I’ve spent a bulk of my time in quarantine surrounding myself with music. As I type, the sounds of John Coltrane fill my house. Yes, I’m an Enneagram 4 so it’s stereotypical that I create vibes like this in my home. In addition to my role at NWLC, I’m also a musician with nearly 20 years of piano and violin playing under my belt. Music has been my primary communication method (besides writing) since I was a child. In fact, most of my memories are tied to a song, album, or artists, so it’s no surprise that I’m documenting this moment by what’s playing through my speakers.
About three weeks into quarantine and with support from colleagues, I created a playlist solely for the purpose of crying (I’m really leaning into this Enneagram business). I felt like I was repressing raw emotions and needed a good cry. Tears were on the cusp but buried in anxiety and responsibilities. I couldn’t quite process what was happening in our world, but I knew music (and my therapist!) would help me get to a point of being present with my body.
That perfectly curated playlist helped me process, and cry about, what’s happening now. Another playlist—Freedom Songs for Freedom Day—is helping me celebrate my Blackness, resist what’s happening through joy, and reimagine what could be. The playlist includes songs inspired by freedom fighters and liberators like Harriet Tubman and Ella Baker. It’s swarming with melodies that make me hella proud to be “Hella Black.” I mean very Black—or as singer Jamila Woods puts it, “VRY BLK.” I’m surrounding myself with messages that say, “as long as you keep your head to the sky,” because we’re “Golden” and taking our freedom, freedom, freedom.
Nina Simone said, “it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times.” Every movement has multiple roles, and as artists, we get to document what’s happening now and help draw the blueprint for our future. Black artists reflect the times and we envision a better future. Moving forward and leaving behind the realities of an unjust, pre-COVID “normal” needs a soundtrack from creative visionaries.
Here are a few songs I’m keeping in rotation to help me reimagine what could, and will, be.
- “Space and Time” by Mya: I danced to this song every day during the first week of June. Protests were just picking up across the world, and I didn’t want to leave my bed most days but knew that I needed to move my body. Mya got me there. Mya got me out of bed. And this sweet reminder to pause and rest was just what I needed to catch my breath.
- “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo: Cynthia gave us not one, not two, but three modulations—that’s a key change for you non-music nerds. If this doesn’t make you want to get your people and continue the fight toward liberation, you just may have to be left behind.
- “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness: I can’t help but feel joy when I listen to this song. I think about my upbringing as a child with Sounds of Blackness reverberating in our home. I think about Jay Versace’s crew being the essence of Black boy joy. It’s another song to move my body to, joyfully and unapologetically.
- “Black Parade” by Beyoncé: Bey said forget those laid edges, we gon’ let them shrivel up, and as a Black girl with defiant curls (and who isn’t very skilled with a toothbrush), I felt this in my soul. As Black person who wants Black life to be dignified regardless of #BlackExcellence, accomplishments, or respectability, I may have overanalyzed the line and even more deeply felt this in my soul. Black lives matter. Periodt.
- “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou: I love listening to the late Maya Angelou speak. She was my first introduction into memoirs and truly my writer goals. Her work still commands every room even though she’s joined the ancestors. Her words and legacy live on.