Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota and now splitting time between Minneapolis and New York, singer, rapper, and writer Dessa has made a career of bucking genres and defying expectations—her resume as a musician includes performances at Lollapalooza and Glastonbury, co-compositions for 100-voice choir, performances with the Minnesota Orchestra, and Top 200 entries on the Billboard charts. She contributed to the #1 album The Hamilton Mixtape; her track, “Congratulations,” has notched over 16 million streams. As a writer, she’s been published by The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler, broadcast by Minnesota Public Radio, and published a memoir-in-essays (My Own Devices, 2018) in addition to two literary collections. As a speaker, Dessa has delivered keynote speeches and presentations on art, science, and entrepreneurship; guest lectures at universities and colleges across the US; and a TED talk about her science experiment on how to fall out of love. She’s been covered by Pitchfork, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal among others. Interviewed by Holly Hobbs, 10/05/2020.
Gao Hong, a Chinese pipa player and composer, began her career as a professional musician at age twelve. She graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she studied with pipa master Lin Shicheng. She has received numerous awards and honors. In 2019, Gao Hong became the only musician in any genre to win five McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians. In 2018, she became the first Chinese musician to win a Sally Award from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. She has performed throughout Europe, Australia, Argentina, Japan, Hong Kong, China, and the United States, and has world premiered numerous pipa concerti with important orchestras. She has been featured as both pipa player and composer in important festivals in the U.S. Her composition for solo pipa, “Flying Dragon,” won the 2012 Global Music Award of Excellence-Solo Instrumental (Gold Medal). Since her arrival in the U.S. in 1994, Gao Hong has presented hundreds of educational workshops for elementary through college-age students and has been on the faculty of Metropolitan State University and MacPhail Center for the Arts. Currently, she teaches at Carleton College in Minnesota. During the COVID pandemic, Gao Hong released two CDs, Hunting Eagles Catching Swans (Chinese Pudong pipa music featuring Gao Hong and her master, Lin Shichen) and From Our World to Yours (ARC Music in U.K.).
Interviewed by Raquel Paraíso, 10/21/2020.
Musician Gaelynn Lea won NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest in 2016, and not long after she hit the road with her husband Paul. So far she has toured in forty-five states and nine countries, performing original songs and traditional fiddle tunes. Gaelynn Lea has appeared in several major festivals over the years, including SXSW, the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and the Reykjavik Arts Festival. She has also opened for well-known bands such as Wilco, the Decemberists, LOW, the Jayhawks, and the industrial rock supergroup Pigface. In addition to performing and recording, Gaelynn also does speaking engagements about Disability Rights and accessibility in the arts. She uses her music as a platform to advocate for disabled people and to promote positive social change. In recent years, she has shared her perspective on PBS News Hour, The Moth Radio Hour, The Science of Happiness Podcast, and through two widely-viewed TEDx Talks. Gaelynn Lea is currently working on a memoir about her touring adventures and disability advocacy.
Interviewed by Holly Hobbs, 10/19/2020.
Sowah Mensah is an ethnomusicologist, composer and master drummer from Ghana. Sowah taught music in both Ghana and Nigeria before becoming a music professor at both Macalester College and the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he also directs each school’s African Music Ensemble. Mensah also directs the African Music Ensemble at the University of Minnesota and is the director of Sankofa, a Ghanaian Folklore and Dance Ensemble in the Twin Cities. He has performed extensively in the U.S., Latin America, and Africa, where he performed with the Ghana National Symphony Orchestra. In the U.S., he has performed with stars like Max Roach, Don Cherry, Roscoe Mitchell, and Julius Hemphill. He has also performed with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, as well as many festivals around the U.S. and abroad.
Interviewed by Holly Hobbs, 09/28/2020.
Dwynell was born and raised in North Minneapolis and has been rapping since the age of 13. During that time when he first started writing, he was part of a collective called TCB (Twin City Boyz). His time with the TCB was spent largely perfecting his craft of freestyling.
Dwynell’s first mixtape, Upside, showed his burgeoning songwriting talent. His album 92 and Roland showed ongoing growth as a songwriter, taking on topics of partying and reflection, as well as feel-good jams and deep lyrics. With the release of his Factors EP in 2014, Dwynell started to explore more serious subject matter, such as the track “She” about the quest for love gone awry, and that led him to new territory, such as garnering an opening spot on Prof Outdoors in 2016. Shortly after his performance, he released a project called The Popular Nobody, a project that allowed Dwynell to show why he is one of the standouts of the young new rappers hailing from Minneapolis.
Interviewed by Holly Hobbs, 10/07/2020.
Randy Sabien has over forty years of performing experience as a contemporary violinist. He also has extensive touring and guesting experience, having toured as singer/songwriter Jim Post’s sideman, doing recordings with Greg Brown, appearing on Austin City Limits with Kate Wolf, guesting on Prairie Home Companion, and doing shows with Corky Siegel. Over the years, he has led his own bands as well, often featuring triple fiddles. Randy founded the string department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1978, and then thirty years later, headed the string department at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul. He is the author of the ground-breaking jazz method for strings, Jazz Philharmonic, published by Alfred Music. He has recorded a dozen albums to date.
Interviewed by Holly Hobbs, 09/27/2020.