DJ Lynnée Denise (LA, Amsterdam, South Africa )
entertainment with a thesis
The Afro-Digital Migration: Global Blackness and Amapiano in Post Apartheid South Africa
September 10, 2020 06:23 AM PDT
South Africa is one of my musical mothers. I discovered this nearly twenty years ago when I stepped on the continent for the first time and landed near the Indian Ocean in the city of Durban. By the time I pulled up to Durban, I had already spent that entire year listening to a Zulu musician, also from Durban, by the name of Busi Mhlongo. And while her name never really circulated in the States like a Miriam Makeba or a Letta M’bulu, I knew that her voice, her music, and her movement was an invitation to reacquaint myself with the long standing relationship between Black South Africans and Black Americans. So, whether we’re talking about the parallel musical and personal lives of Brenda Fassie and Whitney Houston or the parallel demonization of exiled political warriors Duduzile Ndwashlana and Assata Shakur, I know that South Africa has rhythmic resistance strategies that Black Americans have and should continue to learn from.
It’s been four years since I released my last mix, and six years since I released a musical essay from my Afro-Digital Migration series. House Music in Post-Apartheid South Africa. The gap in time is a reflection of the shift in direction my practice has taken since I’ve moved from behind the turntables into the university classroom. DJ Scholarship took me to new places—but South Africa continues to call me home to the decks. In November of 2019 I was indoctrinated into the sound movement known as Amapiano, a sub-genre of deep house that nods its head to the tempo of Kwaito and uses the organ as a primary time machine for Diasporic travel. Imagine if the global Black church had an 808 drum near the choir stand. Amapiano is closely related to what I call Blues Ministry, that genre of music that samples and creates an interdependent relationship between the sacred and the profane. Spiritually fucked by the bass.
I produced this mix while also thinking about global Blackness and how it informs how we listen to music and what we listen for. DJs were the first people to introduce me to music of the Black Atlantic. Sade’s residency on Quiet Storm Black American radio and Hugh Masekela’s imprint on Sunday jazz radio taught me about a transnational conversation that through music has remained in place representing a divine interconnectedness. To me, DJ Scholarship holds the intimacies that unfold within the worlds of the Black diaspora and the mix brings together multi-vocalities that speak to this unfolding.
Opening with the spokesperson for the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance party, Fadzayi Mahere addresses rising tensions in Zimbabwe after being arrested while protesting the government’s response to COVID and decades of struggles informed by the after lives of colonialism. It includes Nina Simone talking about her beloved chosen countries Liberia and Switzerland. I sample a call and response moment from the 2002 film Amandla and got blessed with a guest drop by Zama Dube, former radio host from YFM, and one of the most important people I’ve met this year. Zama Dube, again from Durban, was my thinking partner for this music. In this sense the mixed tape symbolizes what Louis Chude Sokei would call a "Diasporic echo chamber" that came together as we hit corners in the Crenshaw district blasting township funk.
The final voice is the masterful Dick Gregory from the 1972 Nation Time convention which took place in Gary, Indiana. I was invited by filmmaker and cultural critic dream hampton to produce a mix in response to the August 28, 2020 Black National Convention inspired by Nation Time. The Black Convention "recognizes a shared struggle with all oppressed peoples—and that collective liberation will be a product of all of our work. It is our hope that by building in solidarity and working together to create and amplify a shared agenda, we can continue to move toward a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.”
It made sense for me to consider how this virus and the political fuckshit that enwraps us all is something that music will hold in its lyrics—sound tracking what we feel and see.
May 30, 2016 09:38 AM PDT
I woke up in Paris this morning reflective and excited about how I found my way here. I’m in Paris because I’m a DJ and because I fell in love with house music enough to ask questions about its roots. In that asking I studied liner notes, read books, watched documentaries, and travelled globally to learn of house in the African Diaspora. I made my way across dance floors to get a sense of the network of underground club culture that’s existed in the name of house for multiple decades. My work as a DJ led to the development of research skills and I’ve applied those skills to unearthing the stories of hidden black artists and communities—from the areas of dance, film, literature, and music. If we don’t, who will? I’m here in Paris to shift the way people engage and understand the role of a DJ. I’m here to share the sonic stories of people buried beneath the shallow histories that place less value on the cultural contributions of women and gay folks from Black and Brown America. James Baldwin is included in my life work and I was here in Paris to present a paper titled “Don’t Let me be Misunderstood: The Personal Relationship Between James Baldwin, Nina Simone and Lorraine Hansberry,” as part of a conference titled, “A Language to Dwell: James Baldwin, Paris and International Visions,” at the American University of Paris.
