To kick off Yale’s Blackstar Rising and The Purple Reign conference, Questlove and Kimbra made a special appearance to discuss the most influential David Bowie and Prince songs. The event was labeled as a “critical DJ session” where audience members were able to listen to some of their favorite songs from a more analytical perspective. The format was Questlove and Kimbra taking turns playing a track and then discussing it sonically, culturally, and historically. Occasionally, they would go in depth about the technical aspects, such as key, time signature, syncopation, melody, harmony, and arrangement. They also discussed the intermingling of genres including rock, pop, hip hop, and funk. Questlove and Kimbra each found a delicate balance in analyzing the songs from the perspectives of artists, musicologists, producers, and fans.
The setlist included the Prince songs, “Sister,” “Do Me Baby,” “Little Red Corvette” and the David Bowie songs, “African Night Flight,” “Ashes To Ashes,” and “Let’s Dance.” The event lasted barely over an hour, and at the close, it was apparent that Questlove and Kimbra were dying to share more. Questlove, in particular, is a beacon of knowledge. His experience is remarkable as a DJ, percussionist, producer, songwriter, and scholar. While sitting in the audience, I was yearning to pick his brain. Questions kept popping up in my mind and there were many topics he touched upon that I wanted him to go in more depth about.
As a whole, the event felt more like an introduction and a taste for what is to come over the next three days. Unfortunately, this is the only appearance by special guests Questlove and Kimbra. It would be lovely if each of them spoke at more than one session throughout this conference, but that is not the case. I look forward to pursuing speaking engagements of theirs in the future.