By Melissa Lowery | Photos by Savia Rocks
Savia Rocks is as cool and charismatic as her moniker promises.
I interviewed the prolific photographer, author and podcaster in her London home recently, thanks to the magic of Zoom. Chatting from her home studio at the end of a long day, Savia somehow exudes both chill vibes and welcoming warmth.
Possessed of a rich, soothing voice that invites conversation and confidences, it’s no wonder her podcast, Us People, has quickly become popular with listeners and potential guests. Savia launched the podcast in January 2020, with the first episode debuting in February, out of a desire to help people share meaningful stories and experiences with others. Her first few guests were personal friends, people willing to invest time in a start up project. As lockdowns went into effect and people went online looking for connection and entertainment, Savia saw her audience explode and interest in being interviewed take off.
“When I first started the podcast, first started looking for people to be guests, I couldn’t get anyone to respond,” she recalls. “It’s like there was a connection missing between me and finding guests. I was frustrated so I took a couple of days, stepped back, reevaluated how I could do things better and decided to rewrite what I was sending out to request interviews. We started releasing the interviews I’d done with some of my personal creative network. Then it finally started coming together.”
Interest in Us People grew so strong that Savia had to install a second phone line to handle all the incoming queries from people wanting to be a guest on the podcast.
“My wife insisted that I get a phone dedicated to the podcast because our home phone was ringing all day,” she says, chuckling. “We’re getting 20-30 queries a day now.”
She has interviewed more than 200 people, including authors, musicians, photographers’ lawyers, social justice activists, radio and TV presenters, professional boxers, a stress & anxiety coach/cognitive behavioral therapist, sex and relationship experts, marketing executives, filmmakers and entrepreneurs across industries. BEQ Pride’s own Robin Dillard is a guest on an upcoming episode. Savia says, “Robin and I had a beautiful informative conversation. She didn’t even know that I had a wife until the end of the conversation, which made the podcast interview even more valuable and emotional.”
The depth and breadth of Savia’s guest list speaks to her curiosity about people and their experiences, what makes them who they are. She listened to podcasts and talk show interviews, but felt like something was missing from those interactions. They were too superficial, too self-serving or inauthentic.
“After doing my research, I realized a lot of people who have podcasts have it for several reasons. One was, look how much I can talk,” Savia laughs. “Another was, look at the guests I have on my show and look how famous they are. But when I was listening to these people, it wasn’t resonating with me. I didn’t feel connected. I was listening to the questions they were asking, and they all sounded very similar. And I said, no, I need to do something different.” Savia gestures to a stack of folders behind her desk: “I sat down and started writing questions, things I would want to know about people. I have about 500 questions in these folders and I keep adding more.”
She wants to ask these questions of specific people, though. People whose answers will reveal their real stories and, she hopes, help others who may be experiencing something similar or need help to take the next step in achieving their goals in life. The podcast’s slogan is TALK, LISTEN & EDUCATE as well as FOR THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE.
“I’m looking for a person who doesn’t let their ego overshadow their beauty and their heart or their creativity,” she says. “I’m looking for people who’ve had trauma, mental health issues, racism, deaths in their lives, people who have found their happiness who are not afraid to say, this has happened to me and this is how I found myself or what I am passionate about. We all have a story, but it takes the right person to listen to your story to get it out to the right audience, to let them listen to the story and let that resonate with them so they can feel like they are not alone.”
Savia’s wife Jessye is her partner in podcasting as well as in life.
“My wife – I can’t praise her enough,” Savia says. “She was the one who found the platforms and the pricing and how we’re going to distribute the podcast. She does all the social media, she helps me with research.”
The way Savia’s voice changes when she says “my wife” is so sweet that I can’t help wanting to see their dynamic in action. Maybe Us People needs a co-host, I suggest.
“I don’t know. She likes being in the background,” Savia says. “That’s something that connects us, we’re two people who love being in the background but love shining the light on other people. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do.”