In 2012, I released my first double mix titled “The Children of Baldwin,” a musical essay about the history and possible future of house. At the core of house music is joy, a rhythmic theory of escape, accentuated by what could be called fatal pleasure—the war on drugs and addiction, coupled with a dangerous freedom marked by a lurking “big disease with a little name.” I’m grateful for the many unnamed house producers, DJs, dancers and promoters whose voices we will never hear because in addition to many of them passing too soon, I’m not sure enough of us care to ask why house music speaks directly to the needs of Black and Brown queer bodies. My curiosity feels like a form of respect, a living altar I can create every time I share house music on a dance floor, in the academy, in my community and here on this platform.
Please accept this offering as a sequel to the “Children of Baldwin” cause we still out here building on the legacy and cramming to understand the answers to unasked questions before we leave this planet…for a new one.
Most of the songs from this mix are early classic house songs. I’ve included a few newer tracks that feel aligned with this era and sound. This mix was produced in Berlin as part of the Berlin Sessions in February 2015, it’s an excellent audio syllabus for the curious person interested in learning about a genre of music that people lose sleep over. House music all night long. Enjoy.
Love Sexy (Blaze) Storm Bryant
June 04, 2015 09:30 AM PDT
In 1985 Loose Ends performed on Soul Train and just like all other performers who graced the stage, Don Cornelius strolled up with a mic and a series of music journalistic questions. When guitarist Carl McIntosh opened his mouth to discuss how the band met, I experienced my first ever encounter with Black Britain. With a precious amount of naiveté my nine-year old mind asked, “So Black people exist outside of America and outside of Africa?” As far as I knew we were between those two places and those two places only.
Prior to discovering their British voices my family had Loose Ends “Hanging on a String (Contemplating)” on repeat. It was a new soul classic, #1 on the US R&B charts, and I couldn't get enough. After their Soul Train appearance, I went through my sister's tapes to conduct a proper review of their discography, which at the time consisted of two albums (1984’s A Little Spice and 1985’s So Where are You?). I did everything I could to find out what their experiences were with love, joy, soul and pain. I read liner notes in search of clues and discovered that a few members of the band were responsible for arranging and producing material for the group Five Star, who I had no idea was Black and British as well.
Amused by my obsession, my mom said with little fanfare, 'yeah, Sade is from over there too.' What? Now you playing! Pretty ass, heartbroken ass, emotionally brilliant ass Sade is Black British too? I'm sold and possibly down for life. And now that I think about it, I’ve been digging in the crates for three decades strong.
By this time my questions were more refined. How did the Black British community come to be formed? What is their parent’s history? What do they eat? I knew that most of my family was from Louisiana, Texas and Missouri and landed in Cali by way of migration. Were there places where people travelled from to be in the UK? A hostile home they escaped by the thousands to feel ‘The Warmth of Other Suns?’ Isabel Wilkerson I see you. Grandma and them were part of the 1950s crew who packed cold fried chicken and biscuits for the train from Mississippi heading west to the left coast.
Inherent to DJ culture is research and my travels today can be traced back to questions I began to ask in the late eighties. I kept my ear to the streets of Black British music and by the mid-nineties I was knee deep in UK Soul and Acid Jazz. The Brand New Heavies, D'Influence, The Rebirth of Cool series, Massive Attack, and Omar were but a few of the folks who put me on to new parts of myself. See that's the thing, these people were me, but at the same time not, and while the similarities between our music and theirs, our social lives and theirs were in some ways parallel, there was a wealth of information to be found in the distinction of our experiences. That said I committed to learning what makes communities of the African Diaspora unique; that feels like the respectful thing to do. White supremacy teaches us to shun difference, as opposed to use it as a tool to cultivate humanizing curiosity. Checking for the lives of Black folks around the planet matters because it's an extension of self-love and a way to strengthen voices of resistance.
