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. 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.
KEXP: So we're celebrating Black History Month at KEXP and I just want to acknowledge that we should be celebrating black excellence 365 days out of the year, not just in the shortest month of the year. But I also want to acknowledge and celebrate voices and elevate that. I'm curious, what does Black History Month mean to you?
PSA: So it's kind of a double edged sword for me because I'm black 365 days a year. I honestly don't even notice Black History Month is happening until someone tells me because I'm just living it [laughs]. But it is also nice to have black history put on a pedestal for even just a brief time or else a lot of people have really no incentive to learn any more black history than you are kind of spoon-fed in school, which is like the same MLK story every year, the same Rosa Parks story every year, slavery, and that's it – that's the end all be all of black history. So I do appreciate that during Black History Month, at the very least, you get to hear names you've never heard before. Hear narrative's you've never heard before and just kind of get an idea of the richness of black history. I feel like more and more and now we're seeing that blackness isn't a monolith and it never has been. We have this idea of the origins of black history with slavery and yada yada. But taking for granted that these slaves were also people who had personalities and talents and different languages and desires. So I really do appreciate that for at least one month out of the year people are kind of forced to dig deeper into black history beyond the slave and MLK narrative.
I'm glad you brought that up. I have. Part of this program an initiative is I brought in community members that I have personal relationships with who are also part of the black community...And one of the things that came up – and you hit it right on the head – was when we're talking about black history it's always, "there were slaves and then Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks didn't get up and everything's better now." You get that in school. And so there's this idea of black future that came up as well. Well part of my celebration of black history month is black future. So what does that look like for you? What does black future look like.
Black future is the thing that just makes me so excited. Even doing music, my end goal with music is beyond myself. Ideally, I want to be part of something that creates leverage and generational wealth for black people. Therefore creating some autonomy and self-regulation, because that's something that doesn't really get to exist for a lot of black people. There's this lack of autonomy because you are constantly being pressured and watch by the state in a very bizarre way. Followed in stores, picked on in school by teachers. So I would love to, with music and whatever resources it can bring me, help create generational wealth which I think will lead to black power. That's what I really am looking forward to doing and I love thinking of the future of black people. It's going to be so great! I'm excited.
So speaking of like black future, moving forward. What have been, for any intersection of your identity, what have been some artists that have been really influential to you?
Oh my goodness. OK, I have the most vivid memory of being four and being in preschool and there was this radio that was on top of some cupboards and Janet Jackson's "Love Will Never Do" came on. And I just remember it like it was yesterday. I just froze and stared up at that radio. I was overcome with emotion. Just overcome. I couldn't believe how good I felt, like to my bones. So Janet Jackson but I also thought Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson were the same person when I was little [laughs]. So the Jacksons I would say were really really pivotal. I have always been like a total showboaty, ham. I love glittery costumes and dancing and stuff, so seeing Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson just be incredibly talented dancers and so much charisma on stage... they are just two of the biggest influences musically and Freddie Mercury of course.
Why do you think music matters?
Oh my goodness. OK. I could talk for 10,000 hours on why it matters. So, my entire life I worked really hard to suppress any artistic inklings I had. I did drama and I was like, "OK I'll just do a little bit of this and you know get it out." I loved being on stage. But over a period of time trying to suppress that and be like, "I want to do hard sciences." Having this idea that art didn't have as much intrinsic value as a hard science. It really started to kind of eat away at my self-esteem and my sense of self because I was suppressing this thing I wanted you so bad. Then I was working with some some actors and they said to me, "If you can do anything other than be on stage, then do that because the stage is a hard place to be." And I knew then that I couldn't be anywhere else. I wanted to be on stage. And through that journey of coming to terms with doing a creative thing that there's no guidebook to doing a creative career, there's no there's no like no blueprint for you to just look at. You have to come to rely on yourself and rely on your community so much so it has a) brought me extremely close to my community, b) brought me to new closeness with myself. Going through vocal lessons, it feels like I'm in therapy. It feels like somatic therapy. I cry like at least a third of my lessons just because doing music just gets you to know yourself in a way you just don't really get to do in your everyday life. It's intentional time with yourself and with your thoughts and with your emotions. And that is so valuable. I think it makes for a very well-rounded like person as your emotional intelligence to be able to look at your own emotions and articulate them in a creative way.
That was a great answer. Is there anything else that you want to add in celebration of black history or excellence?
Well one thing I just want to say is I'm really excited for all of the black artists in Seattle right now, because I think with everyone with Ancient Mariner, Guayaba, Taylar Elizza Beth, DoNormaal, PSA – you just get to see blackness is not a monolith. All of us are so different and so unique but so talented I love it. I love all the representation of what being black is because there is as many ways to be black as there are black people and I really like that. Seattle likes to be a liberal space. But I think it's good for people to be confronted with the fact that you know we are not all the same we are. Blackness is a very big spectrum of personality and taste. I'm excited for that.
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.
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