JusMoni shares her story – and by extension, a deeper story about Seattle. Moni and her peers reflect on Hidmo, the intersecting identities with her family that she channels through her performance, motherhood, and her community and social justice work.
JusMoni is not just a musical artist, but the embodiment of her city and a vessel for her ancestral spirits. She’s a mother, a poet, an organizer, a bereaved, and a light. Her music and performance is where these many facets of herself intersect. While she may be the youngest member of the Constellation, her wisdom exceeds her age and finds the ears of the rest of the constellation.
On this episode, Moni shares her story – and by extension, a deeper story about Seattle. Moni and her peers reflect on the Eritrean restaurant Hidmo that became a hub for local hip-hop, the intersecting identities with her family that she channels through her performance, motherhood, and her community and social justice work.
Listen to a playlist of music from the episode and read the transcript below.
SHARLESE: I wanted to start out with Black Constellation. I thought that maybe you could tell people what it is who don’t know about it or who have never heard about it.
JUSMONI: Black Constellation is the gang [LAUGHS]
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Reckoning” ]
JUSMONI: We have meetings in the stratosphere. The things we talk about are out of this world.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Reckoning” ]
LARRY MIZELL, JR.: Welcome back to Fresh Off The Spaceship. I’m Larry Mizell Jr., your guide in this podcast. In this series, we’re illuminating the different stars of the Black Constellation – the artist collective that’s transmitted revolutionary sounds, sights, and ideas through space and time. If you’re just joining us, make sure you check out the previous episodes. On this episode, we’re focusing on the life and work of singer, writer, organizer, JusMoni.
JUSMONI: When I go into a space of making music, I'm really asking my ancestors, I'm asking the universe, I'm asking different things to work through me and work out things through me and just letting my body be the vessel for that.
LARRY: JusMoni, AKA Moni Tep, is a singer, poet, mother, DJ and organizer who’s been releasing music since 2010. She works closely with her Constellation family, like Stas THEE Boss and Porter Ray. Her roots, like many in the Constellation, are in Seattle’s Central District, where she learned the streets at an early age.
Moni is Town — that is to say, Seattle as it gets, and really invested in her community in a way few can claim. She doesn’t just live here, or claim here, she builds here, she’s loved here. She invests in the community that raised her up, and still holds her down — through her art, poetry, and her long history of work with a plethora of local organizations.
The deeper we get into this podcast and the stories within the Black Constellation, you’ve maybe started to see a pattern. These are stories about music and art and people who create them, but what’s also been emerging is a story about Seattle. A city that’s undergoing major change, to be sure, but also the underheard histories of neighborhoods like the Central District. It’s way deeper than hip-hop. It’s a community of people with intersecting identities, manifestations of generations of artists and groundbreakers.
JUSMONI: I mean, I love Seattle. I have a deep love affair with this city. I have the Space Needle tattooed on my ring finger because I'm very much married to this game and it taught me everything that I know about how to move through life, it has felt really special being from here. To be so connected to water, to be surrounded by water, you know, like we not on an island, but we touching water on all sides, it really feels like. And to be from a place that has such good weed is, like, really important. It's a really important part of my practice. But also, as we've touched on in other interviews with the rest of the collective members, it's a good workspace, and it allows the space to be weird and be as authentically as you are and genuine as you are. And to find your tribe, to find community and like-minded people who are aligned with you in that.
LARRY: Moni may be the youngest member of the Constellation, but her old soul is unmistakable — and accordingly, she carries lifetimes of wisdom. She’s already lived several lives as an artist, a mother, as a spiritual vessel for her ancestors.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Tender in Practice” ]
LARRY: Getting to Moni’s story means knowing her family.
JUSMONI: So I come from a family that looked like the United Nations. And so, everybody who you could imagine is in my family, is in my family. We got Ethiopians, Cambodians, Laotians, Thais, Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, just everybody from everywhere.
JUSMONI: My grandmother immigrated to the United States in the seventies with her three children, escaped a genocide in Cambodia. Didn't know no English, crossed a river in the middle of the night, escaped from a killing, one of the killing fields camps. You feel me. Three kids on her and went to a refugee camp in Thailand and my grandpa found her.
LARRY: Moni’s primary guardian and guidance was her grandmother, who in Moni’s words, always had her tucked under her arm, or on her hip. She was a central, instructive figure in Moni’s life. In many ways, Moni is a shining reflection of her grandmother, following her loving example of caring for the people around her.
