MP3 Ilonka - Jesus Joy of Life
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Jesus Joy Of Life
Produced by Bill Deaton, Programming/Production by Dennis Patton
A SONG OF REDEMPTION
By Shana Thornton-Morris/Fringe Magazine '09
https://www.tradebit.com august 20
New directions require frightening
leaps of faith, sometimes across
continents and down unknown
streets, seated on unfamiliar trains,
asking for advice from strangers
and believing that the journey will unfold ac-
cording to an invisible plan that offers the fulfill-
ment of a dream. For South Africa native Ilonka
Booyens, the journey toward a musical career
began in her birth city of Johannesburg.
âThe whole plan was always to come to Nash-
ville,â Booyens says. âI wanted to learn more
about songwriting. The market in South Africa is
so small for music, and my dreams were always
way bigger than that. At that time I wanted the
typical, your name in lights and all of the girly
things that you can dream about. I was a young
teenager when I first mentioned to my mom
that I wanted to come to America and be in the
music industry. Being in high school, thatâs kind
of a far-fetched dream when youâre in a different
country, and when I finished school we left. We
immigrated. Just me and her.â
Booyensâ mom had directed the budding star
in family productions from the time she could
memorize songs. By the age of four, Booyens had
performed onstage and wooed an audience of
her own in a competition.
âMy mom was one of the moms who was like,
âHey, you can do it!â She was very encouraging,
and I always loved to steal the limelight from
my brothers while I was growing up, so she put
me on a stage and said, âWhy donât you sing?â
My mom actually studied to become a concert
pianist, and my dad sang as well,â Booyens says.
Her South African career grew over the next
15 years, as she won a singing competition that
moved her into the professional realm. From the
age of 12, Booyens toured on a casino circuit.
This time on the road allowed her to craft her
performance skills, move onstage with ease and
comfort, test her vocal performance in various
locations and interact with a shifting audience.
By the time she was 15, she was writing songs.
Booyensâ life drastically shifted when she was
19. She and her mom found themselves stranded
in New York, en route to Nashville, where they
were confident that Booyens could begin a suc-
cessful music career.
âItâs because of my mom that I am here,â she
states with kind recognition. Unfortunately for
Booyens, however, her mom had received bad
advice in South Africa and, for several different
reasons, did not have more than $50 cash. Her bankcard would not work in an American
ATM. After receiving more advice, mother
and daughter made their way to Penn
Station wearing spaghetti-strapped shirts
in what Booyens describes as âzero degree
weatherâ with only $50.
The two stood on a platform, waiting
for a train to somewhere that would lead
them to Nashville. Booyens was disheart-
ened, questioning their decisions from
the past that only led them to being lost
in New York. Like any forlorn 19-year-old,
she struggled with worry and anxiety. âIâm
sitting about three seats away [from my
mom] because Iâm mad with the situation
at hand,â she recalls.
Meanwhile, her mom had been ap-
proached by a Hispanic woman, who, after
hearing their unfortunate story, told them
she had just returned from Penn Station.
She became a guardian angel for the
stranded mother and daughter, purchasing
two tickets for Booyens and her mom. They
never found the woman to repay her.
Once they finally made it to
Nashville, Booyensâ mom took a job
at Shoneyâs. Booyens stepped onto
Broadway and tried her tune singing
country music for pedestrians, tourists
and shop owners downtown.
âThe question is where do you start,â
Booyens says. âI got all these books
on music business 101 and picked
up every magazine and newspaper I
could find to learn the system.â
Both Booyens and her mom worked
their way toward their goals slowly
and effectively, at first earning only
enough money to cover their rent and
food. Booyens worked as a hot dog
vendor on Music Row for two years,
figuring out how to assemble a band
in the meantime.
âI started doing songwriter nights and writing with anyone. I
made a lot of mistakes at first and just kind of learned. Iâve been
here for nine years now, and through my process of doing writersâ
nights, I do about 65 to 70 dates a year,â Booyens says.
Three years ago, Booyens signed with an indie label, Gambit Mu-
sic Group, after the president of the label visited a writersâ night to
watch her perform. She recorded her second independent album
with the label. Shortly after that, however, the label was unable to
sustain funds, and she was let go.
âIt was one of the most amazing experiences I ever went
through in my life,â she says. âI learned more in that period about
the music industry than what I did the five years prior by just being
in it more professionally.â
The next three months were trying for Booyens. She battled
depression, entered a psychiatric hospital, stopped writing and
singing for months and got a day job.
âI thought, Iâm not giving up, but I donât know what to do with
it,â she remembers. âI came through it by being saved, and God be-
came a huge point of inspiration for the first time in my life. Itâs very
disappointing when you put an album out and you go through a
label change or a career change like that. You just donât know how
to emotionally process it. My heart just started changing. I started
getting peace in my life. I started noticing nature. Being gentle
with people. Being loving. Waking up happy in the morning and
not feeling alone.â
Booyensâ advice for continuing to pursue a dream during heavy
challenges is to take action. She counsels young artists to pick up
the phone, book a gig, get a band together, write songs and talk to
Lately, Booyens has been writing songs with a variety of Nash-
ville songwriters and has been featured on several Christian film
soundtracks. She is enjoying the satisfaction of having projects
in the works. She is also trying to use her gifts to give back to her
community. After auditioning with the womenâs activist musical
group Women on Fire, Booyens became part of the tour, which
focuses on educating women about sexual abuse and trauma,
alcoholism, addiction and co-dependency. Recently, she became
the spokesperson for a Children at Risk, a Christian organization
dedicated to stopping child abuse.
âIâve had a great response to the Christian content that Iâve been
writing,â Booyens says. âI used to be so concerned with, âwhose
label are you on?â But thereâs so much movement around me that it
almost seems like thatâs the least of the problem. Now I feel called
to somethingâIâm not pushing for something in my life.â
Since her focus has shifted, the 27-year-old singer-songwriter
says she doesnât have to search for work and opportunities with
the same kind of anxiety she used to face. Like her mother taught
her on their journey to Nashville, Booyens has learned how to make
leaps of faith and take action. Writing her story is one process she
says she feels called to complete.
Like the verses that compose a song, the routes of a train, the
shape of a ring and the thoughts of a young girl with a dream,
Ilonka Booyensâ story circles back around. A couple of days after
our conversation, she married Bill Deaton, the record label presi-
dent who had listened to her performance at the songwritersâ
night years ago.
âMy story is just one of redemption,â Booyens says. âI first had
to be broken before God could bless me, and now Iâm in a place
where He can use me. I feel so grateful for that. I couldnât have
chosen a better path for myself.
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