Finishing off her performance at the opening reception of The Black Woman is God, an art show at San Francisco's SOMArts, Queens D.Light shouted: "If you love yourself come to the stage." Over an uptempo dance beat, the Oakland rapper chanted I'm lovin' myself, I'm lovin' myself while twirling in her floor-length, bright yellow coat. A crowd of joyous Black folks, mostly women, joined her for an impromptu dance as the audience gleefully cheered.
While the celebratory get down was only a small part of The Black Woman is God, partygoers can expect it to be the main event at Twerk 4 Mother Earth, a day party and concert D.Light is throwing on August 20 in an empty lot in West Oakland with her frequent collaborator, Oakland photographer and curator Sasha Kelley.
D.Light and Kelley co-founded the multimedia and event production company The House of Malico earlier this year, and their diverse projects combine music, visual art, design, and healing practices such as yoga and meditation. While the connections between these disciplines might not be immediately apparent, the women of Malico have an overarching mission to bolster the advancement of people of color through interdisciplinary, interactive projects that utilize their members' wide-ranging talents.
With Twerk 4 Mother Earth, D.Light and Kelley sought to create an event that uses music and dance to promote self-love and mindfulness while encouraging partygoers to have some carefree fun at a time of intense political strife. While the free outdoor concert is open to all, it's explicitly intended to celebrate Black women and queer people in particular.
"The concept of us so [intensely] identifying with a struggle, in my opinion, is problematic, because that's how we're defining our life: As a struggle," said Kelley during an interview at a West Oakland coffee shop. Sitting in front of her laptop, she tooled around with the placement of the words "A celebration of Black joy" on a flyer she was working on for the party.
"Black joy is being able to show things are happening, things have been happening, this isn't new. But what are we going to do?" she continued, adding that mindfulness can help people move forward from tragedy. "Once you can be aware of your body, your mind, your feelings, your state of being, then you can start creating solutions from a more centered or balanced place."
With Twerk 4 Mother Earth, Kelley and D.Light also aim to create an environment that promotes a culture of body positivity and consent. It's a refreshing alternative to mainstream club culture, where female dancing often becomes a spectacle for male wallflowers, and unwanted groping and touching are commonplace.
"Essentially, we were interested in creating a space where femme-identifying folks were able to dance and express themselves through their bodies without being objectified or feeling unsafe," said D.Light.
Twerk 4 Mother Earth features performances from Oakland rappers Siri and Duckwrth, Los Angeles singer Tiffany Gouché, Oakland DJ Fela Kutchii, and Mermaid Marauders, a supergroup D.Light formed specifically for the show with DJ Namaste Shawty and rapper Jjaahz. The bill also hosts Norvis Junior, a singer-producer, and Channel Tres, who recently joined Duckwrth on tour as an opener for rising LA hip-hop star Anderson .Paak. The Womyn's Creative Collective will also facilitate a jam session and cypher.
There will also be live art by local painters Jjaahz, LoadyLo, and Go Cosmic Ninja, and partygoers will be invited to participate in interactive painting stations. Several healing practitioners will offer energy-cleansing services such as reiki, a Japanese practice known for its stress-relief benefits. And a raffle will benefit The Black Woman is God art collective and the family of Terrence McCrary, a beloved Oakland artist who was senselessly gunned down in Oakland last weekend.
The event falls on a full moon, so naturally there's also a ceremony. "It's a very basic ritual of releasing the things that don't serve you so you can make room for the things that do serve you," D.Light said.
For most people, new age-y alternative health practices and twerk parties don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. After all, mass media portrays twerking as little more than a sexy dance curvaceous women do in music videos. But D.Light and Kelley want to use the event to connect the popular style to its African roots and deeper spiritual and cultural meanings.
"We're still into consent-based and anti-rape culture at all of our events, but particularly for this one because we like to twerk. We like to connect our body movements, our gyrating, back to our African ancestry. And we don't see it as a way of over-sexualization, and I feel like a lot of the time society does," said D.Light, adding that twerking activates the sacral chakra, which is associated with sexuality, creativity, and emotion in yogic tradition.
While twerking as we know it in the United States today originates in New Orleans' bounce music scene, versions of the hip-shaking, booty-wobbling dance exist in various West African cultures and throughout the African diaspora in the Western hemisphere — including Jamaican whining, Brazilian surra de bunda, and perreo, as it's known in many Spanish-speaking countries.
Most people are familiar with the liberating feeling of losing yourself on the dance floor at a club, but D.Light explained that, for her and many people of the African diaspora, it's an antidote to the harsh realities of racism and oppression. She fondly recalled her grandmother's stories of dancing in early underground clubs called juke joints in the South.
"My grandma talks about it a lot — about how it was hot, it was sweaty, everybody was dancing and you felt like one organism moving together through the music," said D.Light. "And it was life-affirming at a time when there was so much going on outside those juke joints that was painful and hurtful and damaging and traumatizing. This concept of dance reaffirming your life and being a form of replenishment is something that's not new, it's something that's deeply rooted into African culture."