JUSMONI: Everybody called my grandma mom. So that was just, you know, she was just Mom to everyone. And then here I was, her little, her little Black and Cambodian baby that she's speaking Khmer to and running around behind her, with really long, curly nappy hair, and you know what I'm saying, very Black, but very Cambodian, but always with just a gang of black friends. Everybody was at my grandmother's house on Beacon, like everybody. And she fed you and you could sleep there and she would take care of you. And she was just like a really, just a really strong, like strong is such, that's not even a profound enough description. Just magnetic and powerful. And love that can feel hard, but that is really good for you. And I ran my whole family, like just ragged, but my grandmother and living in her home, I really ran her ragged and I know she was scared for me so many times in my life, and she just never, she never didn't have a place for me. Ever. She would never not have a meal for me, it didn't matter.
JUSMONI: My grandfather was what people I guess would call a medicine man or a shaman for the greater Seattle Tacoma community of Cambodian folks who immigrated here in the seventies and the eighties.
LARRY: Within her family, Moni also began exploring her spirituality and adopting numerous traditions, leaning into the aspects that spoke to her.
JUSMONI: As I got older, I was a practicing Buddhist and I went to the temple with my grandparents. I still have altars in my home that resemble the ones that I had growing up. And then I got into church, I got into Black church, and I let spirit roll over me and got to experience what that was. Jesus ain't my cup, but spirit, you can't stop spirit, as my friend, Bashone would say. And so when they talk about Holy Spirit and what it means to be in communion with folks in a space, like in a concentrated space, the way the Holy Spirit moves is different than anything that I've ever learned about Jesus.
EL MIZELL:The kind of spirited communion Moni found in these spaces, wasn’t just limited to houses of worship. As a budding poet and singer, Moni soon found herself right in the mix at Hidmo, the Eritrean restaurant, performance space, and community hub in the CD, that incubated and inspired a new generation of artists in Seattle.
[ MUSIC CUE: OCNotes - “Last Night at Hidmo” ]
LARRY: Take me back to Hidmo.
JUSMONI: Whoo! All right. It's dark, it's a rainy night in Seattle. We on the corner of 20th and Jackson. You know what I'm saying? Lights is blaring from the street lights, it's kind of windy. You got a sign on the side of the building, says Hidmo. Eritrean rest-, did it? Did it just say Eritrean restaurant?
LARRY: I think so.
JUSMONI: Yeah, OK. Then you walk in, right? The floor is a kind of dusty because it's like kind of really unfinished cement. Some parts are finished, some parts are not. It's like a kind of more slender hallway leading into a big room. But you walk in there and it feels like, Okay, I can maybe be in Eritrea right now. We might be outside, about to eat some injera, right? You walk in and then there's Rahwa. Rahwa Habte. Big smile, big hair, big laugh. Big voice. Open arms, loving body, pure heart, just warm. And then there's Asmeret, who is a lot more serious, who is still pure love and, you know, open arms and all of that, but really, really like the balance to Rahwa. And I'm watching these sisters not only have amazing Eritrean food at the Hidmo, like really good green chicken and lentils with potatoes and everything just crazy. I'm not only seeing that happen and them being able to like run a business like that, but I'm also seeing this camaraderie and this relationship between sisters that I hadn't really experienced. Sisters who were like dedicated to their mission of bringing community into their space and cultivating that, but like also like, how do we get this bread and how do we stay here? And like could create sustainability for the communities that we love? So I was witnessing something to me at the time that felt trailblazing in that felt earth-shattering and that felt remarkable. Hidmo was and will always be home.
LARRY: How did you discover Hidmo?
JUSMONI: I wish I could tell you. I wish I could tell you, I don't know. I can't remember what the exact link was. Maybe it was Gabriel. Like, maybe it was Gabriel Teodros..
[ MUSIC CUE: Gabriel Teodros - “The World is a Hidmo” ]
GABRIEL TEODROS: I met Moni as a young, as a youth organizer and I met her there, kind of, you know, saw her young spirit just like just, you know, just fire.
LARRY: Gabriel Teodros is the DJ and host of KEXP’s show, Early. I’ve known him for two decades as an MC, poet, and deeply entrenched community organizer that’s rightfully beloved for bringing his heart into everything he does.