In 1998, I left the country for the first time to travel to Brixton and Bristol. This was my first experience with a Black global community and it was electronic music that pulled me in. When in grad school, I learned of an opportunity to attend a summer program at the University of Liverpool to study the influence of Black American Blues on the Beatles sound. I jumped on it and from there took my ass to a San Francisco post office to gets, and I do mean gets! My passport.
I arrived in the UK with what I thought would buy me the world. Here is where I was introduced to the powerful pound. Damn, it was true the sun never sets on her empire. All I knew was that I couldn’t leave without books about Black British culture and history (Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall stand up) and a commitment to Manchester record shopping (Joan Armatrading on vinyl, I love you). I also found it important to find the people and build community with artist folks who could show me around town. This is the beginning of what I call “International Localism.” My developing transnational lens and love for Black folks earned me valuable cultural capital, and I was often times welcomed into places and spaces where the making of culture happened. I, DJ lynnée denise am an International Local.
International Localism took me to Ghana where I discovered Highlife and kenkey, to South Africa where I investigated kwaito while eating braai, to Montreal to spin with Haitian DJs, to the Caribbean to teach music to Aruban youth, and yeah to DC where them American Black folks created the African percussion based Go-Go sound. Fela Kuti’s travels to London, as well as the under-discussed fact that he died of AIDs will take me to Lagos with questions about Afrobeat and his feminist activist mama, Funmilay Ransome Kuti. The history of Detroit’s techno sound sparked my interest in German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk. In fact, this mix is the second to be released from a four-part series recorded live in Germany titled The Berlin Sessions.
I started these liner notes from an airport in Italy on my way to attend the “Black Portraitures II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-staging Histories,” conference hosted by NYU in Florence. I was inspired by the fact that a large number of the diaspora's brightest thinkers, writers, artists and scholars would be traveling from different corners of the world to “explore the impulses, ideas, and techniques undergirding the production of self-representation and desire, and the exchange of the gaze from the 19th century to the present day in fashion, film, art, and the archives.”
Please accept my contribution to the conversation and move to the sounds of a Black global analysis, my Black global imagining. I feel deeply connected to my people and the music on this volume of the series was inspired by my focused nomadic journey. Come with me.Dark Black Girls II (The Emotionally Rigorous Ones)...
April 04, 2015 03:24 PM PDT
An unreleased mix recorded in Berlin in 2015. In a sentence I would describe it as Diasporic Quiet Storm music. A lover once called me emotionally rigorous and when we broke up, these songs came to me, an archive of sonic heart reflections.Bjork Rare Gems and Future Classics
February 20, 2015 09:44 AM PST
This mix is for Black women who love Björk Guðmundsdóttir. For some of us Björk is one of the guiding forces in the most secret parts of our emotional lives. And there is something to be said about the fact that my deepest, most intimate romantic relationships have been with Black women who speak Björk. She is one of the most brilliant artists of our time, with relevance far beyond the boringly sensational Academy Award swan dress debacle, which on the low, I believe was a challenge to American popular cultural values. Like on some fashion resistance shit. “I thought I could organize freedom, how Scandinavian of me?”
During my New York years, I had the opportunity to witness Björk live at the Apollo with three other Black women. Björk at The Apollo? What a combination and what an honorable way to honor the Black folks that get down with her like that. Aside from the sheer weight of the decision to perform in Harlem, we, like thousands of her students, made sure to have loot in hand ready to buy tickets the moment they went on sale. We managed to get tickets, but please understand, in less than five minutes the show was sold out. And to be honest, it wasn’t Harlem or Brooklyn who showed up to see her, which I understand; Björk is ‘strange fiction.’ It was the usual crew at the Apollo concert; former club kids, angsty white women and entitled hipsters. And of course some of us were in the house. My crew and I represented for all the Black women inspired by her audaciousness, by her work ethic, and by her willingness to make whatever screw face necessary to offer ‘love scholarship’ through song. We cheered from the balcony squinting to experience what looked like an Icelandic ball of glitter performing unapologetically to self-composed electro folk music. I will never forget her relationship with the microphone, dancing around it, stepping away from it, looking into it and making it sing her songs. She’s a beast of a live performer.
