The Kennedy Center is hosting “Sisterfire Lovesongs” on March 4 for the annual “Sisterfire” showcase. This year’s theme of love songs invites three queer, Black DMV-based artists to share their interpretations of love.
Whether it’s the love of a partner, grandparent or oneself, love is the tool to humanize people, Be Steadwell, the curator of “Sisterfire Lovesongs,” said. For marginalized identities, creating space for openly and unapologetically talking about love can feel like an antidote against oppression.
“[For] Black people, specifically Black queer people, singing and talking about love feels very radical and very powerful and rare, and it shouldn’t be,” Steadwell said. “Everyone should have the space to talk about love, but it’s just not usually what we get to see at the center of the narrative.”
“Sisterfire” builds off the 45-year-long mission of its parent organization Roadwork, a multiracial coalition of LGBTQ+, social justice and anti-racist arts activists in D.C. From 1982-1989, Roadwork’s “Sisterfire Festival” showcased artists, particularly women of color, who tackled local and global social justice issues.
Although no longer a festival, the annual “Sisterfire” performance began in 2018 after a “Sisterfire Revival” concert sparked a new generation of arts activists to restart the showcase, Roadwork co-founder Amy Horowitz said. The showcase continues the cross-generational celebration of resistance, coalition building and emancipatory performances that characterized the festival.
Growing up in D.C. listening to Sweet Honey in the Rock concerts, Steadwell saw Black women at the center of the musical narrative, creating music and spaces that were celebratory and joyful but also gave opportunities to mourn. So, when thinking of the ultimate show she’d want to watch, Steadwell centered the narrative around Black and queer love as it relates to ancestors, self-love, romance and heartbreak.
Steadwell, a queer-pop singer and songwriter, performed in the 2018 “Sisterfire Revival” showcase and the 2022 “Sisterfire” performance held at the Kennedy Center. But now standing in the role of curator, Steadwell chose artists she previously collaborated with or watched perform to lead this year’s showcase.
“The fact that they’re all openly queer Black folks from the D.C. area, it just felt like such a powerhouse, such an exciting moment to see them all together and see what they do,” Steadwell said.
Each artist will present their own love song round-robin style before coming together to perform as a group. The artist collaboration is a Sisterfire tradition wherein space is held to facilitate community building between artists. However, each artist’s individual performance is a unique compilation of how they navigate feelings of love.
Rebekah Laur’en, a classically trained singer turned alternative R&B singer, songwriter and producer, will center her performance around self-love and healing. Emphasizing how mistakes are inevitable but necessary to make up the present moment, Lau’ren’s music stems from forgiving oneself, loving oneself, and understanding others are in a process of self-growth.
“We’ve all changed and grown so much, so just to connect with the other artists who will be on stage and just [to share] the message I believe of freedom, love, light, freedom of self, expression of self, [and] just being, I feel that’s what’s going to be in the room,” Lau’ren said.
Meanwhile, Spirit McIntyre, a composer and lyricist, will produce a family-centered soundscape wherein they layer vocals from their mother and sister with instrumental rhythms and ambient sounds.
“Everything sounds like music to me,” McIntyre said, noting the hum of the radiator sitting behind them. “[So when I talk about family,] you’ll hear their names in this work.”
Beyond incorporating the voices of family members, McIntyre recognizes the ancestors who led them to where they are now and the legacy of love that they carry on. “There’s no me without the ancestors that came,” McIntyre said. “And there’s no future without us being here.”
The final artist, Like Water, also focuses on ancestral love but with a meditative twist. As an electronic and acoustic instrumental producer, Like Water loops a blend of ethereal and natural sounds in live performances to simulate both adventurous and mundane experiences.
“Sometimes, I come out feeling grounded. Sometimes, I come out with a message. Sometimes I come out energized,” Like Water said. “I’m just creating space for the unknown and for expansion into things I just didn’t know was needed.”
To write about love, Like Water focuses on different bonds of love that make her feel safe. “People who passed, who you know, who you’ve known in your life that have shown up for you and have given you love and made you feel safe, people who were riding for you here on Earth, [I] start with those folks,” Like Water added.
While the artists prepare for their individual performances, the group collaboration will uniquely combine the sources of love that each artist brings to light.
“Preparation outside of music is just being open, not tying anything so tightly that it doesn’t allow for something else beautiful to be created or something else to spin off,” Like Water said. “This will be a beautiful opportunity to sit in that feeling and to see the beauty that will be created from all the folks that are going to be in this space.”
This story is made possible with support from Comcast Corporation.