Cusi Coyllur, (coo-see coy-your), an Inca princess name, is experimental pianist, singer and mental health advocate, Shannen Roberts. She identifies as queer, intersectional feminist and is Peruvian American. Setting the mood with chimes, lighters and harps, “Woke Up From a Lazy Dream” recalls a hazy, mind-altered world that she, her friends and partner at the time struggled to leave. She uses cries and an abrupt change of stomps, claps and harsh vocals to depict her intense panic attacks, sometimes occurring three times a day with hallucinations.
“It never feels like I’m in control of my body or my thoughts when I have a panic attack and it’s as if someone else has entered my body and is forcing it to shake, hyperventilate and scream,” said Roberts.
Taking place in high school, she was, at the time, a stoner who regularly drank and popped soma pills, often in between classes – what all the “cool” kids did. Was it the chicken or the egg, she always wonders if her panic attacks were induced by her teenage drug and alcohol excessive consumption or by the verbal abuse she faced at home, school and issues with her body.
The line “Woke up from a lazy dream” is a metaphor for the feeling when the drugs wear off and so does the feeling of being “cool.” Brought back to reality, she realized this lifestyle would lead her nowhere and panicked about her partner who was still stuck in that world. Many of her friends in high school revealed they had tried to commit suicide or were depressed and took drugs to cope. It was a scary realisation that she was overwhelmingly not alone at the time in how she felt and dealt with it.
Soon after she secretly recorded the song, she started The Strange is Beautiful, an alternative self-help blog for mind obstacles, to help others heal in healthy ways and create a supportive community. She still currently runs the blog with an all womxn of color staff and recently hosted an online self-care gift exchange that drew 158 participants. At shows and at L.A. and SF Zine Festivals, she offers The Strange is Beautiful Alternative Self-Help Guide and also is a 500-hour trauma informed yoga instructor.
Activism is heavily connected to her music. On October 2, Cusi Coyllur released her music video “amivulnerable?”, a dance interpretation of domestic abuse awareness. It comes with a free zine, “It’s not as simple as just leaving,” filled with stories and self-care by survivors. Past performances include KUCI, Women Fuck Shit Up and a Play Like a Girl (PLAG) showcase. Weekly she hosted “Sick…or Something” Instagram Live Shows to talk about her arthritis, IBS and mind obstacles.