.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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