After the concert I kept thinking about how to build on the energy felt from the experience. So I reached out to Greg Tate, one of the only Black men in my life who loves Bjork as much as I do, to discuss the possibility of the Black Rock Coalition’s involvement in a tribute to Björk, at the Apollo Theater no less. The vision was to have my favorite artists, including Tamar Kali, Joi and Taylor McFerrin, to not so much perform, but interpret her music. I believe that only an original interpretation is possible. A night of Björk covers would never do. Later I decided to hold off on the tribute in fear of not having the resources to do the event justice. One cannot half step when the name Björk is attached to a project and slowly but surely my budget fronted on my vision.
While a major tribute event was not possible, I kept thinking of ways to express the impact this creature of an artist has had on my artistic and personal development. I’ve turned to Björk’s music so many times for heart education and the inevitable ‘feeling of feelings’ that happen when you find yourself brave enough to face the dark beauty of a song like ‘Unravel’ from the Homogenic album. For years I’ve waited for whatever it is I am supposed to do with this special place that I hold for her work in my heart. It turned out to be this mix, which was partially inspired by the release of her latest and ninth studio album, Vulnicura. My Black girl Bjork tribe was surprised, maybe even betrayed to learn that I don’t love it. It’s brilliant by default, but part of why I love her so much is because she speaks to lovers wherever they are on their journey, excavating lessons buried deep in the nuanced exchanges between intimate partners in any given space and time. A breakup album felt too obvious for me.
Before listening to Vulnicura I had to ask myself if I even had the emotional capacity to hold Björk’s heartbreak this winter? Björk’s triple Scorpio heartbreak? Triple Scorpio? What the hell does it mean to be in partnership with a Björk? She’s always been so perfectly naked or ‘Violently Happy?’ But I listened, hoping that I hadn’t become one of those fans who run away when artists are inspired to drive their work in a different direction? I mean I get it. Sometimes you need something epic, a release, to get the hurt out. Marvin did it brilliantly with “Here My Dear,” Nas even did it with his Post Kelis “Life Is Good” album, and I’m sure there are hundreds of other artists who produced entire projects around mourning, or celebrating the ending of a relationship. And there are jewels all up in and through Vulnicura, don’t get it twisted, I know who she is. But did I miss her impersonal cryptic lyrical finesse?” Yes. And do I understand how honest, brave, vulnerable and musically sound it is? Absolutely. So far there is only one song that I can return to, “Atom Dance” and it too is represented on this mix.
I’ll be revisiting ‘Vulnicura’ at a later time, certainly a different season. Maybe my European winter was not the right time? But I trust her and my resistance could have everything to do with where I was when it was released, so leave space for me to retract my underwhelm please? I do, however, credit Vulnicura for sending me back to her catalog with the intention to create a Björk syllabus of sorts. I listened to all of her albums and carefully selected songs that have gotten me through and past IT, that have taken me over and under IT. And because she is such an incredible writer, thinker, feeler, this mix will function like a literature review of her discography, yes, music as text. Get into it.
Sending special love to Porter Ferbee, a bonafied scholar who can school you on the time and place of almost every song created under the hand of Björk and to Zetoille, for introducing my 1998 self to Bjork on one late night in San Francisco. And to Dream Hampton who while listening to ‘Vespertine’ is quick to point out the genius of her lyricism, calling attention to the lines that turn your ass in circles. I hope this special compilation honors us all.
Who Is It (Medúlla)
November 27, 2014 10:22 AM PST
A mix celebrating the last year in my 30s, please accept the answers to the deepest of questions.
Nobody Else But You But You Dance
May 22, 2014 09:54 AM PDT
Sun Ra would have been 100 years old today and I'm in London preparing to present the soundtrack of my own brand of AfroFuturism. Please enjoy the second and final installment of the "Hibernation Series." Detroit's winter cracked my creative spirit wide open. This mix features the electronic music from Africa and space themed Black American jazz. Fix your mind for this.
