Soulection's Sango, Esta and more on music's healing power and why it's so needed in 2016

Soulection's Sango, Esta and more on music's healing power and why it's so needed in 2016
Source: Mic
Source: Mic

Brooklyn, New York — The view from the DJ booth at Afropunk is one some artists work their entire careers to see. At 5 p.m. Sunday, Soulection's Joe Kay had that honor of watching the sun glow over a crowd of hundreds of brown faces. He dropped "No Problem" by Chance the Rapper, and people began to bounce in unison to the soul-stirring choir samples. The smiles and roars of energy were intoxicating, but also rare.

Afropunk is one of the largest safe spaces for people of color across identities and personal expressions. Their joy and freedom is uplifted and protected. "No sexism," signs around the festival remind attendees. "No racism. No ableism. No homophobia. No fatphobia. No transphobia." 

Outside the gates of Commodore Barry Park in Brooklyn, New York City, of course, the majority of attendees who identify as black, Latinx, LGBTQ and other marginalized groups face a society that tells them everyday their lives do not matter.

A view from Joe Kay's booth at Afropunk
Source: Natelegé Whaley/Mic

This reality has felt disturbingly clear throughout 2016. A U.S. presidential candidate rose to become the Republican party nominee largely by spewing disparaging comments against Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans and women. The list goes on.

Graphic instances of police brutality hit social media timelines, stirring more protests nationally. In Orlando, a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, opening fire at a club filled with LGBTQ Latinx partygoers and killed 49 people in their own sanctuary of fun, love and acceptance. 

We need healing. Music as a medicine is an important part of that. Few artist collectives have been as effective as doing that than Soulection, the keepers of the "Sound of Tomorrow." 

A fan waves a Soulection flag at Afropunk 2016.
Source: Natelegé Whaley/Mic

Formed in California in 2011 the artist collective and self-described "digital music and technology startup," Soulection fell into the business of prescribing audible antidotes for their listeners rather unexpectedly.

"I heard people talk about [being] close to suicidal and then turning and finding out about Soulection at a weird moment in their lives and it boosted them," Kay said. "Those are things I would have never imagined; that we would have even 1% of that effect on people."

But its carefully arranged fusion of "future beats, eclectic soul, forgotten gems and timeless sounds," as Kay regularly describes Soulection's sound in his radio show, has won the collective a following of hundreds of thousands on SoundCloud. It books shows at festival stages around the world and broadcasts a weekly Apple Beats 1 show hosted by co-founder Kay. 

Fans discuss its episodes and shows as examples of a continuing movement and a true source of comfort and inspiration.

Although they're the ones making music that's moving people, Mic asked Soulection family members Eden Hagos, Joe Kay, The Whooligan, Esta and Sango to share how music has healed them in their toughest moments. 

The Whooligan, DJ and director of bookings and partnerships

The Whooligan
Source: Natelegé Whaley/Mic

Not to sound biased, [but] when Soulection came around, that was a point in my life when I was at a crossroads. When Soulection came around, it really changed our lives. It really saved us from entering a dark phase. It's like, I've been waiting my entire life to listen to this type of music, and now that I'm able to represent it and put records out and go on the road, it's an honor and such a responsibility.

This past year and a half has been crazy for me: dealing with lost relationships and family passing; and plus with everything else going on in the world. Now this music couldn't come at a better time. And I'm happy to have my family here with me. My artists, my staff, my team and new people that I'm meeting, and we're here together and it's all love. And so now this is the time that music has healed me the most ever.

Joe Kay, Soulection co-founder, host and DJ

Joe Kay
Source: Natelegé Whaley/Mic

When I got kicked out of my mom's house when I was in college. We were just butting heads, and at that moment, Soulection had not even been started yet. We were trying to figure it out, but I knew that I wanted to create my own thing. I wasn't left on the streets; I went to my grandmother's house. And in that moment, that's where everything was founded.

From that moment, I had inspiration and motivation. I had to step up in life. I turned to music, and I remember that night I downloaded like 200 tracks of crazy random music I found [online], and that was the stem of me finding where I needed to get to in starting Soulection.

Eden Hagos, DJ and producer

Eden Hagos
Source: Natelegé Whaley/Mic

I would say around '09. I was still interested in music and I was trying to figure out how to do that, but I had just finished graduating college. So I moved to San Diego, went back home, and that's when I met Andre Power and other producers and I started going out to beat shows and meeting other like-minded people and people who wanted to teach me. And I started mixing and learning how to spin. 

The sounds I was listening to came out of a compilation called 'Love Is Real.' It was very well-curated. And Afta 1, who is actually one of my favorite producers out of Los Angeles, curated it. My first beat show was Afta 1, and it kind of changed a lot for me, because up until that point I hadn't really seen anyone play live. Afta 1 was very instrumental in my early days of being a selector.

Esta, DJ and producer

Esta
Source: Natelegé Whaley/Mic

It'll probably be a lot of love songs. But other than that a lot of Little Brother. I love Little Brother. That got me through high school, 'cause I just moved to a new city midway through the year. I was from the Bay Area of California, and then I moved to Southern California again, to a little city where I didn't know anyone.

For like two years I was just walking around by myself and just listening to my headphones. It was rough. High school ended up being pretty cool after that. That was when I started to make music too. So the sampling thing, I was so into that; 9th Wonder was amazing. Like the way he flips samples, the samples he found. And then Phonte and Big Pooh were just amazing. It was just an amazing trio.

Sango, DJ and producer

Sango
Source: Natelegé Whaley/Mic

I would say gospel.

There was an artist who passed away this year; his name was Daryl Coley. He's a legend in gospel. Moving from Michigan to Seattle back home and getting adjusted and allowing my wife to get used to the place, because she's not from there, and trying to help her; change is always hard. But my No. 1 healing method is listening to music to take my mind off of something or to be inspired to do something else. And to not overthink.

Aug. 31, 2016, 7:10 p.m.: This story has been updated.