Lalin, by Robert Alleyne

“I discovered that I'm not as weak as I thought I was,” says Lalin St. Juste. We’re discussing what she has learned, about herself, through making music. “Music has made me feel super powerful and super expressive."

St. Juste is the lead vocalist of Bay Area future-soul-funk band the Seshen and, more recently, she has also started creating solo music to provide another avenue for her musical expression.

St. Juste has a graceful elegance about her, which generates a flourishing sense of spirituality. Her eyes sparkle when we speak about the beauty of the Black experience in America. They soften and overflow with empathetic pain when we touch on the struggles of many Black Americans face. “A part of dealing with being in this society is getting over the fact that you've been cut down,” she says. “Certain types of oppression have rested their head on me in the way that I feel silenced or weak or not important. And yet, being able to be expressive like this allows me to actually see what's really the truth. And unlearn the things, the negative things, that impacted me,” she says.

Lalin, by Robert Alleyne

The unlearning St. Juste speaks about has been echoed across the African Diaspora, in America and the Western world, with the uprising and revitalisation of cultural movements such as Afrofuturism. St. Juste describes Afrofuturism as “The assertion of ourselves, in our own narratives, and creating...new storylines for us to develop,” and the Seshen, with their neoteric take on soul-funk music, provide a Northern Californian take on the genre.

“It's non-linear, and that's what's so cool about it. It connects us also to this long history...like being connected to the cosmos, and Egypt, and how we built the pyramids,” she explains while also expressing her love for the fantasy and science-fiction elements of Afrofuturism, many of which were captured in Ryan Coogler’s movie, Black Panther.

St. Juste goes on to explain how these themes are central to the music she makes. “I have a very strong connection to my lineage and to my community,” reveals St. Juste. “The Seshen and my solo work reflect a lot of my journey around understanding who I am. Processing. Healing from the disconnect around being who I am [and] reconnecting to parts of myself...Much of the music, I feel like, is just me processing my place in this world,” she says.

With the Seshen she is dancing and moving, but her solo music is more introspective. “It's more reflective, and the music tends to be a bit more mellow. It's more on my own terms. It's pretty simple, and the point really is to be able to showcase a different side of myself,” she explains. When combined, they represent a rounded view of her individual Black Girl Magic.

Lalin, by Robert Alleyne

“Black Girl Magic is everything,” exclaims St. Juste. Black Girl Magic is a phrase coined by CaShawn Thompson, who used it to speak about the positive achievements of Black women and celebrate their beauty and resilience. St. Juste also believes in the power and freedom of the movement. “When you come from a place of being a double non-entity [being Black and a woman]... you just want to burst out. And I think Black Girl Magic is a vehicle for Black women, and Black girls, to acknowledge their worth, their beauty, their power, their abilities, their intelligence. And for everyone to recognize that,” she says.

She talks with fondness about small moments of Black Girl Magic: from braiding someone's hair to “dancing and just being free and loving our bodies.” St. Juste was so enamored by the movement she created a playlist (featuring Rayana Jay, Charlotte Dos Santos, Malia, and Jamila Woods, to name a few) to “find young women who might be a little still under the radar, doing their thing.”

Though Afrofuturism and Black Girl Magic have provided moments for celebration, St. Juste realizes there is still work to do. Earlier in 2018, President Donald Trump was reported to have referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and some African nations as “shithole” countries. These comments hit home particularly hard for St. Juste, who is of Haitian descent. “Of course it was offensive to hear that, but some of what I thought [was], 'How many other people think that too?'...It's a reflection of our greater society. And so my response, in my music, is that I'm going to be bolder, live my life, whether I directly address it or not, just to [be] me is an act of resistance. And I'm not going to let you define where I come from, or who I am.”

We discuss what is needed to move forward, and how internalized racism often is not even recognized or identified. “The problem is a lot of people are like, 'I'm not a racist or anything, I love everyone, everything is great.' But I think the hard work means looking down underneath and acknowledging [subconscious bias]. It doesn't mean you're a bad person; it doesn't mean that you suck. It just means you come from a racist society and therefore you've internalized some of it.

"If we can all...look at that, I think it will at least open some more windows of understanding.” For now, St. Juste is doing what she can with her music, both as a solo artist and with the Seshen. And that means being honest, and open in her songwriting and realizing her power, strength, and magic as a musician in America.

“I think it's realizing that there was never really weakness to begin with, that that was a figment of my imagination,” she says when speaking about the feelings she experiences when writing music. “By writing music, I remember that I actually am these things. It provides a context for me to be my whole self, and not really adhere to all the stories that other people have written about me, or for me.”

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