Satellites Are Spinning Sun Ra Space Is The Place
Fa Laay Fanaan (Ashley Beedle on Marz Mix)
Segunguwo Robert Machiri
“Take Me Out of It” Toni Morrison
Madan Salif Keita
Ancestry Boddhi Satva
Ubatuba (BSC AfroTech Mix) Brazilian Soul Crew
“Blackness” Nina Simone
Moon Dance Keith Worthy
Distant Planet Mr. Fingers/Robert Owens
Outer Spaceways Incorporated Sun Ra Space Is The PlaceAfro-Digital Migration: House Music in Post Apartheid South Africa Vol. II
April 30, 2014 07:58 AM PDT
I wrote this during layovers between Toronto and London, on my way to Amsterdam for the summer. Before I start my next voyage, I wanted to offer my musical reflections on South Africa. Three days ago (April 27, 2014), South Africa's democracy turned 20 years old. I spent much of December and January in South Africa, thanks to the support of my community of listeners, family and friends and a generous grant from The Astraea Foundation Global Arts Fund. This was my third time in South Africa; the first trip happened in 2001 and the second in 2011. The purpose of the trip was to complete the SoundTracking Our Lives Tour, a project that simulated the migration pattern of house music from the U.S. to South Africa, launching in New York, traveling to Chicago and Detroit, and finally, concluding in Johannesburg. The purpose of the tour was to document the work of women who have played a role in the evolution of house and its transmigration, and are currently active in its development. My mission was accomplished. But what I realized almost instantly was since my last trip to South Africa I have developed a new vocabulary, a new understanding of the development of house music. I have been deepening my relationship with its influences, everything from traditional African drumming, to Philly soul, to the tambourines and choral clap rhythms of gospel. Clark Sisters, stand up.
A few days before my landing in Jo'burg, Nelson Mandela made his physical transition. Accordingly, the energy on the streets reflected not only the sadness of his passing, but also the presence of many questions, particularly the politically and socially charged question of ‘progress’ since democracy. One thing that was extremely clear to me was the intricate ways that the apartheid regime institutionalized longstanding practices that until this day uphold the brutal inequalities that exists between Black and White South Africans and shamelessly so. Adrienne Maree Brown, my lover and trip companion, writes about the experience in more subtle detail here:
Still, even with the uncertainty that Mandela’s death brings, house music continues to dominant the sound of the nation. But there was a difference this time, between the house music I heard on the radio and the house music I heard on my taxi rides through the city, or in the cars passing me by on the streets. I had to admit that much of the house I heard on the radio was formulaic (a hard distinction to make with a genre of music based on repetition), and had blown up to “pop” status, losing some of its dark funk. As an outsider I can never really be sure about the politics of commercial vs. underground culture, the music industry, globally, is such a tricky beast. But I do know for sure that I felt less moved by what was most popular, most available. This is why it’s always good, as a global citizen, to seek out the underground community wherever you land. Find those cats you would roll with in your circle at home. The cats who avoid radio as much as possible and keep their ears to the street in search of that very specific sound; you simply know it when you hear it and it can be heard in so many different forms of music, in so many different places on the planet, all we know is that it’s a sound that unites us all.
By the end of the trip I had collected around 100 songs from record labels (Soul Candi), DJs, producers and general house heads. Turns out that the majority of the music I was given did little in the way of touching that little thing inside of me that inspires movement and sets the stage for the perfect mix. I narrowed down my compilation to 17 songs and some of them were tunes I had been listening to for the past year leading up to my trip. Upon returning from South Africa, I spent the winter in Detroit with my honey and during that time I set up my turntables, along with my art. I rooted myself in our shared space and went to work. It was love work, release and reflection work happening in congruence with what Detroiters said was "the coldest winter ever." I spent hours reading, writing and listening to music, doing the best I could to create soundtracks from my travel, relationship and scholarship. The result was a session of mixes titled "The Hibernation Series."
