The Department of African American and African Studies (AAAS) faculty wish to motivate and inspire others by sharing, through personally created Sonic Introductions, what inspires them in their work and personal life.
These Sonic Introductions can be found on the AAAS website and consist of audio clips from interviews combined with music and ambient sounds, all selected to showcase what is important and influential to each faculty member and their scholarship. The Sonic Introduction concept was first introduced last year and taken up again this year on a voluntary basis by those AAAS faculty who wanted to create one.
“Music helps us all to survive, thrive, inspire, move, remember, and feel…In AAAS, we are scholars, artists, activists, and cultural workers who appreciate a good sound. That’s why we created these Sonic Introductions.”Ruth Nicole Brown, Inaugural Chairperson of the AAAS Department
“Music helps us all to survive, thrive, inspire, move, remember, and feel. Sound and feeling music can be great sources of knowledge, motivators for study, and energies for living,” said Ruth Nicole Brown, Inaugural Chairperson of the AAAS Department. “The problem is schooling often drains us of our spirit and creative energy by promoting a life of the mind detached from the heart and all that our hands can make. In AAAS, we are scholars, artists, activists, and cultural workers who appreciate a good sound. That’s why we created these Sonic Introductions.”
To learn more about what inspires the AAAS faculty, you need only press play on any of the Sonic Introductions and enjoy the music and sounds that reflect a love of self, community, and AAAS.
The following is a list of the AAAS faculty members who share their own personal journey of creating these Sonic Introductions as well as what they have chosen to include and why.
Ruth Nicole Brown, Inaugural Chairperson and Professor
Music is an antidote; a way of being in the world, a comfort, a vibration that makes connections and desires to want to dance, wonder, dream, act, inspire, cry, laugh, shout, groove, play, and release. I love music. I grew up with music and music grew me up. In every place I know as home, there are vinyl, CDs, and tapes sounding tender soulful inventiveness to invite greater togetherness, beauty, and movement.
The Sonic Introductions allow us to practice listening, and to listen differently. They are creative acts that invite feeling and invoke memories and joy! Each time I listen to the introductions, I learn something new about each of us and AAAS. Can you feel just how ready we are? I can!
When curating and composing sound, there are many decisions to make. With my Sonic Introduction, I took a conceptual approach. The concept is love. My introduction is testament to the love I share of learning, growing, making, and being in community. Many of the artists featured, I know personally through my life’s work, Saving Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT), or from various spaces of community building. SOLHOT has a band called, We Levitate. Artist/Scholar/SOLHOT homegirl/ and We Levitate bandbae, Dr. Blair E. Smith, worked with each of us to edit and mix our Sonic Introductions. Each artist and every sound in my intro and the collective vibrations of all the AAAS Sonic Introductions, inspire me to reach higher, to ground more deeply, to take up more space, and to expand with greater possibility and a more radical imagination. I am very proud of where I am from, and all the love and the lessons I bring with me to MSU. Love does. Love returns. Love sounds.
I want you to know and remember my cousin, DJ Johnnie Sumerset. #housemusicallnightlong
LeConté Dill, Associate Professor
I was so excited when the AAAS faculty dropped the first set of Sonic Introductions in early 2021. At the time, I was getting to know the Department and imagining myself in it. Through the Sonic Introductions, I got to know a lot more about the faculty, their herstories, their origins, their interests, their commitments, their nuance. Through the Sonic Introductions, I got to hear them enacting Black Feminist praxes. I also got to hear faculty having fun! I swayed and snapped and twerked as I listened, and I imagined them doing so as well. This is disruption in academia, I thought, by them simply being who they are.
I leapt at the opportunity to create my own Sonic Introduction as soon as I joined the AAAS faculty in the Fall of 2021. I had already been thinking about the songs and poems and words that I would compile to tell a bit about me and my story and my visions. The process took me back to my teenage years, making mixtapes in my bedroom in South Central L.A. Waiting for the right song to come on the radio and pressing ‘record.’ Organizing songs by what mood I was in or wanted to be in. Then, showing off my work to my friends in my carpool on the way to school, popping my latest mixtape in the tape deck in my mom’s Camry. The process also reminded me of my husband who is a DJ. Who has a whole basement filled with vinyl records arranged alphabetically and by genre. Who created mixes for Prince and Phife Dawg and Bill Withers when they passed away. Who collaborated with me to create a “push playlist” for us in the labor and delivery room as our daughter made her way into the world. This organization and documentation and homage and celebration — this too is scholarship.
With my Sonic Introduction, I got to thrive as a curator and a dreamer. I had the honor of collaborating with my Soror Dr. Blair E. Smith on executing my vision. This is a love offering to whoever hears it. It is a sonic tale of urban Black girl wellness — always finding your breath, finding a twerk, finding your sistas, finding some joy, finding home.
Chamara Jewel Kwakye, Academic Specialist
I’ll be honest, putting together my Sonic Introduction was difficult because more than anything I wanted it to reflect not only my intellectual and professional life but also my personal life. As a queer Black woman in academia, I’m often passively asked by White heteropatriarchy (the norm in academe) to leave behind parts of myself and my community.