GABRIEL (cont’d from above): And I saw her do the same move that I made when I was a part of Seattle Young People's Project, which is to dip over to CARA, which is another community organization that was down the street led by black women, communities against rape and abuse. CARA is a very important organization in the history of Seattle, in the history nationwide of conversations about prison abolition and keeping communities safe when there's interpersonal harm without calling the cops. And Moni was a young organizer there. I think she probably was 16 when she made the move over to CARA, you know, and I would say Moni became a part of my everyday life when Rahwa Habte, may she rest in peace, opened up the Hidmo, and CARA would have meetings there regularly. They also held a monthly event there called Ladies First, which I believe Moni organized for as well. Moni was also part of Youth Speaks Seattle, and I was an adult mentor for Youth Speaks Seattle, so it's kind of like almost everywhere I was, there was a young Moni right there, you know? So I absolutely still think of her, like as my little sister.
LARRY: Moni's always struck me by how much just like, what a powerful personality she is, when you hear her speak, sing, when you hear her poetry, it's raw, it's gripping, it pulls people in, where do you think that comes from?
GABRIEL: Hmm. I think it comes from a lot of places, man. I think it comes from a lot of places. Obviously, the family influence is big, I think trauma is a lot of it, too. Moni went through a lot at an early age, and that's kind of why I pause when you ask that because I was like, I don't know how much of this is my story to tell. You know? But she speaks about it in her music. You know what I mean, she talks about in her art.
GABRIEL: Moni came up in a really hard time in Seattle. I would say, you know, you and me came up in an era where it was almost like the first South End CD beef really first popped off when you and me were in high school, you know, and I feel like Moni came up in the second wave of that that was just as deadly, and she had friends, and she had family and people that she loved on both sides and through her high school years, like those years that she was at Hidmo like it wasn't all good, like there was many times when she came in in tears. You know what I mean?
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray feat. JusMoni - “Sunrise” ]
LARRY: In the years I've known you, you know, you lost some folks.
JUSMONI: Yeah, for sure.
LARRY: Just wondering if you would talk about that and how that's kind of impacted.
JUSMONI: I think that's why I work from spirit, because I'm so sad all the time about all of the people that I've lost, since I was a really young person, actually. Like, maybe I was 11 or 12, the first time that I was impacted by somebody who died due to gun violence.
JUSMONI: There was a certain point, probably when I was, I don't know, 18, 19 something when I was just like, I'm not going to funerals for real anymore. This is really, it's just traumatic over and over and over again
JUSMONI: None of it is fun. I also have lost people close to me that I have loved intimately.
LARRY: Moni’s grounding in deep spiritual practices have helped her heal from loss, given her strength, and kept her in community with loved ones who’ve passed on.
JUSMONI: When I talk about ancestral work, I mean, like literally the relationship with those who have passed on. So, you know, talking a little bit about what my spirituality is rooted in and the things that I learned from my grandfather. Like, there is really no disconnection that happens when someone dies, just that their vessel, they're not operating in that same vessel. And us as people who are still here in this realm or experiencing our body in this way, it's our responsibility to make sure that we are staying in constant relationship with those who have passed on. So like, we not scared of dead people and talking to them is not weird and feeding them is regular and lighting a candle so that they can see is regular. And, you know, talking to them and being in conversation is, that's like breath for me and for my family.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray feat. JusMoni - “Sunrise” ]
JUSMONI: [poetry excerpt:]
Sometimes it is hard to accept that two things can exist at the same time and be true
That joy and pain are not mutually exclusive
That our experiences have made us but do not predetermine what it is that we are becoming
LARRY: Moni’s creative practices have honed her expressive capabilities, such that, even in conversation, you can’t help but feel her words deeply; they’ve also given her solace and comfort in times that have tested her.
JUSMONI: Poetry was a really good outlet of expression for me, at first, like I was so mad and so sad at life as a young person like, you know, I'm talking about my family and all the things that I love and like how I came up and what has been really good about it. But shit ain't always been really sweet. You feel me. And so I, as a young person, was also really angry and upset and just really sad about life in a lot of ways, and some of that was teenage angst, but a lot of it was like trauma. You know? And so I started writing as a way to like, just get it out. And then I was like, OK, I'm kind of good at this.
JUSMONI: [performance from her album release show] Feel me on this one, so I can illustrate it to you clearly / This is my dedication to the voiceless and those with thoughts of constantly moving / generations who face adversities and mothers who bear communities.
LARRY: The title of Ready For Life, Moni’s debut album was more intentional than I realized at the time of its release, when I first wrote it up in the pages of Seattle’ alt-weekly The Stranger. It’s a play on the Notorious BIG’s debut album title Ready To Die, of course, and represents Moni’s newfound dedication to her own life, and that of her son, Ezekiel, born that same year, when Moni was 16 years old.