The first mix of the series, The Afro-Digital Migration: House Music in Post Apartheid South Africa Volume II, is a convergence of love stories - my love story with black music, and my love of a black magic woman. My love story of black music led me to the South African house scene, where I embedded myself this most recent trip with new questions of how, when and why house music permeates the soundscape of South Africa. This love has led me to uncover histories of migration, theories of escape, questions of origin and something even deeper: the work of pioneers like Frankie Knuckles (rest in power), in understanding the root systems of house. I've learned to stretch the roots of house beyond disco, gay clubs and the Black church in America. I had to come to understand that producers/DJs like Knuckles and his peers made music from a place of ancestral memory; they were plugged into the source, masterfully re-creating ancient rhythms using both new and dated technology. This means that rather than looking at house music as simply finding its way to SA townships from Black America, I saw that house music, in a way, repatriated to its motherland (haven’t said motherland since my early 90s X-Clan days, but its applicable here).
My love of a writer woman led her to follow me to South Africa, where we learned together about house, the endless beauty of the land, and the political climate of this peculiar place. Together we witnessed the ghosts of the regime juxtaposed against the joyful and sexually liberating sounds of house; it truly is freedom music. We were both moved to the point of creativity, her to writing:
and me to create this mix. This was an incredibly important journey for us, sometimes challenging as we were thrown into a world where post apartheid SA, like post racial USA proved to be a more theoretical concept based on the changing of the guards from white to black people in power, with the model of white supremacy, and all of its arms and legs still firmly in place and in tact. Adrienne and I were invited by filmmaker Palesa Letlaka to speak together at the Afrikan Freedom Station, which was the first time we had ever witnessed each other at work and from that opportunity we connected with South African local artists who wanted to learn more about how we were weaving afro-futuristic and science fiction themes into discussions about house music and social justice.
Overall, I can honestly say that the music for this mix came together and quite well. I am a firm believer that house music, like science fiction, provides us with the opportunity to engage and submerge ourselves in an alternative reality, for at the root of house music is deep faith and joy. It makes perfect sense that house music resonates among so many South Africans; it creates so much space for complexity. I hope you feel the call in this mix to find and follow love through its lineage, its mysteries, and its demands.
Cosmos ft J-Something - Over the Rainbow
April 20, 2014 10:38 AM PDT
“Your heart has to be ready to handle the weight of your calling,” is what she said casually over Korean BBQ, and for this reason and more I grew up reading bell hooks. ‘Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery’ was my first dance with her mind. In it she taught me how to identify the ways that patriarchy, white supremacy and global capitalism threatened humanity’s well-being. More specifically, she challenged me to examine the ways in which our own families replicate models of oppression, sometimes trumping the need, or the awareness of the need, for self-care. bell hooks called on me to think critically as a strategy to heal from social and emotional trauma, a task that would require a lifetime of unlearning.
When commissioned by Dr. Melynda Price, Chair of the African American and Africana Program at the Univ. of Kentucky to make this mix, I was struck by the fact that not a single song came to mind, which is unusual for my process. Typically I have an idea of the direction of the mix, with at least one song to start. But bell hooks has written over 30 books. What could I say musically that would affirm, celebrate and soundtrack her commitment to education, activism, radical openness and feminist scholarship? What music could match ‘the life of her mind?’ The moment I asked that question, Nina Simone appeared. I had a start.
I continued to dig deep into the crates of bell hooks’ life in search of clues about music she loved. On one of those days, after a few hours of probing, she mentioned Tracy Chapman in a lecture. My second artist arrived. From there, I recognized that women’s voices would occupy a large amount of space on the mix. And how easy it would be to create a mix using only women to pay tribute to a world-renowned feminist thinker, right? No, this would not be true to the range of music I have access to, or the core of her ideas. bell warns us to not confuse patriarchy with masculinity. Teaching us that patriarchal dominance can only be destroyed when all of us adopt feminist politics. That said, I invited men to be a part of the honoring, particularly men I feel loved by. Would bell love Bilal? In the song ‘Robots,’ he critiques hyper consumerism similarly to the way she critiques the commodification of Black culture in her work. And Lionel Hampton is from Kentucky, did she grow up listening to the sound of his vibraphone? And consistently she’s made the important distinction between misogynistic and ‘conscious’ rap, would she dig Mos Def? And could Gregory Porter, speak to her encounter with desegregation in the classrooms of the Black south? In this moment I decided to put together a compilation of music that would communicate the essence of her message, or at least, my understanding of it. It would be a mix in dialogue form.
