It’s the summer of 2003 and an 11-year-old Olivia Hatfield stands with her classmates in front of the White House. She is on a school field trip, feeling ill. A sullen-looking girl is glaring directly into the camera, wearing a Strawberry Shortcake T-shirt which reads, “I’m not as sweet as I look.”
Today, 25-year-old Hatfield — now a musician known as Guayaba — reflects on the photo.
“I was thinking about concepts for the album when I found that picture again. It was almost like foreshadowing, like I was aware that politically, things around me were not right.”
Hatfield was raised in a musical family. Her grandmother, Maybelle, was a jazz vocalist who opened for the likes of Billie Holiday and her mother was the head of the church choir. Her parents divorced when she was young. Hatfield moved frequently as a child, eventually settling in Bremerton, Wash.
Hatfield’s was one of few black families in a predominantly low-income, white community. With both shy humility and levity, she reveals that she use to jokingly call herself “black trash,” because Bremerton was labelled a white-trash town by others. On the cover of her new album, Black Trash/White House, she stands smiling, proudly holding a black trash bag, symbolizing a new stage of her evolution as a musician and artist confronting the politics of identity.
Hatfield is inspired by liminal themes; perhaps Hatfield in the incarnation of Guayaba is at the threshold of exploring new musical ground. A self-described metal head in high school, Hatfield later attended Evergreen College and began to experiment with sounds, blending influences from jazz, trip hop, soul and metal. She first performed under the names Princess Neptune and Aeon Fux and was known for moody, pensive tones with tinges of sensuality.
As Guayaba, a new tone emerges — one of owning, celebrating, and confidently challenging the identities she inhabits. In the final lyrics to the song “Basura Negra” (Spanish for “black trash”) Guayaba proclaims:
“I promise that I’m, honest and I promise I’m sincere, and I am f**ed up in the head and I am fat and I am queer, and I am poor black and maybe even ugly, but I’m here.”
For the album Black/Trash White House Hatfield collaborated with Producer Luna God to create a sound-drawing from her prior musical explorations, but now infused with hip-hop and Afro-Latina grooves to create a “dark and misty-jungle feel.”
From entomology to Santería, from self-deprecation to reclamation of space and identity, sensuality, fragility and juicy jungle fruit, the meanings one can excavate from Guayaba’s songs are complex and limitless. All this, and it may make you want to dance, too.
Aileen Imperial is a multimedia and documentary producer with a commitment to thoughtful observation and engagement. Her work has aired nationally on the PBS American Masters series, the PBS NewsHour, and she received an Emmy® award in 2016 in the Arts feature category.More stories by Aileen Imperial