this playlist by lady phyll is your soundtrack for black history month
The activist and LGBTQ legend talks us through the songs by black artists that have defined her.
Music has the ability to inspire and provoke. It is, for many, more than just entertainment, but something that informs our very being, a way to explore and lift up our identities. As we embark on Black History Month in the UK, music feels like a fitting and special way to not only honour the past, but celebrate the black experience.
The strength, power, vulnerability, struggle and resilience of the black community weaves through the music people within that community have made, which is why Apple Music asked a coterie of excellent black artists, actors, creatives, activists and icons to create playlists of music by other black artists that has defined them.
On that list is Lady Phyll, the legendary co-founder and director of UK Black Pride. Not only has she given given queer people of colour in the UK -- long underserved and overlooked by pride celebrations -- a voice, but she has advocated for LGBTQ rights as a whole. Earlier this year, she became the Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based charity that advocates for the rights of LGBTQ people around the world.
“Our community has created some of the greatest, most enduring music ever made and many of these songs are hardwired into my very being,” Lady Phyll said about how she compiled her playlist. “This is a snapshot of the soundtrack of my life, though perhaps I've included some of the sillier, more fun music. Black History Month is not only about revisiting the icons and titans who inspire us to keep moving forward, but also a month to let out a collective sigh and to have fun.”
Below, Lady Phyll talks us through some of those songs and the importance of black music.
Bobby Brown – “My Prerogative"
“Opening the playlist with this song is a statement. When you think of My Prerogative, it's that bad boy R&B tune that everyone was doing the wop to. You're telling someone that you'll do something if you want to, or you won't do it if you want to. It's something that makes me feel quite defiant, or set in my ways about what I will and won't do.”
Ginuwine – “Pony”
“Just because I'm a black lesbian woman, I can still appreciate black men doing their thing, strutting their stuff and creating a song that everyone can sing along to. Whether you're 18 and just feeling yourself or you're 70, it's a song that you can really bop to. There's something raunchy about it. It’s erotic, but not in a way that fetishises black men. It’s erotic in a way that explores sexuality.”
Jazmine Sullivan – ”Bust Your Windows”
“There have been times where I was angry. Everyone says to you, 'Don't stoop down to that level. Violence and that sort of aggression solves nothing’. But really, I do want to smash the windows out of your car because of how you've made me feel. Jasmine just sings it and lets it out and you feel like you're empowered to do that. I don't know, actually, if empowered is the right word, but you feel like you're able to embody the song and let off steam without apologising. I have never, for the record, busted anyone's windows out of anybody's car.”
Aretha Franklin – “Respect”
“This song is sung by so many people and can be played over and over again. When that comes on, you are singing that out, whether it's to your boss, whether it's to the person who mansplained you on the tube, whether it's to your family members who are not accepting of who you are. You just want respect and you deserve respect. Most of the work I do around our equality, freedom and justice, it's about respecting people's right to live. It's all about respect.”
Missy Elliot – “Get Ur Freak On”
“Missy, as well as being my secret crush at one point, is a black woman who has never apologised for her curves, her hips, her ability to be freaky, wacky, or in any way different than the mainstream. She has taken music to different heights and every song she has come up with has been amazing. There's something there that everyone can dance to. But I think because she does not conform to the subscribed norm, it makes her so beautiful. It's weird in a beautiful way.”
Lauryn Hill – “Adam Lives in Theory”
“This is one of those tunes that always came on when I was on the tube on my way to work. I would end up staring into people's faces when I was listening to it. It wasn't something that I had naturally gravitated to in the first place, but I love Lauryn Hill. She is somebody in her own world and that’s timeless. Regardless of what she's going through, her work, her craft, her voice is not dated.”
Adina Howard – “Freak Like Me”
“When Adina Howard talked about being a 'freak like me', she allowed black women to talk about about being freaks. And I don’t mean freaks in the derogatory sense. Some black women have been quite reserved about being naughty behind closed doors. This song allowed us to be open about it. I just think scream it from the rooftops. If we're proud of what we like to do, how we like to do it and when we like to do it; we shouldn't hold back.”
En Vogue – “Don’t Let Go”
“It's a classic. Sultry, sexy sisters singing their hearts out and just being themselves. That video -- with the red lipstick -- is a symbol of passion and powerful women. I just find that you sing along to that song and you feel like your authentic self.”
Beyoncé – “Formation”
“Every time this song has been played at UK Black Pride, the crowd just go absolutely [wild]. Everyone knows the dance, but for me, ‘Formation’ has a much deeper meaning. It's about getting it together, because for too long black women have been sidelined, our lives haven't mattered, we've been disregarded, we've been visible in terms of negativity but invisible when we need to be seen. For me, 'Formation' means that we are getting ourselves together. That collective stomping you're going to hear is going to drown out any negative, wayward approach to how us as black women are getting in formation and telling our story without apologising.
“From 'My Prerogative' to 'Formation', there's something about defiance, delivering, definition and resilience.”
You can listen to Lady Phyll’s whole playlist on Apple Music below.