I’ve learned so much from bell’s refusal to adhere to restrictions about what she could and could not write about, and what topics she could and could not explore. When she shifted her focus from critical gender theory with books like Ain’t I Woman: Black Women and Feminism and Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics to a series of books focused solely on love (Salvation, Communion and All About Love), I knew she was making the decision to become more accessible to communities, beyond the academy. I knew she wanted to have more nuanced conversations about the revolutionary qualities of love and through this series, I was reminded that love was located at the center of the pursuit of social justice. For this reason, I felt jazz had a place among the songs. Betty Carter’s ‘Open the Door’ and Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Red Clay’ has so much emotional and cultural wealth, and jazz itself provided the soundscape for many social movements and plenty of freedom fighters, Malcolm X included.
I discovered the Uptown String Quartet in my college years while working in a record store. I was excited by the fact that they were four classically trained Black women musicians from Harlem and one of them, Maxine Roach, was the daughter of jazz drummer Max Roach. I’ve been listening to their song “JJ’s Jam” for about 20 years and never imagined having the opportunity to add it to one of my mixes. It’s a song from some of the quietest moments in my life; a song with so much space and beauty that I wanted to play with voices and personalities over the music. I thought of the bell hooks book “Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem,” which features the hand of fellow Kentuckian Muhammad Ali, whom bell loves, on its cover. In my research I discovered an interview between Nikki Giovanni and Ali and it fit perfectly between the song’s imaginary lines.
Another book that came to mind during my process was Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life. It’s a memoir about love, writing and sexuality. Wounds of Passion tells the story of how bell wrestled with an emotionally charged long-term relationship that forced a questioning of her values and worldview. At the same time she was managing the stress of being a black woman academic in hostile predominantly white institutions. She shares that this was one of the most tumultuous romantic partnerships in her life, one that she still refers to, one that still tugs at her heart. Frida Kahlo and Diego came to mind and I used my favorite song from the movie’s soundtrack (Frida), “Alcoba Azul” to express the emotions that give birth to a complicated, transformative and sacrificial love.
Finally, I wanted to leave listeners with the opportunity to feel a sense of hope. To operate from a place of abundance and not the despair normally attached to the business of struggle. I selected a song inspired by something I heard bell hooks say in an interview. She shared that through his life as a farmer and with his profound appreciation of the earth, her grandfather taught her about the importance of life beyond suffering. She took from him that people of color needed to move away from what can feel like a commitment to misery and shift our focus towards self-sufficiency, pleasure, joy and self-care. Aretha Franklin’s “How I Got Over” from the “Amazing Grace” album worked perfectly for these words.
I had the opportunity to present this mix to bell hooks in person. She attended my lecture at the University of Kentucky’s Finding our Place: A Conference in Honor of the Work and Writing of bell hooks. I was moved beyond words by the level of attention she paid to my every sentence, image and sound. I was almost brought to tears when she cheered me on as an active and vocal member of the audience. She expressed to me a love for my mind, an interest in my work and an excitement about being fully seen by me, through my art. We broke bread and shared intimate stories about our histories and exchanged visions of our future. It’s safe to say we bonded. She invited me to her home and pointed out her most precious possessions; her books, kitchen, and meditation space. Her home was a Frida Khalo inspired sacred place with art collected from her travels around the world. The yellow and red painted wooden benches and chairs brought the African and Latin Diaspora to Berea, Kentucky. I felt instantly that the mix was a success. My selections were true of who I thought she was within and beyond print. bell hooks is a genius. she’s vulnerable and complex, sharp and unashamed of the way she walks the world. And with her courage, discipline and dedication, she’s carved out space for me to exist. Please enjoy “Soulful Critical Thought: bell hooks and the Making of a DJ Scholar,” for it was without a doubt, a labor of love.Dark Black Girls (Not Complexion, Complexity)
February 14, 2014 12:48 PM PST
I started compiling music for “Dark Black Girls” in Atlanta, early 2012. I wasn’t quite sure of what direction the music would head in after deciding on the first song, “When I Grow Up” by Fever Ray, a song introduced to me by the hyper-talented Faatimah Stevens, who created the visuals for the sound. In the end I learned that each song was a different iteration of reggae music, more specifically, the one drop. The mix was completed in May 2012, days before I moved to Montreal, Quebec for a stint. I decided that I would release it during a different season because I felt like the sun’s constant presence would betray my intentions for this sound. The “Dark” in the title of the mix is less about skin complexion and more about complexity. The darkness that I hear in this music speaks to that rich place in which we develop our most sacred ideas and private joy. I wanted this to be music for the highly reflective. Winter music. Hibernation and the promise of spring possibility music. Music that honored the collective of peculiar and queer folks who circle me. Tastemakers ignored even within the village. A mix inspired by conversations I’ve had with brand new familiar people. So, in the spirit of sensual excellence and erotic intelligence, I offer you ‘Dark Black Girls,’ a celebration of the investigation of purpose and existence. Listen closely, there’s a beautiful danger in each track. With radical curiosity, follow me now seen? Seen.