JUSMONI: Eze is my now 12 year old son. Had him when I was 16, the day before my 17th birthday, so I spent all of 16 pregnant, just young and hella pregnant. Just changed my whole life. Really, I had always been, you know, I'm heavily influenced by my grandmother, so yes, I have always been very motherly, like even from when I was like a little kid have always been really motherly to those who are older than me and also those who are younger than me. But when I became a mom, wow, when I had my own person that I was responsible for, like his whole life, what he eats, wears, is, all of it, I wasn't good at it at first. I knew that I love my kid and I knew that I loved being a mom, but I was resolving the choice that I had made. And I don't think enough moms talk about that, about how when you have a kid it's such a shock to your world, not only your body is like going through some crazy stuff. Your body also doesn't belong to you anymore.
LARRY: Of course Moni’s reflected on this through her poetry and writing. In 2021, she was asked to write a piece for the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle…
JUSMONI: Ultimately it evolved into writing this letter to my son, which felt really on time, especially digging into myself and recognizing my own traumas and realizing all the ways that that's affecting my parenting. I wanted to touch on themes without being super explicit around what the experience has been like for me to be Black and Asian. I wanted to lay out what continuum really looks like, and what that looks like in our lives. So when I talk about the things that he will know are the things because I knew through my blood's memory, right? Like, there were lessons that I was taught and that I learned not through some direct experience, but rather because of my lineage, because of my blood's memory, because of the things that I carry in my body genetically, that I have had to come to discover on my own. So that was important for me to lay out. For Eze.
JUSMONI: [poetry excerpt] My blood’s memory had known genocide and escape. It had already known refugee camp and carcass and gunfire execution. My body at 16 had already been an ocean with a body count.
JUSMONI: As Black people, we know that our bodies -- and I'm sure as for all people, but I can only speak from my Black experience -- you know, our bodies carry memory in our blood. It carries memory. There's things that we are navigating right now in this day and time that our ancestors had experienced or experienced to some degree many, many, many, many, many years ago. So, when I talk about my my body being in ocean with a body count, I'm like very specifically talking about the Middle Passage in that moment. You know, I come from Black slaves who were brought over here without choice. I'm part of a lineage of people who have literally died in the oceans, whether they took their own lives because they knew they did not want to be enslaved or they were tossed overboard, you know. And so, I think about paying honor and reverence to all of those lives lost and also all of those lives lived, you know, that are part of my lineage. I think a lot of that piece is a lot about just blood's memory. The things that come to us in our visions, the things that come to us when we're being creative, when we're making new work, is really and honestly like remembrance for me.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “L8ter” ]
LARRY: How has it been balancing a life as an artist and as a mom?
JUSMONI: Hard as fuck. If anybody tells you differently, they're fucking lying because this shit is tiring, really. And I'm saying that today because I'm a little tired and there are some days where I get more adequate rest and I'm feeling a little bit better about it, but it is still tough. I have very limited support. I mean, I have a community that loves me and that loves my kid. But at the end of the day, Eze is like a grown person with his own life and own schedule. And baby, I'm a grown person with my own life and my own schedule and we be having to work it out. A lot. It's hard, but is the most beautiful thing that I've ever had the opportunity of doing. I prove to myself every single day when I can get this kid to school, I'm like, All right, I'm doing it. Some people have given up on doing this like we pushing through. I think what's key, though, and probably what sustains me the most is that I do not pour... I don't pour from a cup that's not full, there you go. Like, I'm at the point in my life where I don't even have the luxury of expending what I cannot.
LARRY: We’ll talk about how all these facets of Moni’s life have culminated into her rich musical career, after a short break.
LARRY: When you bring all these aspects of Moni together – her poetry, motherhood, the spiritual practices that live in her, and her personal history – it’s only natural that it all crystallizes in her music, and particularly in her performances.
NEGARRA KUDUMU: Through the multiple ways in which she presents herself really, to me, has been a joy to watch because we just sort of... You know, thinking about. You know, individuals who are considered musicians versus individuals who are considered entertainers and the few individuals who are able to put together a whole concept and deliver at a high level every time and Moni is that.