Louise Leanne Savia Ortega-Wright was born to immigrant parents in London, a third culture kid navigating distinctly different family dynamics.
“My mother is Indian and St. Lucian, my father is Jamaican, and I was born in London, so I’m a broad mix,” she says. “I had so many different nationalities in me growing up. I had the Indian side who had a certain religion and was a certain way then I had the St. Lucian side, which is more my grandmother’s side, who spoke more French and Creole. And then I had my father’s side, which was completely different in morals and everything. He was brought up very Christian, very Pentecostal.”
Savia describes her grandmother as “calm, soft, free and always a very popular lady,” she says smiling. Savia spent a lot of time with her grandmother growing up and her influence is still strong. “I learned a lot from my grandmother. You’ll see or hear me quote her quite a bit because I spent quite a lot of time with her. To me, my grandmother was like having an extra mother.”
Her father was the strict parent when she was younger. Savia’s parents had a very complicated relationship, one that is difficult to put into words, she says. “I didn’t know if they were together or apart because things were so complicated, which for me was confusing. As I grew up, I just kinda let them sort things out their way. To be honest, I think my parents misunderstand me. They don’t know me as well as they would like to. I think this happens to a lot of children and their parents, miscommunication pulls people apart. But I’m optimistic to know that things could change at any time,” she says.
Savia comments that you would expect her mother’s side, the Indian side, would pressure her to go to school and become a doctor or a lawyer.
“But they weren’t like that at all. It was my father who was strict, who had plans he wanted me to follow,” she says.
Savia’s father wanted her to become a singer, a goal she was not particularly interested in but at age 14 she wrote her first song and recorded herself singing it. Soon she was entering songwriting and singing competitions. And winning.
“I didn’t want to be a singer,” she says. “I’ve never wanted to be in the forefront of anything. I’ve always been a person who likes to be in the background. But my father wanted me to so I tried and started winning all these competitions.”
At age 23, Savia entered a poetry competition and won a substantial cash prize which she invested in creating a recording studio. There she began producing tracks and writing songs for other artists.
“I loved songwriting,” she says. “I always had a passion for writing, it didn’t matter if it was writing books or writing songs. I was born to write. As long as it was writing, I loved it.”
Savia discovered writing as an outlet as a teenager. She was bullied severely in secondary school, turning her into an introvert who rarely spoke. Writing was a way of expressing herself safely. That she turned it into a lucrative career as a young adult was both serendipity and a lesson in what she did not want out of life. By her mid-20s, Savia realized that the music industry was not a healthy place for her.
“I didn’t like the way the industry was going,” she says. “Sometimes it’s not good to get in an industry too young and too fast and you have to have a really thick skin to withstand what the industry can throw at you. That can be actually quite soul-destroying if you don’t have the right management or people around you. So I decided to leave and take a break from it. I got really far and I was really proud of myself, but I have no regrets about moving on for now.”
Without music and songwriting, Savia needed another creative outlet. She was working her way out of a long-term abusive relationship when a friend suggested they go out and do photography. It was meant to be a break from the ongoing mental and emotional abuse she was experiencing, but it turned out to be both a lifesaver and a new career.
“I was in a really, really bad relationship and I wanted to do something that would let me be creative,” Savia remembers. “In the past, I would turn to writing so I felt like there was something missing because I had put writing on a break. A close friend of mine suggested that we go do photography and loaned me his camera. It was exactly what I needed.”
Savia enjoyed taking photos as a child, playing with the camera her father gave her then later her grandmother’s camera. But she had only ever taken pictures as a hobby. When her friend saw the photos Savia produced, he insisted on loaning her his camera until she could save up enough money to buy her own. It only took six months of working as a freelance photographer before Savia purchased a semi-pro camera.
Her specialty is concert photography, capturing the energy and creativity of a live show in a still image so vibrant you feel like you were there.
“It doesn’t matter what field I go into, somehow music is always a part of it,” she says with a chuckle. “God just puts me in the path of music. So when I started doing photography again, I would go to concerts and take pictures.”