Faatimah Stevens: Artist Statement
Navigating through many genres of music is like tasting new succulent cuisine. Finding the latest in international sounds coincide with trying flavors so fresh you transport there, near the epicenter of it all. Even though surrounded by the traditional waves, my sound cloud is quite foreign in origin. Exploring elements from Sweden, specifically Fever Ray (i.e., Little Dragon), has kept my plate hungry for more. Songs like "When I Grow Up" adhere to a familiar quality yet the vocals capture a new frontier. Haunting, personal, captivating. There lies a dash of each within this mixtape. For the cover, Grace Jones was my muse. Up close and personal, her beauty is in your face. Another voice on the mixtape, Grace fulfills the essence of a Dark Black Girl. Daring, bold, red. My creative style is a linear quality that contours features, bodies, even landscapes. The face of Grace is heightened, converged into layers of playful lines, each forming the dark beauty that resonates within her.
Get Free Major Lazer Feat. Amber Coffman
A New Little Dragon
Here Comes The Rain Again (Featuring Sly And Robbie)
700 Mile Situation Res
Nightclubbing Grace Jones
Launderette Vivien Goldman
Why Carly Simon
DJ Lynnée Denise coined the term ‘DJ Scholarship’ in 2013 to explain DJ culture as a mixed-mode research practice—subversive in its ability to shape and define social experiences and shifting the public perception of the DJ as a purveyor of party music to an image of the DJ as an archivist who assesses, organizes and provides access to music with critical value.
Known for her eclectic mixes of classic hip-hop, soul, funk and deep house, dj lynnee denise of Wildseed Music draws from Black social and political movements to present the dynamic range of music of the Diaspora. lynnee denise was resident dj for “Schomburg Nights” at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and for the Central Park Skaters Association. She performed in the Orchestra of DJs at the Studio Museum in Harlem and in the Sekou Sundiata and Days of Art and Ideas conference at Harlem Stage. Working as the Sound Designer for the Excavating Motherhood exhibit at the Brooklyn Arts Gym in 2007 sparked lynnee’s passion for combining visual arts, youth development and music production to reflect her broad interest in the concept of humanization through music. lynnee has been a guest dj at internationally recognized venues in New York City including Joe’s Pub, Mocada Museum, Deity, Sutra, Knitting Factory, Harriet’s Alter Ego and Rush Arts Galleries. She's spun along side underground and internationally known artists such as Ursula Rucker, Joi, Saul Williams, MC Lyte, DJ Beverly Bond, DJ Spinna, Eric Roberson, Amplified Music (UK tour), Martin Luther, Julie Dexter, Cody Chestnut, Malena Perez, Larry Heard (Mr. Fingers) and Donnie. She was the feature dj at Spelman College's “Take Back The Music” and Toni Cade Bambara conferences in Atlanta. lynnee works as the Director of Programs and Services for exalt youth, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform the lives of youth involved the criminal justice system. She holds a BA in Sociology from Fisk University and an MA in Ethnic Studies from San Francisco State University.
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