Lady Midnight: "We need to have moments of peace"

Lady Midnight
Lady Midnight at The Current (Mary Mathis | MPR)
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Lady Midnight speaks with Jill Riley
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Lady Midnight's debut album Death Before Mourning feels like the cosmos, slipping in and out of fire, water, air, and earth. Her response to George Floyd's death seems to be just as fluid, depending on the needs she senses in herself and the community: battle, duty, mutual care, and now, a moment of peace. On Friday, June 12, she joined The Current's Morning Show to talk to Jill Riley about healing and the definition of "safety."

Listen to the interview using the audio player above, and read a transcript of the interview below.

Interview Transcript

You are listening to The Current's Morning Show. I'm Jill Riley, and I have a special guest on the line. Lady Midnight is a long-admired veteran in the Twin Cities music scene. She has recorded with a number of artists, like Bon Iver and P.O.S and Brother Ali, and she's performed with internationally acclaimed icons like Common and Aloe Blacc and many others. Lady Midnight was also named "Best Twin Cities Vocalist of 2017" by City Pages, and I'm so glad to have her on the line. How are you today?

Lady Midnight: Hi, I'm doing ok today. I think that there's so much that I'm feeling from these past few weeks that are really felt within my body, and [I'm] unable to always articulate [them] with words. But I do have hope. I definitely have a lot of pain. A lot of trauma, [which] I think that we've all collectively gone through. But I would say that I currently have found a moment of peace, so I have to take things moment-to-moment, and that helps get through difficult times.

I've been talking to a number of people from the community on the show in the past couple weeks, since the police killing of George Floyd. And that word, "hope," and the word "peace" have come up more [often] this week than last week. It seems to be that there is a peaceful feeling in the air, like maybe the smoke is clearing, but I wonder if there is a fear that that smoke will clear, and that the momentum will be lost. Like, you don't want the smoke to completely clear, right?

I mean, of course you don't want people to stay exhausted, and it's necessary, in order to continue this movement and seek justice, that people stay activated. But I do think that it's necessary in order for us to have the space to imagine and create the communities that we need. In order for all of our survival – but more dramatically, right now, [for] the survival of black lives. So I think, yeah, some of that tension is necessary, because we still need to be outraged at what's happening. We can't just accept it as something that's normal. But I do recognize that right now, we need to have moments of peace, because after you've sustained so much trauma and triggering things, you have so much cortisol that is getting released into your body. Which doesn't allow you to think clearly in the moment. So it's imperative to our mental and physical health that we find moments [in which] to be able to calm our selves, our nervous system, to know that we are safe.

That's a question that I've been circling back around is, "What does it mean to be safe?" And it's something that I would hear a lot in the streets, to each other and our friends: "Be safe"; "Stay safe." And it's difficult to even say that to somebody, because when your existence isn't safe, how can you tell somebody to be safe? So I've kind of resorted to saying things like, "Be cautious"; "Stay vigilant"; "Find your center." Because I think that those are other words to be able to feel like you're safe.

When you get to that spot where your body can calm down; your mind can calm down; and you can really start doing the thinking, then gather the strength and the energy to do the work and create change, what have you seen happen in the community that is a sign to you that change is happening? Because a lot of things have happened in the past couple weeks!

It was immediate. I've definitely been part of different protests and occupations that centered around police killings in our community, with Jamar Clark and with Philando Castile. And what I saw happening with this movement – with this protest in seeking justice for George Floyd – was that things changed so quickly. There was already a groundwork in place, I feel, for people to take that and run with it. But it wasn't extremely organized. It was chaotic. It was messy. It was extremely emotional. It was some of the most violent things I've seen, but also, some of the most beautiful ones.

And in those moments of beauty and togetherness, I really saw communities come out and speak to one another. Neighbors who maybe have lived next to each other for years, who never spoke, learning each other's names and being called together to keep their block safe. Because there was literal threat of being killed, from different white nationalist groups. So that's something that I've seen the community do, is to be able to keep an eye on one another and have different communication groups, where they really are being able to keep themselves safe and protected. And I've also seen organizations that have no prior history in organizing relief efforts pop up out of nowhere, from one night to the next, Pimento being a great example. A friend of mine, Scott McDonald, independently organized that and was able to serve so many community members. I want to say it was something close to 2,000 people, even within three days. Which is just incredible, because you see people stepping into roles that they've never played before, but that they're completely capable of doing. That gives me hope and [makes me imagine] what the future can look like when we take care of each other and hold each other accountable.

For you as an artist, whether it be visual or in creating music, what is the role of art in creating change? How important is it?

Well, I feel like art and music has always been a safe place for unsafe ideas. It gives us an ability to be able to express things and observe them from a distance, which allows us to think critically, in a way that we wouldn't be able to do otherwise. And it also allows people to understand that within their body, in an emotional sense, instead of having to be so specific with words. But I do think that words have so much power; images have so much power. I feel like we are spiritual, emotional beings, and that we connect to art because it is the essence of humanity.

I believe that as artists, right now, we have an opportunity, if not a duty, to express the times that we're going through. To use our platforms in order to help imagine what a future without white supremacy could look like; to use our platform to be able to heal from the things that we've experienced; and that we can also find ways to collectively breathe. I also think that we have to be careful as artists, because we've seen in the past how there have been really influential artists who have come up to bring togetherness, and then they become a target, because, you know, it's radical. It's really radical to be an artist. You can touch people who otherwise would be unreachable, [with] messages of love and hope and change. I understand if artists don't want to touch that subject, but I think that they should be brave and try it.

There seems to be a feeling in the air: this turning point right now, that either you do speak up for what you believe in, or you're silent, and your silence can be pretty loud, too.

Yeah, definitely.

Lady Midnight, I really appreciate you checking in with The Current's Morning Show and sharing your point of view. Take care, ok?

Thank you, you too.

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