Exclusive: ‘Black is Black’ DJ Lindsey Caldwell’s ‘The Sound of Resistance’ Playlist
Above image: Christelle de Castro
She doesn’t court collabs with Jay-Z or Cardi B. And she’ll not likely be found debating America’s racial failings on MSNBC. Rather, DJ/impresario/teacher Lindsey Caldwell has long championed artists who are matter-of-factly reshaping the Black creative identity by operating ideologically outside the mainstream, those whose fervent, perception-altering experimentation continues to overturn expectations and obliterate stereotypes.
An in-the-know crowd knows Caldwell as the co-founder of Negroclash, a nearly two-decades-running series of New York City based parties that have celebrated the history and current state of Black music far beyond the monotony of the race to the top of the charts – a taste of which can be accessed at home via this comprehensive Negroclash playlist. Her new monthly show Black is Black (she prefers the term “show” to “podcast”) on Sonos Radio and the Sonos Mixcloud is four episodes in, and has covered topics like Black social dances, afrobeats, and, fascinatingly, Jamaica’s love of country music. And with her uniquely thought-provoking yet inviting approach to each subject, it’s safe to say you won’t find what she’s bringing anywhere else.
We caught up with her in hopes of further enlightenment as to the continued evolution of Black music, and its role in this moment of particular social justice urgency. She was also generous enough to create an exclusive, and distinctly inspiring Spotify playlist, edifyingly titled Black is Black and The Sound of Resistance (click here to listen or scroll to the bottom of the story).
What is the ideological mission of Black is Black?
Black is Black aims to highlight and celebrate music and culture across the Black diaspora. I seek out thoughtful stories to tell about how our music came to be and the global impact of that contribution. I especially want to feature the little known origins of the things we do and how those things connect us. It’s also important to me that the mixes are really good, something people return to often. I tell these stories from my perspective, a person who is learning right along with the audience because of my upbringing in the West. Together we’re discovering things that were not typically taught to us in school and unlearning stereotypes found in mainstream media.
How do you feel that connecting with the history of Black music can help cultivate a better understanding of the Black experience today?
Personally, I think that the history of a lot of these stories is so interesting. I don’t know if this will help cultivate better understanding, and this isn’t created with that in mind to be honest. What I have realized is how long we’ve been saying the same thing about what it’s like to be Black and the systems that have oppressed us across the world for a long time. So, I don’t know if Black Is Black will change any minds. If people were open to empathize with struggles of being Black it sure is taking a long time. I do want to fight against the erasure of our many contributions to music and culture and to celebrate Blackness. I think that Black empowerment is always something that’s needed.
What music has been inspiring you of late?
I have been listening to so much music lately! I stream on Twitch every week and it’s really different from playing out, because I basically dictate what I play. There’s no crowd in front of me, I just play what I want and hope people tune in and like what I like. I love ’80s R&B, I don’t know if that’s a comfort thing for me, but it’s just something that I always return to that makes me feel good. I have been listening to my old Jungle / Drum and Bass records and again the nostalgia for the days when I first started DJing is strong.
There is also a lot of really good new dance music out there that I’ve been enjoying. Bandcamp Fridays has been keeping my shopping cart full of music by producers like Eli Escobar, UNiiQU3, Trackademiks, MikeQ, Dreamcast, OSSX, KG, Juke Bounce Werk releases, Byron The Aquarius, Ladymonix, Amaarae, and Waajeed, who alongside Theo Parrish, Andres and Duminie DePorres produced our show music.
Can you describe the Negroclash parties, and what is the status of those at this point in the pandemic?
Negroclash is a celebration of Black innovation in electronic music. We wanted to shine a light on these things that we felt were being overlooked in nightlife around the time we started the party in ’02. [Legendary Meatpacking District club, now defunct] APT, the spot where we had the party, was a unique venue at that time. Bottle service clubs had started to take over and those clubs favored top 40 music. So DJs like me, Duane and Language were lucky to find APT because they didn’t really cater to that crowd, they let us do us and it was a huge success. We booked so many legends, Afrika Bambaataa, Juan Atkins, Marshall Jefferson, Larry Heard AKA Mr. Fingers (very first time DJing in NY), Kurtis Mantronik, Fab 5 Freddie, Kool DJ Red Alert, and DJ Spinna. We had just started a year long residency at Jupiter Disco in Brooklyn when COVID hit.
How important is resistance music to effecting real change?
It’s definitely a way to tell our stories in our own words, you can go back and listen to songs with the same topics and hear what progress has or hasn’t been made. You can hear the perspectives of Black folks and the ways we resisted throughout history and compare that to the issues we have now. I listen to these songs and it makes me so angry that we been asking for the same basic things for all of these years. Movements require participation of the masses to effect change, and again these messages in the music we listen to can encourage that participation. These songs can be an empowering rallying cry for folks at protests, considering how violent the police response to protest has been. It takes guts to go out and face off with militarized police, and songs like ‘Move Bitch’ By Ludacris, ‘Alright’ by Kendrick Lamar and the remix of Johnniqua Charles’ ‘You About To Lose Yo Job’ were heard and chanted at protests – and I believe they encourage participation after these moments are shared.
