Dominican Singer Roxiny on Overcoming Abuse and Being Exoticized in the Music Industry

Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

It’s hard to imagine anyone sounding more empowered and genuinely sure of themselves than Roxiny does singing the lyrics to her debut single “9 Months.” The song deals with the aftermath of a toxic relationship, and, when she belts “You gotta keep her in the sun,” she sounds as exultant as if she was greeting the dawn after a long period of darkness. She may sound so convincingly joyful because the song was inspired by her own experience with an unhealthy nine-month romance.

In an interview at Remezcla’s offices in Brooklyn, the singer, born Roxiny Nicholson, describes the songwriting process as “the most cathartic shit ever. It was this release of this thing that I’d had inside me for so long. I remember when I was done, thinking I really didn’t care if anyone else cared for it or not. This song was about healing,” she says. Looking back, she reflects, “It was kind of the start of everything else. It opened up a lot, and helped me find my voice.” It was a revelatory, watershed moment, one that had been a long time coming.

Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

When the Dominican-born New Yorker talks about the relationship that led her to write “9 Months,” she describes being with someone who was verbally abusive and who often tried to humiliate her. After leaving the relationship, it would be a couple of years before she felt ready to write about it. At first, she was angry with herself and had a difficult time facing what had happened. It was an arduous process, but, ultimately, coming to grips with what she had been through paid dividends in hard-earned self-knowledge. “I ended up learning a lot about who I am as a person and what I’m never going to allow myself to walk into again,” she says with confidence.

Once she got “9 Months” out, Roxiny realized it was about more than her own recovery. It was about all the other survivors, especially women. “It’s a song for anyone who has been in an abusive or toxic situation,” she says. Adding weight to the sincerity of that statement is the #9monthsgirlsrising campaign, which she launched with the release of the single earlier this year. For nine months from the release date of the song, proceeds from the single and a limited edition merch bundle will go to a different organization that combats violence against women. Roxiny also volunteers with GEMS, an organization in New York that supports girls who are survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, leading songwriting workshops. That activist spirit is likely the fruit of a long history of resistance in her family; she is the granddaughter of a revolutionary who was part of the anti-Trujillo movement in the Dominican Republic.

Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

Roxiny’s own encounter with abuse several years behind her, she is now partners with someone she calls “my soulmate, my everything” and preparing to release her debut EP Rituals, which she is proud to say is “very personal and very honest.” Writing “9 Months” with collaborator Brandon Sheer was a major creative breakthrough, but even without the soul-searching required to write it, the road to this point has been a long and sometimes uncertain one.

“It’s a song for anyone who has been in an abusive or toxic situation.”

Roxiny taught herself to play guitar and write songs as a teenager and always gravitated to the underground end of the musical spectrum. She left home while still a teenager, bouncing from Los Angeles to Miami, and eventually landing a recording contract with Sony around age 18, having teamed up with a friend for an audition. From there they moved to New York. It was a huge break, but the situation turned sour fast.

The duo was put on track to a career in mainstream pop, mainly because the label thought they had the right look. “We were both Latin girls, both Dominican, so there was a definite ‘sexy Latina,’ like, this whole thing going on. The breaking point was when they wanted us to do this song that was very much, like, ‘Latinas put your booty on the ground,’ one of those songs. I just remember listening to it and thinking, ‘I’m not doing this,’” she recalls. She fought her way out of her contract.

GIF by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

Once free, she recorded with “anyone and everyone,” working with a number of producers. “I had this sound in my head, but I hadn’t met the team yet to make it come about,” she says. In time, she met like-minded artists, singing backup for Sleigh Bells and working with Run the Jewels producer Little Shalimar and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe for the song “Phoenix,” which appeared on the companion album to Rubble Kings, a documentary about Bronx gangs in the 60s and 70s.

Finally, she connected with producers Jonathan Kreinik and Chris Coady, who has worked with TV on the Radio, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Beach House. They are the ones who helped shepherd Rituals to completion and credits them with creating the right conditions for her to express herself authentically. Five songs came out of her first two-day session with Coady. “He’d start maybe playing something on a keyboard and it would just bring it out,” she says of the sessions, “It was like this fountain was opened up.” One of the songs they produced those over those days was “Golden Prophet,” which confronts the sexual abuse she endured as a child. “I had been trying to write that song my entire life,” she exhales, conveying a deep sense of relief.

Now, speaking of Rituals, she holds that, “Every song on there is a song that took me a minute to write, because it took me a minute to find my way to that place.” Whether the songs took a minute, a year, or a lifetime, Roxiny can happily say they’re all hers. For all the struggle, detours and hard work, the journey to Rituals was worth every step.

Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla
Photo by Itzel Alejandra Martinez for Remezcla

Roxiny plays Hoodies for the Homeless, a benefit show in Brooklyn, tomorrow, September 15 at 7 p.m. For more info, head over to the Facebook event.