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. 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, we asked her about her artistic influences.
KEXP: What does black history or black future mean to you?
Black History Month to me is American history. You know, I'm glad we at least get one month, but to me, it should be incorporated year round. But I do think it's an important month to celebrate people of color who are not looked at and maybe, you know, undermined. So, on that note, I appreciate Black History Month. I appreciate being a black artist during Black History Month because it's cool to see a representation of people that look like me.
Who has been an influential artist to you?
I had to think about this for a minute 'cause I was like, you know, I have a lot of different artists that have obviously inspired me, of all different races, but you know, I was really thinking about when I was around 13-years-old or so, when Napster was at its height and we were stealing music. I had stolen a bunch of Nina Simone, and I had no idea who Nina Simone was. I kind of listened to Billie Holiday and she popped up, and I remember the first time I'd ever heard Strange Fruit and it just sat me down. It was one of the first times I heard someone sing an emotional vocal like that, and also as a vocalist, I really identify with her register of where she sings. It just kind of made me realize that you can really tell your truth through music and there's a lot of power in telling stories. And she was just such a raw individual and it was so clear through her music that she was real and that what she was saying was real. And as a 13-year-old black girl, that was pretty powerful. You know, I've kind of taken that into my music as I try to put that intensity the artists of the past like Nina Simone put into their music to tell my story.
Has there been an artist that you've played with or that you have a tangible personal connection to you who has been impactful?
Yeah, there's a couple of people. I would say that locally Ayron Jones, a good friend of mine. It's been cool to watch him grow as an artist and to take on the world as a rock star. You know, Audra Boo. Just so many amazing musicians in this town that don't get the spotlight all the time, you know. Eva Walker, love Eva Walker, she's such a powerhouse. But yeah, you know even more personally, my mom. I grew up in a musical household and she was a singer. And watching her do this as a kid was the most inspiring thing that could have probably ever happened to me. And she's a black artist that started later in her life. She put herself out there and I always thought that was really encouraging and inspiring for me. She started this thing in me and I feel like I'm carrying the torch of my mom.
I would I'd say it's it's a cool time to be a person of color right now, even though it does seem socially like the world's against us and I think we're realizing how little we've been respected throughout all this. But I also think there are places that are starting to really shine a light on us and for us to really tell our story and to be heard and be put in the same ballpark as anybody. So yeah, I guess I feel pretty good about being brown making music. (laughs)
Why do you think music matters?
It's the language of life. It really is. To me, music is... it's a healer and it's a tool and a vehicle for humans to put aside all their differences, you know, race, gender, orientation, all of that disappears with music. It's because it comes from what we are and who we are which is one in a chord. It's love. It really is I think it is the physical thing is music and love. So yeah, I love music. I don't know if I'd be alive if I didn't have this in my life. I listen to it probably more than I play which seems like almost impossible but I'm an avid music listener. And so for me, I just am inspired and excited that I get to be a part of that to share with other people.
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.
Sistas Rock the Arts is a collective that presents weekly open mic and jam sessions at Rumba Notes in Columbia City. Co-founder La Tanya Horace, aka SistahLuv, talks to KEXP about creating community and black future.
Om Johari is a Seattle based Afro-Punk Musician and Feminist Activist who has sung in Bad Brains and AC/DC cover bands. She has a unique and interesting perspective on Black History Month and why artist Nina Simone matters.
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.