JUSMONI: So when people see me performing and even before performing, when I'm making music, when I think about when I'm recording and or when I'm writing or when I'm just like, you know, listening to a beat on loop, I'm like, I'm asking spirit to move through me like, I don't, I feel like my work is my work, of course. Like, I have some ownership over it. But really, with all of the work that I produce, I'm asking spirit to move through me, and most of the times that's not me. It's really like using me as vessel. I'm in practice of also like being so much at my altar than I'm able to create really good boundaries about what spirits I want to roll. You know what I'm saying? Because all spirits ain't your spirits and all spirits ain't good spirits, and we got a lot of unsettled things, especially on this land. So like, it takes spiritual discernment. It takes being in practice to have spiritual discernment so that you can still be in some kind of consciousness to decide what you going to let roll and what you’re not going to let roll. I hope that goes into a little bit of that ancestral work for me.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Sweet to Me” (Interlude) ]
LARRY: She brings a lived-in authenticity to every work of music she touches, including collaborations with fellow BC members.
STAS THEE BOSS: We've been at it for a while. At one point, she was my older sister because she's got all the wisdom and knowledge. She's young, but she's very, very old, and she's been here for quite some time. So I always like to talk to her about things, come to her for advice.
PORTER RAY: When Moni comes around, she inspires those around her. And she really can bring a lot of joy to any environment or any atmosphere that she’s present in. and I've got a lot of love for her. I love her.
BRUCE LEROY: When you hear Moni, and to visualize her, you would think she was in her 30s or something. I was thinking she was my age bracket. Hearing the confidence, she's super well polished and just creatively, she's just in a different space than a lot of the R&B or soul singers that you hear. Her choice of production, you know, and her style? She has a really distinct style. You know it's Moni when you hear it. Anything I heard her on, she was adding to it or making it why the shit was filthy. I'm assuming that's why they called Moni.
LARRY: Music isn’t a new outlet for her. It’s something she’s practiced nearly her whole life. Something she comes by, as with anything else, authentically.
JUSMONI: you know, there's always like those funny memes or when the holidays come around and they're like, the mom makes the kids perform like the kid, the one entertainer kid. You know what I'm saying? So it was always like when I was younger, it was like Moni, sing "I'm Goin' Down," Mary J. Blige like, do your thing, do you know what I'm saying? In front of everybody. Like, what the hell?
[ MUSIC CUE: Mary J Blige - “I’m Goin’ Down” ]
JUSMONI: Also, I would come to learn like later on, like my dad was rapping, you know, and into music. And my grandfather played the congas, on my biological father's side. So there's things that I'm coming to learn in my adult life that I didn't know when I was younger that, of course, makes sense as to why I was so inclined to make music or why it meant so much to me because my mama don't sing, my grandparents don't sing. But my uncle also exposed me when I was really young, a kid to his punk rock Cambodian funk band called Khmer Express. OK, this is like eight of them my uncles, my Cambodian uncles, and they would jam, they would jam be singing all these Cambodian songs, perform at all the halls and perform at like New Year's and different Cambodian parties and things. So I got to see that and like, you know, be out the way as a really little kid, but also see it all. And like these are, they were rockers. They were, yeah, living rock star lifestyles a little bit, you know
[ MUSIC CUE: Sinn Sisamouth - “Voy Ho (Maok Pi Naok)”]
JUSMONI: And then, yes, church and the technicality and learning what a soprano and an alto and a tenor is and, you know, having that type of training. But also, I could not ever talk about my origins story with music without mentioning Starr Spazzin. OK. Deshaun, man, it was me, Deshaun, Okoiye, Sharmin, Joseph and some other and other people. OK, we would hang out, we would hang out on Yesler. Right there, on 27th and Yesler, I think that's where exactly, either there or off the main and 28th.
[ MUSIC CUE: Starr Spazzin - “From the Block” ]
LARRY: Having dipped her toes into recording, Moni embarked on her debut album Ready For Life in 2010.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Ready For Life Intro” ]
JUSMONI: Ready for Life, debut album, 17 years old. Whew. And I still listen to that project sometimes because people will play it and they'll be like, Girl, you remember? And I'm like, Damn, I didn't remember, but let me go listen now, and it's a really quality piece of work. I was 16, 17 years old when I made it. I had just dropped my first baby and here I was, dropping my other baby. Same year. Touching on themes of love and life and struggle and heartache and talking, some real shit. Released that and had a great response to it.
LARRY: Here’s Moni interviewed outside of her album release show at Chop Suey in Seattle.
JUSMONI: I would just like to just say, that I'm so thankful for those who came before me to allow this to be able to happen tonight. I'm thankful for every single experience that I've been through for me to be able to make my music. This really is a proclamation statement that I am ready for life, ready to celebrate, ready to live, ready to not die, ready to dance, ready to sing, all of it. Here we go.
