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DJ Soul Sister: Quarantine Curator

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Photo by Fernando Lopez
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DJ Soul Sister heats up the dancefloor with deep cuts from her vast collection of rare vinyl.

For decades, Melissa Weber, better known as DJ Soul Sister, has been spinning rare soul, funk and disco records around town and on WWOZ. Her gigs were canceled because of the coronavirus, but Soul Sister is still keeping the dance party going. During quarantine, the analog deejay has made over 50 digital mix tapes to connect with her fans.

Betsy Shepherd: Is your vinyl collection a comforting presence in this time of quarantine?

DJ Soul Sister: Yes, I have an entire record emporium at my home that I can enjoy. I've actually spent some of my time trying to organize my vinyl because it's not in alphabetical order. So I'm actually rediscovering records that I haven't come across in years because I have that many.

What is the thing that you miss the most about being able to share music in real life?

The thing I most miss about being able to perform live is experiencing that human energy in the moment, that exchange, the people on the dance floor enjoying or dancing or just being present there. I miss creating in the presence of others. But I guess in this new way due to technology and social media, we can do that, too. It's just a matter of adjusting.

During these strange times, have your listening tastes changed?

No, no, my listening tastes have not changed. I am always drawn to happy songs, but especially now. Maybe the expectation is to focus on sad and somber songs, but I refuse to do that. I will only feature songs that make people feel good, songs that make me feel good. I will not change my mission, especially during this time.

But something interesting that I started doing was creating Spotify playlists. I never was a Spotify user before these times. But as a way to keep sane, create some content and share music, I have created a number of playlists. They are each at least 60 minutes and the quantity of my playlists is now 50.

And each of them has a different theme. One night (well, it's been a few nights) I really couldn't fall asleep, so I created one called “Insomniac Boogie.” Another playlist I created is called “I Wish I was Roller Skating.” And there’s “Home Cookin’: Funky Soul & Funky Funk from New Orleans, My Home.” The last one I did is called “What Day is Today Again?” And they're all inspired by the mood that I am in.

It's such an interesting way to express your emotion. In the way that you've named these playlists, they almost read like...

Diary entries.

Yeah, diary entries.

They really are, and you'll never get bored with them. I'll share another playlist that I did. It’s called “If You Think You're Lonely Now, Single Life Corona Style.” That one's self-explanatory. It's named after a song by Bobby Womack from 1982, and the songs included in that playlist fit in with exactly how I was feeling at that moment.

I've heard that a lot of people during this time are drawn to stuff that they listened to when they were teenagers, that there's just something really comforting about that because you have so many memories attached to it.

Oh, absolutely. I have one that's called “Melissa's Middle/High School Hip Hop Crate.” And it features rap music that I bought when I was in middle school and high school in the mid to late '80s and early '90s.

And then there's one called “17th Ward Hot Girl: My OG NOLA Bounce Memories.” It features a lot of music from the early 1990s, and I was inspired to do that after a friend of mine, D.J. Black and Mild, passed away from COVID-19. And I really created that in tribute to him because he specialized in New Orleans bounce music.

Thanks for talking to me, and thanks for making all these playlists!

Yeah. That's been my story during this quarantine. This has been a hard time for everybody, but it really inspires me when people send me messages saying how much they enjoy the playlists, or they clean the house or cook to them. In that sense, I'm still getting the personal connection through sharing the music as I would have if I was performing live.

You can listen to DJ Soul Sister’s playlists on Spotify. And you can hear her show SOUL POWER on WWOZ every Saturday 8-10 p.m.

Betsy Shepherd covers environmental news and is producing a podcast on the Civil Rights Movement in small-town Louisiana. She won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for a feature she reported on Louisiana’s 2016 floods.

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