Do you feel as if music hasn’t been rising to the ideological challenge in recent years?
It’s probably scarier to be a musician discussing politics right now because of how easily accessible they are to everyone. If you make a strong political stand in your art you potentially have this whole blowback from folks who disagree with you, who can send a message right to you and say whatever they want. Having something you said make the news is probably a lot to deal with as well. I agree with Nina Simone on this subject, I think art should be a reflection of the times. You don’t have to be an expert on politics to contribute to reflecting what’s going on in the world, you can just tell your story. It’s a lot of responsibility to put on artists to expect them to talk about politics; if I made a song about politics when I was in my 20s, that song would have been a complete disaster. I do believe that artists that are not Black that make their living off of culture created by Black people do have a responsibility to use their platform to raise awareness on issues that exist. Can’t want our rhythm without our blues, as they say.
What do you hope listeners will take away from Black is Black?
I feel in general when it comes to race there has been a lot of attempted erasure. I want to shine a light on some things about our culture that we created. I also just want the show to be a reminder of how amazing we are. I think with the constant flow of trauma we have been experiencing, particularly of late, we need all the reminders we can get.
Lindsey Caldwell’s Black is Black and The Sound of Resistance Playlist
Queen Latifah ‘Just Another Day’
This is a great example of an artist reflecting the times. She takes us around the way to Newark, New Jersey in 1993. By the end most of the song fades and you can just hear the gunshot that was sampled throughout the beat as she sings softly “feeling good today. It’s gonna be ok.” Without really saying anything directly you can hear the issues and needs of the community and how despite the issues folks persevere. I could list a ton of other Queen Latifah songs, she lives up to her name for sure!
Jill Scott ‘My Petition’
This song is heart wrenching because upon first listen it sounds like a song about love gone bad. Then she sings “oh say can you see” and it’s revealed that she’s talking about the relationship between America and Black folks. In the song she asks for access to fresh food, clean water and air. How heartbreaking is that? Basic. Human. Necessities. Again, we see these disparities all over the place including today with Flint, and it’s only going to get worse with the climate crisis upon us.
Main Source ‘A Friendly Game of Baseball’
I thought I’d include this one since it’s a little lesser known than NWA’s ‘Fuck The Police’, and it’s just a good ’90s classic comparing America’s favorite pastime to an American system of oppression. Ain’t shit changed.
A Tribe Called Quest ‘The Space Program’
Like Gil Scott Heron’s ‘Whitey’s On The Moon’, this is a song about the wealth in this country, and despite that greed leading to climate crisis, the most wealthy are making plans to just leave Earth when it gets too hot (pun intended). It’s also a side eye at gentrification, and with the Willie Dynamite sample and opening refrain they are calling for folks to unite against these issues. The chorus is so matter of fact that I just have to shake my head with disappointment and chuckle at the same time, “There ain’t a space program for niggas, yea you stuck here nigga.” I love that this is such a bop too, because sometimes the message hitting you out of the blue can be really effective.
Donny Hathaway ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’
This song just rips me apart every time I listen to it. The lyrics are uplifting, “it won’t be long, take it from me, someday we’ll all be free” – but the emotion behind it is so telling that he was in pain. The song was written by Edward Howard for Donny after he learned he was battling schizophrenia, and those words were meant as a personal message to him. He said that Donnie cried listening to the final edit of the song. Black folks do apply this song to our experience and it’s appropriate music for the conflicting state of existing among all of the mess we have to tolerate every day. It’s a shift from sadness and exhaustion and hopefulness.
Syreeta ‘Black Maybe’
I love this track so much. Syreeta’s contemplating Black identity. Black folks are often seen as a monolith and I love that she allows us to think about what it is to be Black and give us the option to even consider what we might want to be seen as. Something we’re not afforded often when survival tends to rely on making ourselves small and being respectable. To top it off it’s produced by Stevie Wonder y’all! (Note, Syreeta Wright was married to Stevie Wonder from 1970 – 1972.)
Tall Black Guy ‘(Black Is… (feat. DSTL, Sareem Poems & Rich Medina)’
Here’s an example of a current song, released during Black History Month 2021, going from reflecting on current events to a resilient pronouncement of the beauty of Blackness. Rich Medina hits us with another reference to ‘Whitey on the Moon’ with his closing dialogue which is A READ, DO YOU HEAR ME!? The sample of The Last Poets’ ‘Black is Chant/Black is Time’ hits all the right notes.