LARRY: Moni’s got a way of bringing people out. Not just on some promoter shit, but in a way that really speaks to how her community loves her and sees her, and how she carries them wherever she goes. Since the first time I saw her perform, she’s been magnetic, able to bring people out, and compel them in a way that is truly rare.
JUSMONI: Packed it out. Packed it out, that was crazy. I think about that now, and I'm like. I don't know. I mean, there were obviously, there were things in place, right, like marketing and posters, and I don't know, what were we posting to then, like, was it MySpace? Like, I have no idea. Facebook, you know, like obviously moving things around. But I was really getting my music in front of people like Vitamin D played my listening party. This is when people would have like a listening party that was really intentional listening. And it was at Hidmo and Vitamin DJ'ed.
LARRY: After the glowing reception to Ready For Life, Moni took a brief step away from music.
JUSMONI: And then I feel like I honestly took a little bit of time off, probably being a mom, being a mom have always, you know, even in the time in which I felt like I was taking time off, I was just working on it until I was ready to pop back out again.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Jewelry” ]
LARRY: It wouldn’t be too long til Moni popped back out and returned to music — and she’s been prolific ever since. In 2012 she released the EP Queen Feel with producer WD4D, a more electronic-minded release which received a deluxe reissue complete with remixes, including this one by OCnotes:
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Take All Night Again (OCnotes Remix)”]
LARRY: The next year she was on a couple tracks on THEESatisfaction’s And That’s Your Time, including the posse cut “Queens County”:
[ MUSIC CUE: THEESatisfaction - “Queens County” ]
LARRY: Naturally, Moni works closely with her Constellation family, frequently collaborating with Stas THEE Boss and Porter Ray. She was on Porter’s 2014 release Fundamentals.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Dice Game Diagrams” ]
LARRY: as well as his 2016 album Electric Rain.
[ MUSIC CUE: Porter Ray - “Cognac Aphrodisiac” ]
LARRY: That same year also brought the album JusMoni as Saffroniaa. Saffroniaa, of course, being a reference to Nina Simone’s classic, Four Women.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Axela” ]
LARRY: In 2017 Moni memorably appeared on Stas’ S’women album on the song “No Service”, which they performed live here at KEXP:
[ MUSIC CUE: Stas THEE Boss - “No Service’ (Live at KEXP) ]
LARRY: Then there was 2018’s Sweet To Me, featuring one of my favorite Moni songs, the sultry 10.4 Rog-produced “Got It On Tape,” a duet with Stas Thee Boss featuring Moni at her breeziest and most conversational:
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Got It On Tape” ]
LARRY: The 3-track project Ease & Mercy followed in 2019…
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “No Names’ ]
LARRY: and most recently she’s released the singles “Reckoning” and “Tender in Practice”:
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Tender In Practice” ]
LARRY: For Moni, linking up with the Black Constellation wasn’t an opportunity – it was an inevitability. Due in part to the omnipresence of cats like Ishmael Butler.
JUSMONI: I mean, coming up around the Central District, it's really hard to um not be in contact with or come across or be in community with Ishmael Butler, you know, butterfly, right? Like Town Legend, So. You know, I feel like you born into the Seattle shit, can you cuss on here?
LARRY.: Go for it.
JUSMONI: I feel like when you born into the Seattle um shit, you know, like Butterfly, Ish, that's just, that's just ingrained in you. You know, that's just part, that's part of you. If uh, this music thing is what you want to be a part of. But I would say... So, yes, that, that's my like real first introduction, but uh, you know, Black Constellation as an entity, as a thing, even at that time, was something that was probably imagined, but, you know, not fully like realized with bodies you feel me? Um, probably around two thousand and eight? Nine? Right? Um, Is when I like started producing work and I was super young and hanging out at the Hidmo and um, doing lots of things. Lots of like fun music, things *laughs* with the OG's. Um, and I think, I really think how it happened like, theesatisfaction I have, like booked them for their real first show, for real at the Hidmo, crazy. Um, and, by way of Stas and Cat. You know, intertwining with Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and Ishmael Butler. And you, obviously Larry Mizell.
LARRY: Fine artist and Constellation member Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, though years her senior, takes inspiration from Moni.
MAIKOIYO ALLEY-BARNES: I guess she's, you know, I guess we have multiple generations within our crew. She represents, you know, other than our offspring, she represents kind of the youngest kind of some of the youngest faction thereof and has subsequently brought a whole set of younger peers, and created so much more of the circle in a way, kind of the work that she's done subsequently as a musician has just been awesome, but as you know, as an organizer and as a member of community, man, it's just been a joy to watch, really inspirational. She runs circles around most of us just having the level of activity and how capable she is and doing what she's doing.
