In celebration of Black History Month, KEXP’s Alina Santillan interviewed numerous local and national African American artists about what Black History Month and Black Future mean to them. One of those artists is Lalin St. Juste, vocalist for San Francisco’s forward-thinking six-piece The Seshen. She joined us via Skype to discuss embracing afro-futurism, finding inspiration from Maya Angelou, and finding her own voice through music.
KEXP: So KEXP is celebrating Black History Month. And, just to acknowledge that we should be celebrating black beauty and excellence and history and future all year round, 365 days. But I definitely want to make sure that during Black History Month that we're elevating voices of color, specifically black artists that we have in our community. What does Black History Month mean to you?
Lalin St. Juste: Black History Month means to me that, at least on a broader scale, my people get to be recognized when so often we aren't or our history is unknown even to ourselves. Just like our true names or where we come from. So it's an opportunity to get a little piece of ourselves and to share a piece of ourselves with the wider country and hopefully that people can learn something different and something new and not just what they tend to know. I think there's just a lot of opportunities with this month and so it's it's a good time to celebrate.
I had a community meeting with just people that I have personal relationships with in Seattle who are part of the black community. I thought it was important that I was able to say, 'hey this is an idea a programming idea for KEXP and how we can celebrate Black History Month.' I really want to know what you think about that. Making sure that, even though as a person of color myself, that I'm elevating and highlighting black voices and making sure that they have power to make decisions and give input. And one of the things that came out of that meeting was a desire for us not only to talk about black history but to talk about black future. And definitely that sentiment of being understood that you have to know where you came from to know where you're going. But I'm curious, as those are those are definitely connected, but I'm curious what you see is black future?
Black future, to me, is this beautiful ability to reimagine what can be for us. I think that we have looked to the past and there's a lot that is unknown there. But then what you take with that and what you create with the past and current situation is like this undeniable force and strength and creativity and expansiveness that I feel the future holds and so I think that's why there has been such an embrace of say like Afro-futurism and things like that. Because I feel that we are recreating our our reality and our society and what it is that we need to survive and to live and to breathe. And that that means just a lot of expansion. So I get excited when I think about like black future or Afro-futurism because I think just the possibilities are endless and we're just growing and growing as a people.
Yeah absolutely. Can you talk to me about some artists that have been really influential to you in any intersection of your identity as a black woman and as an artist, have there been some artists in your life that have really influenced you?
Definitely. When I was in middle school I got a book by Maya Angelous which was called Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now and it changed my life. And here was this black woman who had been through a lot. And what she wrote resonated so deeply with me as someone who was very quiet and felt like they didn't really have a voice. And so reading that book helped me to write a bit more and to kind of connect to something a little bit deeper. I ended up going into Toni Morrison and going down more black literature. And so she has been someone, to me, that just signified such talent, such wisdom, such creativity. And then another person who is in my canon of influence is Erykah Badu because she just is completely vulnerable. She is completely herself or what we gather from that. That is incredibly inspiring to me, because no matter how she feels – whether she's scared or whatever – you get the sense that she is just putting it all out there for you. And that's been my guiding force as an artist to kind of figure out how do I do that. Because it's scary. So those are two that I love.
Putting yourself out there and then having to take ownership of whatever you put out there can be a scary thing as an artist for sure. Why do you think music matters? Be that yourself, your community, in general?
Oh I think music matters because it is a part of us. I don't think I can think of a culture that doesn't have music involved, and specifically with black culture, considering just what music has been able to get us through and to keep us sane and bring joy and experience pain through. I think it's just a necessity in our lives to cope and to and to be creative and to express ourselves. And so music to me has been the way that I speak in this world because I didn't feel like I had a voice, I didn't feel like I was seen. And so here it is. This is my voice, through this art. So that's that's why it means so much to me.
For more and a litany of amazing interviews featuring the incredible African-American musical artists that have shaped our lives, click here for all our Black History Month coverage.
Seattle electronic/pop songwriter PSA shares her own reflections on digging deeper into black history, creating generational wealth, and her inspiration from both Janet and Michael Jackson.
Felicia Loud and Jace of Seattle's Black Stax talk to KEXP about the artists who influenced them and the legacies we leave behind for the next generation in this interview for Black History Month.
Local poet and Seattle Central University student discusses the universality of music, celebrating black identity, and importance of taking time to heal during Black History Month.
In celebration of Black History Month, KEXP spoke with soulful Seattle singer/songwriter Tiffany Wilson about what "Black History Month" means to her, and the continued relevance of Nina Simone.