A guest post by Madam CJ
DJ Lynnée Denise is a cultural producer and independent scholar who uses DJ culture to create forums exploring music of the African Diaspora. Her work is informed and inspired by the underground social movements, theories of escape, queer studies and afrofuturism. Lynnee is the founder of WildSeed Cultural Group, an organization whose mission is to provide “entertainment with a thesis.”
Through an interdisciplinary approach, including podcasts and lectures, she examines the migration of Black cultural products, people and ideas. In 2011, Lynnee began developing the award winning Afro-Digital-Migration project, in which she travels, conducts ongoing research and produces events that celebrate the presence of house music in New York, Chicago, Detroit and South Africa. In 2012 she coined the term “DJ Scholarship” to explain how “diggin’ in the crates” and “sample chasin'” are credible forms of academic research. In 2013, Lynnee partnered with Spelman College as the first DJ to present a seminar series titled: Music, Migration and Movement. The series highlighted the history of women in the music industry, culminating in a comparative study on the musical lives of Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill. Lynnee Denise is a product of the Historically Black Fisk University, and has a Master’s degree from the historically radical San Francisco State University Ethnic Studies Department.
For those unaware, what is Afrofuturism? What does it mean?
Afrofuturism is a term recently coined in the 1990s to describe a phenomenon that I believe has been going on for centuries, which is the expression of alternative social realities in the context of the future, through the lens of artists of the African Diaspora. Though my work focusses on decoding futuristic themes in black music, I have recently decided to drop the Afro from futurism so that I can expand my thinking to include the way futurism has been and is being expressed throughout humanity. To quote one of my favorite futurist theorist, Alvin Toffler, “In dealing with the future, it is important to be imaginative and insightful than to be one hundred percent right. Theories do not have to be right to be enormously useful.” This means, for artists, futurism is a blank canvas for possibilities.
DJ Scholar. How did you decide that this was the way you were going to do the work you do?
Ironically, it was decided for me. I’ve always included socially and culturally relevant themes in my parties and events that were informed by my scholarship or my investigation into a particular topic or part of history, but it was when colleges and universities began to reach out to me that I recognized, in a new way, that inherent to DJ culture was a credible form of academic scholarship.
How did know you were doing the right work? What was your “aha” moment?
When I secured the opportunity with Spelman to deliver the college’s first ever lecture series presented by a DJ. The series was called “Music, Migration and Movement.” By trusting me to be a part of the student body’s intellectual development, I felt a sense of clarity and confidence about my work. Another aha moment happened when I received my first grant as an individual artist to travel to South Africa to research house music post apartheid.
What is the process to how you find these amazing ways to execute your activism?
Building community and partnering with people, groups and organizations who truly believe in my work. Part of that required that I move away from a full time job unrelated to my work, so that I would have the time to cultivate myself as an artist and generate resources. It’s a real challenge to function in this capacity because rather than a cultural worker, DJs are associated with simply providing entertainment.
You were recently in Amsterdam. Please tell us about the work you did there.
I lived in Amsterdam for three months and had an amazing experience immersing myself into the culture. I built community with black american expatriates, local artists, curators and organizers and was able to DJ, deliver workshops on music and organize a series of lectures that focused on women artists and thinkers.
You are also a very fabulous and mindful chef. Do you approach cooking like you do deejaying?
I am only just now recognizing cooking as a global skill, so in that sense, yes, I approach it like deejaying, choosing only the best ingredients, like music! I had the opportunity to do an apprenticeship with a restaurant in Amsterdam, which was incredible.But yes, like searching for music or record stores as a DJ, one of the first things that I do when in a new place is look for the local farmer’s market!
Yaaaaas! What does caring for yourself involve? What are some of your “YOU” rituals?
Being in healthy relationships with my friends, my partner and family is huge because I’ve struggled with maintaining healthy relationships, which makes sense when you consider the amount of rage and anger black folks walk with. Some of my rituals include intentional time alone, running and biking weekly, journaling and pulling tarot cards for guidance.