JUSMONI: Knowing that also like these people, who are my older brothers now, like, all had eyes on me at different points of time. Right? And knew whatever I was doing in the world, but being in such awe of like blackness. And in what felt like to me and what feels like to me it's most real life form.
JUSMONI: You know, to be BC, be outside, when people, you know, people see us, it's the gang, people know it's Black Constellation. It feels like you're part of a powerhouse because you are. You are. It's powerful, it's energy. Don't get us all in the room one, because everybody's gonna clown for real, either within the collective or outside of it, but also like it's just crazy energy. Whew. Like, almost have goosebumps right now thinking about how electric it'd be when all of us get together.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Cookies” ]
LARRY: Outside of the Constellation, Moni treats her love of Seattle as a verb, building community around her. She currently serves as the Education Director for the local non profit Creative Justice. Creative Justice Executive Director Nikkita Oliver explains here what they do:
NIKKITA OLIVER: Creative Justice is an art space, healing engaged space that is informed by young people who have been impacted by various systems. When we first started in a lot of ways, we were a diversion program, so mostly young people impacted by the juvenile criminal punishment system. But young people were real quick to tell us that they needed something more, they wanted more and they wanted to bring their friends to an expanded space that really focused on healing and art. And we also came to the realization as abolitionists, we don't want to be another arm connected to the system. We want to be building the spaces that we hope will be our future restorative and transformative justice spaces.
NIKKITA: My first memory is actually getting to know JusMoni as Saffronia and hearing her do the piece from For Colored Girls. And she was on stage with Youth Speaks, which is, you know, it is emblematic of the type of organization we strive to be, where the young folks that we are building these spaces with and for ultimately become the ones who become the next arts organizers of these spaces. And so I kind of love that my first memory of Moni also ties to Moni coming in and becoming the next steward, the new the next organizer of Creative Justice as our Education Director.
JUSMONI: So I help design and implement our educational programs that look like teaching artists working with a group of young people within their discipline. I always tell people like, this is my life's work, like working with young people and providing opportunities for them to feel safe within themselves, to come home to themselves, in a world that doesn't necessarily want that to happen for you.
JUSMONI: We're creating systems, you know, different systems, systems that that benefit us, that are not at our expense, and I think that young people know how to do that. I mean, I think that we're all a part of this collaborative process, but I do think that young people are right on it about what type of world we should be living in.
LARRY: Moni’s work with Creative Justice, those systems that she speaks of, mirror the kind of love and caring she was grateful to find in Seattle when she was growing up and needed it, as she described to DJ Sharlese in this 2018 KEXP in-studio session…
JUSMONI: So, I was raggedy-runnin' the streets when I was a youth, a young youth. You know, I was just out here. Had it not been for a couple of key select older folks in my life, young adults that were in my life, I honestly don't even know. You know, I was blessed to be, like, bestowed upon a community of artists. But I think it was like it was super organic, right? Like walking up and down Jackson or having spaces like Hidmo that were super important to me making music. I find myself supporting a lot of young people in my life, I mean, who are younger than me, who I see a lot of potential in, and some potential that nobody else sees because I understand the importance of knowing that somebody cares about you. You know, so like, I don't care if it's community activism, or if you decide that you want to show up to a protest, or make some signs with some youth, or whatever. But like talking to young people like seeing them on the street and being like, "What's up?", it's like, "Yeah, somebody cares about you in this neighborhood. We go talk to you, you know? And being seen as a young person was super important for me.
[ MUSIC CUE: High Pulp feat. JusMoni - “Not By Chance” ]
LARRY: Moni has been a parent and a mentor and an example. She’s been big sis to a community of young folks, and even to people older than her. Her organic connection to community has connected her to tons of dope young creatives, such as the Seattle production company Hrvst House, who provide creative consulting, graphic design, music production, and space activation. Last year, when she brought me and Maikoiyo to their Mead Street studio on Rainier, it was clear they were the real thing.
JUSMONI: Hrvst House is a creative agency based in Seattle, Washington, that is really doing some fun stuff. Acquiring space, throwing late night DJ sets of house music where you can dance all night and be safe, don't matter how you come, come however, you come. A media company right, they shoot a lot of my media like a lot of my media output, whether it's music videos, directing short films, pieces, whatever, incredible group of producers and directors. Designers, young cats who got flavor and are offering different ways of doing what we've been doing in the city and it feels really authentic, right? It feels really like, they love what they're doing. And they're just really bright. And so I'm so happy to be big sis because I know that I have a lot of things to offer them, but they also have a lot of things to offer me, so we are in exchange of one another, really.
