5 Black Musicians That Remind Me Of My Power

By Yannick Eike Mirko

As an Afro-Latinx musician, I spend a lot of my time jamming out to an array of sounds that cross generations, cultures, and genres. My headphones are always on, and the music is always up. It’s been one of the biggest ways I’ve been able to come closer to my identity when the world makes it seem out of reach or like a bad idea to do so. Building this relationship with artists, especially Black artists, has given me so much life, and now I get to help keep their legacies alive by passing on the music to you. In honor of Black History Month, here are five musicians that remind me of my power, and some of the songs that propel me forward. 

All The Time Always 

Made up of Makel Clemons and Alex Restivo, All The Time Always captivates your attention with sung and spoken performance over ever-evolving production soundscapes. I was briefly roommates with Makel while at Berklee College of Music, and in that time, was able to see and hear the music before it came to life. I’d often come home to fully finished, recorded, and produced songs after just having been gone for a work shift – it was incredible. As someone who’s seen a life before All The Time Always and a life present with them, I say with full confidence that it’s better to know them. You also never have to worry about carving an hour out of your day to listen to a whole project because their four song EP Feel is only four minutes long! For a taste of what you’re getting into, watch the music video for REPETITION above. It speaks for itself. 

Duke Ellington 

Duke Ellington may very well be the reason I didn’t realize synesthesia, specifically chromesthesia – the ability to see colors for sound – wasn’t something everyone experienced. I remember reading about him as a child and he’d talk about how notes sounded like different colors when played by different people and thinking to myself “He gets it, no wonder the music is incredible, he’s painting jazz symphonies!” I’m never going to hear it in the same colors he wrote it in, but I like imagining what the palettes he heard were. As a recommendation, here’s a deep-cut from the 1963 album Afro-Bossa, a favorite of mine, called Pyramid. Close your eyes when you listen, imagine what it must’ve been like to write it, the colors you hear…it’s a very eye-opening experience. 

Eryn Allen Kane

When releasing her debut two-part EP series Aviary in 2015, against all suggestions from industry representatives, Eryn decided on Have Mercy, an a Capella song, as the single. Defying the odds, that move was what propelled her forward, becoming a collaborator of Chance The Rapper, Thirdstory, Noname and more. It’s never just about the music for her, she has to shake the room and make you feel something. Her voice got her into the room and her spirit is what keeps her in it. It’s no wonder to me that Prince happily mentored this legend in the making. Her more recently released album a tree planted by water, is dedicated to and made for Black women, saying to Teen Vogue, “I wanted [this project] for the world, but I always gotta talk to my sisters.”

Florence Price

As a religiously raised Arkansan, Florence had an admiration for the music she heard in church. She also was heavily interested in European Romantic composers. The combination of gospel and Tchaikovsky became known as her compositional repertoire, and led her to being the first African-American woman to be recognised as a symphonic composer and the first African-American woman to have her works performed by a renowned, major symphony orchestra in 1933. To put it simply, Florence changed the rules within and built a bigger picture. And succeeded. By herself. What more could you need out of a favorite musician? For a taste of the magic take a listen to Dances in the Canebrakes: I. Nimble Feet, one of the last compositions Florence wrote before passing, meant to be a reflection of past tradition, played by the legendary African-American Pianist Althea Waites.

Jimmy Cliff

And to close us off, The incredible Jimmy Cliff. There was no doubt in my mind that good ol’ Jimmy was showing up on this list. A multi-instrumentalist master of reggae, soul, ska, and rocksteady – a genre invented in Jamaica around 1966. Jimmy does it all and brings every ounce of energy to each performance – not just live, but also in the booth. Listening to the ‘Music Magician’ (a name I made for him years ago) taught me how to leave it all out there when I sing and play. He holds the Order of Merit, the highest honor granted by the Jamaican government for achievements in the arts and sciences, rightfully so. He also holds the key to my heart, but the order is more impressive. The 1970 album Wonderful World, Beautiful People is the record most scratched of his in my collection, the second song, Many Rivers To Cross being the most tattered up. If you need to be uplifted during a good cry, this might be a good song for you.

I hope that somewhere in here you find sounds worth listening to, stories worth learning, and ambition worth chasing. Happy Black History Month from my favorites, and from me.

Yannick Eike Mirko (he/they) is an actor, musician, editor, and writer. Yannick supports production of TransLash Podcast with Imara Jones.

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