She also does portraits, working with her subjects to capture a piece of their soul in an image. Coaxing vulnerability and authenticity out of someone in front of a camera is a skill, and Savia is masterful.
“One of my friends was modeling for me in a studio,” she recounts. “He has a condition where he constantly shakes. It was challenging because I couldn’t get him to stay still. He was bullied when he was younger, for his condition, and being in front of the camera made him very tense, very nervous. So I said, Let’s talk. Let’s go out. Let’s go for a walk. So when we got back to the studio, I put on some jazz music — I love jazz — and I said just be you, be authentic. And he did exactly what I asked. I asked him to jump up and down. I asked him to climb up a ladder. He enjoyed himself and the photos are gorgeous. He’s gorgeous.”
Her professional name, suggested by a domain name generator, is the perfect reflection of this dynamic, multi-talented woman. Savia.Rocks houses her photography and her podcast, as well as information about her writing — Savia has written seven books so far — and photography classes.
Savia and Jessye met through a dating app in 2014 after a friend took Savia’s phone and matched them up. At the time, Jessye was serving in the armed services. The two made plans to meet in person on Savia’s birthday, but she balked. “I wasn’t ready,” Savia recalls. “I knew this could be something real and I wasn’t ready.”
Still recovering from her previous relationship, Savia canceled the date. Unbeknownst to her, Jessye was scheduled to ship out to Iraq the next day — that had been their only chance to see each other for a year. But neither was ready to give up on the other, so they engaged in that old custom of writing to each other, albeit with a modern twist.
“We fell in love by text message,” Savia says, grinning. “It was really, really sweet because we got to know each other really well. It was like back in the days when you used to send letters to your partners, just in a more modern way. It made me feel comfortable. It made me gain confidence within myself.”
When she returned to England, Jessye asked if she could come over. This time, Savia was ready. The two have been together ever since. “She came over and it felt so easy; it felt like I’ve already been with this person for years,” Savia says. “My wife is home, she is where I belong.”
In 2017, Jessye resigned her military commission and proposed. They married in May 2018.
“A colleague once told me, ‘Savia, don’t pick the same type of people all the time. You’re picking different people but they have the same type of soul.’ And I thought, that’s true. I need to pick a different type of soul. And I did with Jessye,” she says. “She’s completely different to every single person that I’ve ever been a partner with. Her morals are a lot different. She’s very grounded. She knows what she wants, she knows how to respond to things. She has my back unconditionally, with love. And conversation is so easy. It flows in silence as well. If you can be with somebody in silence, then you know you’re with the right person.”
It’s no coincidence that Savia’s most authentic and prolific creative period thus far corresponds with her relationship with Jessye and becoming a Buddhist. She began studying Buddhism several years ago. The practice of forgiveness — a cornerstone of Buddhism — helped her heal from past wounds and learn how to love unconditionally. I note that she seems to have found inner peace, with apologies for the cliche. She has, she says.
“Forgiveness plays a huge role in everybody’s life and I recommend it to absolutely everyone,” she says. “I understand what unconditional love is and how to deal with people when you feel like they are sucking your energy. Sometimes you have to put people in their place and that can feel like overstepping, but you’re doing it out of love for them and for yourself.”
Savia is definitely living her best life, and she has big goals for the future. Including her dream podcast guest:
“The Queen,” she says with a wide grin. “Can you imagine? Me in the room with Queen Elizabeth, with my list of questions? I would be nervous but it would be such an honor and I would be happy to make the Queen laugh. We could talk about everything that she and I wanted to talk about. It would just be me having a conversation with the Queen. I just need to find the right person to ask.”
Rock on, Savia.
Melissa Lowery (she/her) is the Editor in Chief of BEQ Pride magazine and a contributor to other publications focused on economic equality. A native of Kansas, she enjoys subverting stereotypes and is determined to maintain her status as World’s Greatest Aunt to her 13 nieces and nephews.