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. We spoke to La Tanya Horace, a local artist who is also a member of Sistas Rock the Arts, a collective that presents weekly open mic and jam sessions at Rumba Notes in Columbia City. It’s a vehicle that has served as a platform for new and veteran artists to be heard, acknowledged, remembered, and celebrated. La Tanya shared her thoughts on Black History Month and African-American artists that she admires.
KEXP: Can you start by telling me who you are?
La Tanya Horace: My name is La Tanya Horace, aka SistahLuv, and my project is Sistas Rock the Arts. We've been doing this for going on three years now. We created a platform developed by black and brown women for our community because all of the places where black and brown folks have normally congregated, fellowshipped, and played outside of the church are gone. They've been bulldozed over or gentrified, whatever you want to call it. So, we have had no real place to play for years now, and all the places that used to exist are gone. So, that's why we do what we do.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
Well, for me, I live it every day because it's been whitewashed and all but eliminated from the annals of history in this country. There's like pre-slavery, post-slavery, you know all of that information, but it's just not taught. So, there's a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about all the contributions that the African diaspora has made for the world, for humanity, not just in this country, but globally. And those things are always lost in translation. It's like, you know, we have been stereotyped to the point where we can only be a pimp, prostitute, or addict or welfare mom, which is like, really? Is that what you want to think about black and brown people when we've contributed so much to humanity? Like if you took all of the contributions we made to humanity -- like, removed them -- the world would look so much different. So, it means everything to me means -- it means community, means families, means creativity in art at its highest level.
Where do you see black future going? What does that look like?
Well, black future to me has everything to do with our future generations. Like, for myself, I've been in the trenches for over 20 years and when I look at the youth and the future generations coming up, it's like, there is no black future if we don't do more to save our youth and our future generations. It won't continue to exist, thrive, and grow. We need our youth, we need our future generations. I think maybe I'm a little tainted because of the work that I do because I'm an activist, an advocate, a mom, and so many other things because that's just the hats that we wear. We don't get to wear one or two hats. As a black woman, I'm many things because I have to be and I've always had to be. So, for me, black excellence is, we've always had to be excellent. We've always had to be greater than the average. You couldn't be mediocre and get anywhere. And even with being excellent and being creators and being the backbone of our community and supporting the community, to our own detriment.
So, I feel like the future of black excellence is in our youth and it's in that transition, meaning that we reach out to our younger folks. We cross that bridge. We don't hold or covet what should be passed on. We engage our youth and our future generations in a way, but we got to save them first because there's some real ugly stuff going on in our community that people do.
Have there been artists or musicians that have been really influential and important to you growing up?
I'm a preacher's kid, so music and different types of art were always a part of our living. That's just who we were. One artist that sticks out in my mind, because of her perseverance and her political activism through her music and the stories of the pain of black folks and of a black woman, is Nina Simone. I mean, she's just so dope. As a young person, she knew who she was and she understood what was going on in the society around her and how it impacted her, and her parents, and our people. And not just her but Eartha Kitt, too. She got banned for speaking out about the war at a luncheon with Lady Bird [Johnson] at a luncheon she was asked to be at. And they basically blackballed her because of that. Her story is one of resilience. She was born to a slave who was raped, and born in the fields on a cold dark earth, and then abandoned by her mother, and, you know, she has a history that most people don't know. And then how resilient she ended up being after it was all said and done. I mean, she's someone else that I really admire because of her resilience through some of the darkest times. I mean, it's been dark for us on many levels but our resilience and our brilliance still rises like cream to the top. You can't keep it can't down no matter what you do, no matter how hard you put your foot on my neck. I'm still going rise above that.
Why do you think that music matters?
Music is universal. It's just universal. It's a language all of its own. You know, they say math is closely related to music, and it is, but it's universal. I've had the blessings to be able to play in other parts of the world where people don't speak a drop of English but they know that music and it unites people. Like every Thursday in Columbia City, when we do Sistas Rock the Arts. Like I said, it was developed by me and my partner Michelle Anderson -- we call her iNfinity, she's a great woman, she's an awesome talent as well -- but we started that to give artists of color a place to play. But it has become so... it's just diverse, there's no telling who you might see. It's open to everyone so it's always a combination of all kinds of people that are in there. I mean, from LGBTQ to the white folks to the brown folks to the African diaspora or to the Latinos -- it doesn't matter. Everyone comes together and it's all about the music, and it's all about art, and there's never any drama. I can speak to that and say it is truly universal. Music is healing, it's life, it's love, it's liberty, it's justice, it tells our stories -- just a tapestry of who we are. You can put a quilt together based on the music through time. You do a timepiece on music in the time which was going on and the feeling of that is embodied in music and it tells us stories. So it matters.
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.
Nikkita Oliver is an educator, attorney, poet, and musician, who also ran for mayor of Seattle in the 2017 election. She was kind enough to come into our studios and talk about what Black History Month means to her.
Seattle songwriter Olivia Thomas, who performs under the name LIV†, shares the importance of taking pride in the accomplishments of black people, encouraging black female artists, and feeling represented by artists like Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill.
Bridging the illustrious musical legacy of Seattle’s Central District and his family’s rich Senegalese heritage, "wordsmith MC" Yirim Seck brings a unique insight to Black History Month and Black Future.
Whitney Mongé is a Seattle musician, who plays what she calls “Alternative Soul”, a blend of the R&B and ‘90s rock music that inspired her. In celebration of Black History Month, she shares influences and talks about how it's "pretty cool to be a brown person playing music."
Seattle rapper Gifted Gab talks about celebrating black history all your round, getting her musical education from her mom, and offers inspiring words to other minority artists trying to make their own way.
SassyBlack talks about Quincy Jones, debunking the myth that there's a lack of women producers, and how vast blackness really is.
Guitarist Jimmy James of the True Loves and Delvon Lamarr Trio talks about his musical influences, and how music breaks through the language barrier and brings people together.