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Genre-defying Santigold shares what inspired her new album 'Spirituals'


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Geoff Bennett: The pandemic forced a lot of musicians to hit pause on their careers but some artists took that time away from touring to create at home. Special correspondent Christopher Booker sat down with the singer of Santigold about defying genres and addressing racial equity on her latest album which was released yesterday.

Christopher Booker: Sitting somewhere between punk, electronic, and pop the music of Santi White, better known as Santigold is difficult to define. Well, it might defy categories in the streaming world worth 10s of 1000s of new songs are uploaded every day her voice and unique sound is a reminder that in our digital world it is still possible to offer something fresh.

Santigold: I think that artists are kind of like mirrors to culture. And so, we -- what we write and what we create is a way that culture can see itself from different perspective and a way that we can help move things forward and sort of be bridges to what's next.

Christopher Booker: White has been constructing these bridges since her 2008 breakout, Santigold, an album that from its first track to its last offered a steady assault on musical stereotypes and typecast, but the genre bending album almost didn't happen.

Santigold: I met with the A&R guy and he was like, yeah, this seems confused and it doesn't really make sense. And you're all over the place. There was nothing you could have called that that would have fit because it was just so mixed up. But it was everything that I was then I feel like I opened a lot of doors for all artists and particularly artists of color who were trying to do something outside of the little tiny box that was a lot for them.

Christopher Booker: You have to be a rapper, you have to be an R&B singer.

Santigold: Rap R&B.

Christopher Booker: Yeah.

Santigold: And even when I came out, they were like, in all the press was like, Rapper Santigold. R&B singer Santigold. And I was like, really? OK.

Christopher Booker: In the year since she's only solidified her idiosyncratic stature. But in 2019, White says her creative Firehose started to run dry.

Santigold: I had some songs that I had started just like little bits of ideas. And I went in my studio and was like, I'm going to write some songs. Nothing, does nothing had no lyrics, no idea. It's even of what I was going to write about. Then the world flipped upside down.

Christopher Booker: Like so many of us during that spring of 2020, White found herself forced to stay still, hold up at home with her husband and three children. She says the change wasn't easy.

Santigold: I was only one and a half cook a cook, only one that deep clean, only -- yeah, I was the only one wiping butts, but we were literally like, me two-year-old -- just turned two-year-olds. And I just felt like it was drowning in that. But then also, outside of the house, black people getting killed day after day. The riots were happening protests, wildfires in California, like it was just like, it was too much.

Christopher Booker: But slowly, White says she started to find time returning for small sessions in her backyard studio.

Santigold: Finally, I made it out to the back house. And I just -- I never wrote lyrics faster. Yeah, it was just like I had -- it was my opportunity to take a moment to feel, to process so it's like be with myself, be with my thoughts, be with my feelings.

Christopher Booker: This flood of activity resulted in the album Spirituals, out this week. It tackles today's major issues, especially racial equity.

Do you feel that a certain pressure to respond to the world and what's happening in the world?

Santigold: I grew up listening to music, that was topical music, like so to me that's what music was, you know, as a child. My father was listening to Fela Kuti and Burning Spear and Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone. I come from that, you know, legacy of musicians, where it's like, that's what we do.

Christopher Booker: She's also tapping into this legacy in the visual work, for the video for her song Shake, she recreates one of the most horrific, yet iconic scenes in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Santigold: I had been just collecting images for this project. And I was just so emotionally, like, impacted by the images of the people, the civil rights protesters getting hosed and like pinned against the wall. And, and you know, so many of them were like kids and teenagers and like young people. I mean, the song was for me very much about human resilience and about just moving through the challenges, the trauma, the hardship, it was very fitting to just put myself in front of host. And to try to keep moving through it, because that's what generations of women, generations of black women, generations of black people have had to do.

The reason I call my record Spirituals, is because the Negro spirituals were a way to transcend people's circumstances and experience joy and freedom when there was none, visibly around them. Music has always been a place for transcendence and for fighting and moving forward. That's why I make music, you know, so that what the music does for me can do for other people.

Christopher Booker: For "PBS News Weekend," I'm Christopher Booker.

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