I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles (Crenshaw and 48th to be exact) and I’m proud of where I’m from, so in my Sonic Introduction you’ll hear what my hometown sounds like. I embody where the Southern United States and Ghana, West Africa, converge in California, so listeners are hearing the same music that was played in my home growing up. My sabbath was just as much Bob Marley as it was the L.A. Mass Choir. I’m a Xennial (late Gen X Early Millennial) so my love for Hip-Hop and R&B is deep and in equal measure, so people will hear Sade, Tupac, Prince, and Scarface, all music, sounds, and artists that shaped my ear, creativity, and intellect. Spirituality is also a very important part of my life. I was raised COGIC (Church of God in Christ), Akan tradition, and Santería so those teachings and sounds are also represented in my Sonic Introduction.
Lastly, anyone who listens to my Sonic Introduction will hear my passion for theory and praxis. I approached crafting my Sonic Introduction the same way I approached making mixtapes when I was a kid. The whole tape would have a theme and each song would build on that theme. I knew I wanted my theme to be lessons I learned from Black Feminism. One of my favorite Black feminist theorists bell hooks was always dynamic in her balance between theory and praxis and that’s what I hoped to capture in my Sonic Introduction, Black feminist lessons that give both theoretical and practical lessons on living, loving, and being in community and solidarity against oppression.
Yvonne Morris, Academic Specialist
Creating my Sonic Introduction was a treat of a method to think about how I wanted to be reflected in music – both personally, culturally, and of my upbringing, which was challenging to achieve within ~30 minutes. My family is from New Orleans and we second line at every occasion we are together. All napkins are up for grabs! Thus, naturally, “Do Whatcha Wanna” had to be included. I reminisced on the Sunday mornings where we essentially had a soundtrack of what we’d cleanup to whether on vinyl or CDs. This brings us to the Nina Simones and Donny Hathaways of the world. Sunday cleaning was and still is a ritual where the crooners are in heavy rotation. My family is also from Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so my west coast love was represented in K.Dot.
Pussy rap and only pussy rap got me through the pandemic and completing my dissertation. If I had to be miserable trapped in my home while also working full-time and finishing up my degree, I at least wanted to feel like the baddest doing it. And who better than Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, and Trina, for example, to accomplish that? Pussy rap breaks the molds of respectability politics and to be able to channel that in my own being especially within academia is everything.
In addition to our classics, like Whitney Houston and Beyonce, I wanted to shine on my favorite rappers who do not get the credit they deserve, namely Jean Grae and Rapsody. Jean Grae is such the phenomenon of music, writing, cooking, comedy – just all the things. And her songs make me feel like an assassin who can destroy anybody and that is always a pick-me-up. Rapsody was the last performance I have seen live in Oakland right before the pandemic hit full throttle and that was an experience I will forever treasure. Lastly, as I am going through my own major personal shifts in life, I wanted to include some motivational touches to keep forward and keep true to yourself. “Where is your fire? You got to find it and pass it on. Catch your fire. Hold your fire. Learn your fire. Be the fire. Live. Live. Live.”
Gianina K.L. Strother, Research Associate
Our Sonic Introductions resists the mind/body split that is often prevalent in academia. It provides an opportunity for our students, colleagues, and community partners to know us and our work through feeling — a return to the origins of learning. My second introduction to my colleagues was through their Sonic Introductions. It was here that I learned not only about their work, but their essence, their vibe. Not everything needs to be intellectualized and articulated via polysyllabic jargon; some of the most important things that we could ever say comes in the beat of banging track, a dope lyric, a moan..or cry…or whisper. This is where most truths lie.
My Sonic Introduction is a series of melodic pivots that represent the nonlinear trajectory of my life. As a child of the “mix tape” generation, creating my Sonic Introduction transported me back to my days growing up in Detroit. Every morning on my drive downtown to Cass Tech, I would listen to the radio program, “Mason in the Morning,” on WJLB and they would play Sammy Davis’s “Hello Detroit!” I wouldn’t be a true Detroiter if I didn’t include my love of ghettotech music, and if you say you’re from “the D” and don’t immediately imagine folks jittin,’ or if you don’t break out into a twerk when you hear DJ Assault, just know that I’m giving you the side-eye. My love of marching bands, HBCUs, and my tenure at Howard University can be heard in the track “Neck,” which is a classic and radiates joy throughout my body.
I’m a Caribbean gal at heart who loves all things purple including the color, the book, and the film. If purple was a seasoning, I’m sure it would be my favorite. My love of theatre, poetry, and dance can be heard in several tracks including excerpts from two of my favorite works: The Color Purple and for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf. My work as a Black feminist scholar/artist is highly influenced by the work of bell hooks, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde who I want you to know, if you don’t. I’m the descendant of a long lineage of women pastors and First Ladies and am deeply connected to gospel music. In good times and bad, I make a practice to “Put A Praise On It.” I’m the product of Joy Rd so as Tobe Nwigwe stated, “Try Jesus, please don’t try me.” As a certified reiki master, I try daily to live my life like it’s “Golden.” Although at times, you can find me swinging with the “Cranes in the Sky” as I reject tropes of the strong Black woman. But all in all, I find this life to be “So Beautiful.”
What’s your vibe? What allows you to feel in a world so saturated with stimuli that it makes us numb? I hope these Sonic Introductions provide a space to breathe, laugh, cry, nod, and dance. Yes, let us dance! And sing as though being in tune doesn’t matter. Let us be inspired to write and paint and perform! May we attempt that which frightens us as if the possibility of failure is actually the key to unlock what’s next. And in doing so, may we imagine a world that seems impossible to manifest. But let us dream and attempt to build it anyhow! Yes, I want these Sonic Introductions to inspire you to do all of that…or at least give you a gentle push to try.
In love and light…