Arts and Culture

Black Quota,” a compilation album featuring 14 Black and mixed race artists, has “very emotional beginnings,” said Louisville-based music artist Kali Malia.

“It was around when the George Floyd video was cycling around… and I think the marches were starting and I was going through a lot of, what’s the word, sensory overload, I think with being on social media too much,” Malia said.  

Malia said it was important for people to hear about what happened to Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed in her home by Louisville Metro Police in March. But Malia also felt triggered by the videos of violence against Black people circulating on the internet. To cope, she decided to create something that provided hope. 

“I feel things and I turn those feelings into music,” Malia said. 

The final result is “Black Quota”, released last month and streaming on all major music platforms. Proceeds from “Black Quota” will go toward the nonprofit civil rights group, Color of Change. 

The Title Track’s Origins Are Personal

The title track, which Malia said she wrote before the album project was fully realized, harkens back to a childhood experience.

Around the age of seven, Malia said her mom tried to enroll her into a school, after calling ahead to ensure there were spots available. But when they showed up, they told her that they no longer had any spots. 

“The representative looked at me and I guess saw my darker complexion… and then my hair especially, and they’re like, oh it’s full,” she said. 

She and her mom then witnessed that same representative telling a white family there were open spots. When her mother noted the discrepancy, Malia said they got the following response: “We filled our Black quota for the year. We were not required to take any more Black students.”

Malia, who identifies as mixed race, says that experience has stayed with her, and writing the song “Black Quota,” was cathartic. She thought about the collective power of artists sharing their stories and hopes for the future through their art.

“I was thinking, man, I really want to collaborate with people on this because I feel like this is such a come together type of moment, or it needs to be,” she said. 

Collective Power Of Artists’ Voices

With some nudging from her sister, Aubree Lynn who co-produced the album, Malia posted on Facebook: “I’m looking for Black and mixed artists to make this album. Send me tracks, if you’d like to be on the album.”

Twenty-one year old Louisville writer and performer Cris Eli Blak, who is a friend of Malia’s, saw that post and knew he wanted to contribute. 

“I immediately was like, I don’t know what this is, I don’t know what the finished product is going to be, I don’t know who else is going to be involved… but I trusted her as an artist and as a creative mind,” Blak said. 

Blak’s spoken word piece “The Revolution” is the final track on the album, though he has two other works on it as well. He wrote it two years ago in response to “events throughout my life,” which “unfortunately, fits perfectly” for this time.

“’The Revolution’ is not a response to the protest and the unjust killings of people like George Floyd this year… and so many names,” Blak said. “ This isn’t a 2020 problem. This is a very deep-rooted, long-lasting historical issue.”

Pearl Scott, an R&B vocalist with “jazz and soul influences” from Indianapolis, Indiana, contributed her song “We Will Be The Change,” which she wrote in June. She heard about Malia’s effort “at a time when I had songs pouring out of me as they related to the event happening,” the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon Reed and many more.

“I joined the protests, and flooded social media with ways to educate, donate and support the cause,” she said in an email.

Then she saw an Instagram post for the “Black Quota” project and, “as I read through her intentions, I knew this was something I had to be a part of.”

In her submission, Scott wrote that her song “speaks of the cyclical nature of oppression in the United States (slavery/emancipation proclamation, Jim Crow/Civil Rights Movement, mass incarceration)…  we all must personally choose to change our hearts and minds while collectively stepping up in our call for justice.”

Evelyn Neal, 20, provided the cover art for the album, pictured below, which features her near a shopping center in Kansas City, Missouri on May 30.

Evelyn Neal

Black Quota album art.

“This photo represents my strength, my courage of taking a stand not only for myself but for my future brother’s and sister’s [against] all forms of police brutality, as well as racism,” Neal said in an email.

She created the artwork featured in the image “overnight” following her own “encounter” with white police officers “because I fit the description of a Black female driving a silver Ford Fiesta.”  

“I thought, in that moment, am I next,” Neal said, adding that she also found strength in protesting in front of law enforcement the following night. 

She hopes the image serves as a reminder that being Black shouldn’t put “a target on someone’s back.”

“I used this image because it speaks volume and truth,” Neal said.

Other artists featured on the album are Rayma Herman, Ankhet, Yakari, LK Leslie, Shanice Morgan, Riichpsycho, Mi.ta.shu, Khamani Philpotts, Jazire, Myuree and Divana Powell.

Kali Malia said the intention of the album has evolved over the last few months.

“I think I had this kind of angsty, like, oh, we’ll show them type of mentality and I still kind of do,” she said. It’s just maybe a bit more mature… as I’ve heard everything that everyone has contributed.”

Malia hopes people will listen to the album, to these voices, songs and spoken word pieces, and feel empowered and determined to be a part of positive social change.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.