LARRY: It was through Moni that I met Hrvst House’s Paco, a very dope DJ and MC in his own right; here he is speaking on Moni.
PACO: she stands very firm on where she, who she is. But she's also very open to learning. There's a lot of people that know who they are and just stand on that. But she, she's really a person that like if someone new is in the vicinity and they connect like you best believe that like they're going to have a conversation, she's going to learn from that conversation. And she's going to apply in her life. You know, she's a, she's a consistent learner. Even though she's very true to herself and and her family and where she comes from, you know?
LARRY: Moni, like Paco, like anybody that strives to be their best self, remains a student. Which, oddly, can be tough for some artists…
PACO: Especially artists who are, who are so prideful in like their own work and in their growth and sensitive about their growth, like she, I think she's pretty open about learning and I work with her, with youth. And she's, she learns and is open to saying that she's learning from youth on a consistent basis. You know, it's not, it's not just from adults, it's not just from, OGs, it's not just from mentors, it's, it's really from the people that, her people, you know?
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni featuring Stas THEE Boss - “Got It on Tape” ]
LARRY: Moni helps cultivate real Seattle community, also, with Sway & Swoon, an all-women DJ collective whose events represent an evolution of the Black Weirdo parties previously organized by THEESatisfaction, and never fail to draw a devoted crowd of beautiful Black & brown folks, creating space for everybody to be themselves without any bullshit. It’s a breath of fresh air in the city.
JUSMONI: So, Sway & Swoon consists currently of Stas THEE Boss, KEXP legend as well, Seattle legend as well, and then actually DJ Yaddy, who runs Street Sounds on some Fridays at KEXP, which is really cool. So, we are, as far as I know, the only all-Black, all-queer, all-women DJ collective in Seattle. So, Sway & Swoon started with Stas and I playing around with some stuff, and you know, she is the Swoon and I am the Sway. And that's kind of how we move in our lives.
JUSMONI: You know, a lot of people in Seattle and beyond are familiar with the Black Weirdo parties that used to happen back in the day where it cultivated spaces for many of our communities to intersect with each other and just party and have a good time. And there's always a live performance. There was always a different component of art being shared in those spaces. A couple of years later, Stasi and I decided, let's throw a $5 party and let's see who comes right. We're going to throw it at a house in the CD, and we're going to invite a guest performer, and we're going to invite a visual artist to come show and hopefully sell some of the work. And so we were like, All right, let's try this. And it was a hit. It was a hit, a hit.
JUSMONI: We prioritize our queer communities that we're a part of. And what is really fun about our parties, too, is that many of the communities that intersect with our queer community and our Black community all just come through and have a good time and are hella respectful of each other and just, you know, just want to party.
JUSMONI: You know, I don't know if Sway & Swoon will always be us, or if it will expand, or if we'll just, you know, be providing more mentorship for other young folks coming in, trying to DJ, trying to get immersed into the cultural scene in Seattle.
[ MUSIC CUE: JusMoni - “Watching Planes” ]
LARRY: Moni exemplifies a central concept that the Constellation revolves around. She honors, and communes with, her ancestors, while investing her energy into young people and building welcoming spaces, ones that will protect and inspire new expression, paying forward all that was given to her.
JUSMONI: One thing that is essential to our work is continuum. So, recognizing and understanding that are our iterations of the art that we are producing in this current moment are reiteration of things that have happened before, that have been passed down to us through our blood's memory, through our visions, through our touching of the ground, through our ancestral practices, our spiritual practices, right? So we're creating work that is only in this moment a continuum of those things.
LARRY: Within that, Moni always remains grounded, and distinctly herself: tender, hilarious, and deeply ambitious. She’s a brilliant artist, a great mom and—speaking from experience—a real-ass friend, the kind worth their weight in gold. She’s a CD Seattle original, and an essential part of the Constellation’s social and spiritual dimension.
JUSMONI: We are connected because of our understanding, and we would have been connected to each other no matter what, because I truly feel like it was designed for us to be together in this way. And so I could go on and on, you know, about Black Constellation, but essentially, yeah, we all believe in a thing and we're all making things within that belief. And, you know, can't nobody really touch Black Constellation if you're asking me. [laughs]