Maori Karmael Holmes (00:06):
My name’s Maori Karmael Holmes, and I am the founder of Blackstar Projects, an organization that celebrates and provides platforms for visionary Black, Brown and Indigenous artists. We produce the BlackStar Film Festival, Seen journal, and now this podcast, Many Lumens. We’re beginning to show with a very short season as an experiment. There are just five episodes with some of my favorite artists and thinkers. My collaborators thought it made sense to offer a little insight into why we’re doing this podcast. And I invited Dyana Williams, legendary journalist television, and radio personality, entrepreneur, mother, cultural producer, art collector, fashionista, an all around amazing human being. Plus she’s a mentor in my head, although I’ve never formally asked her to be one. Dyana has been one of my favorite people to talk to over the years. And she’s been a part of the BlackStar legacy from day one, thankfully for us, she said, yes, here’s a little bit of our conversation recorded in December from both of our respective homes in Philadelphia.
Dyana Williams (01:27):
Maori, you are a curator, a filmmaker, and artistic director and the founder of the Blackstar Film Festival. Now podcasts! You’re a host and a producer. What prompted you to start a podcast at this point?
Maori Karmael Holmes (01:47):
You know, it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I have always, always wanted to, um, sort of get my Oprah on. That’s how I’d always describe it. But, you know, I really enjoy, when I’ve been, when I’ve made documentary films, interviewing people has always felt like a natural practice or a skill of mine. And, I’ve also enjoyed interviewing people live, you know, as part of screenings or sort of live conversations during the festivals. And it’s just been over the years, we’ve been talking about it for such a long time, like we should do a podcast. We’d actually attempted to do something in our third year. Like back in 2014, we recorded a number of interviews and thought that we would launch something, but we just never had the sort of time and resources together. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for at least a decade, if not longer, if I’m honest, you know, I wanted to interview people since I was 10 years old.
Dyana Williams (02:42):
There you go! So “many lumens,” what does that name mean?
Maori Karmael Holmes (02:49):
So my late boyfriend VJ Mohan had actually been the last — one of the, not the only — but one of the last people to really invest in this podcast. And he, right before he passed, he had bought all this equipment and he was going to take it on because he was tired of me talking about it and he was going to produce this show. And it was kind of going to be the first thing that we worked on together besides Blackstar, but like a smaller project. And I, you know, sort of like many things, like let it go, um, after he passed and I don’t even know where that equipment is or anything like that, but “many lumens” is how he used to sign his emails. And I think that there’s a Star Wars reference there, but you know, the obvious sort of like, you know, “sending you light,” is so beautiful to me. And it became very much a mantra that I kept when I think of him. And so, you know, I have a tattoo with that and he had been working on a festival with another artist and we called it that. And so it was always like a tribute to him when I hear the words together. But when we were thinking about names for the podcast, you know, I was struggling for a long time. Do we call it Blackstar? Do we call it the Maori show? You know, sort of, what would it be called? And one of my inspirations is Fresh Air, of course. And so I just started thinking about like, what are we bringing to the space? And so always hoping to shine a light, you know, um, spotlight, people who are obviously luminaries in the field. I mean, we have our [BlackStar Film Festival] award, the luminary award named after Richard Nichols. And, it just, one day I woke up and I was like, we should call the show “Many Lumens.” And so it is this tribute to VJ. It is also, I think an attempt to talk about, you know…The unique thing that I hope that we’re bringing to the space is that we are talking to people who are exceptional artists and thinkers, but who are also really trying to, I think sort of spread light in some way, either through social justice or joy or resistance and many acts. And so, yeah, it’s sort of feeling like it just felt like the perfect thing to call it.
Dyana Williams (04:59):
I love the name.
Maori Karmael Holmes (05:00):
Dyana Williams (05:01):
How does the podcast feature into the greater vision for Black Star? It seems like BlackStar is just growing exponentially in so many different ways, beyond the physical festival.
Maori Karmael Holmes (05:15):
We have, we started the festival in 2012 and along the way have been having, you know, so many ideas about what else could happen, but there was a capacity issue because you know, myself, I was kind of performing about 85% of the labor of fundraising and marketing and all of these things to get the festival going each year. And then we would bring on a group of people about four months out to then, you know, put the physical festival together. And we just kept not being able to do any of the other projects because people were worn out from their one or two full-time jobs and their children and their parents and their, you know what I mean, all the things that happen. And luckily enough, in 2019, we had a surplus and we used that in 2020 to hire our first staff. And so for the first time we had people working 80% time. We didn’t have enough funds for full-time, but we had a staff of people, including myself, working at 80% capacity. And that was a game changer. And so we started thinking through what are these things that we’ve been talking about that we wanted to do? And so Seen, the journal, is one of those projects, Many Lumens, the podcast, became another, and then there’s other things that will be coming out later on in 2021. But that’s what just gave us the capacity to do it.
Dyana Williams (06:31):
What have you been consuming? I know you’re a well-read black girl and you have a great deal of culture because you are a presenter of it, but I’m curious to know, what have you been listening to — podcasts — watching in terms of film, television, to produce, to host your own podcast?
Maori Karmael Holmes (06:51):
I’m finding myself almost too exhausted to watch things that are on screens during the week. And so my film and television watching is relegated to the weekends and I’m listening to a lot more podcasts over this past year during the weekdays, because I can, you know, listen to them while I do some kinds of work. And I also listen to them when I get into my car and, you know, take drives or sometimes when I’m on walks. And so I definitely am appreciating the form and have always appreciated, you know, long form interviews. There are some folks who I really greatly admire and of course, Terry Gross and Krista Tippett and Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris and, you know, folks like that, I’ve just been listening to for so long and also friends and colleagues that also have new podcasts out like Marc Lamont Hill and the work that Laiya St. Clair is doing both with Jill Scott and with Questlove, and, you know, folks like that have really have been inspirations for me for a long time. And so, yeah, I, I think I’m, I’m definitely watching a lot of television and watching films, um, catching up on both of those things, trying to catch up on, you know, more sort of scholarly reading. So yeah, those are the things that we’re doing right now.
Dyana Williams (08:17):
Yeah. What can we expect to hear in this pilot season? Who are your guests and what are some fun moments that stand out in your mind from the interviews that you’ve conducted?
Maori Karmael Holmes (08:29):
So this first season is a pilot, you know, we are trying to see, we didn’t have a ton of resources. So we wanted to kind of see proof of concept if this would work and you know, what we could sort of prove to people that is happening. Um, so we have five shows and our guests, our dream hampton, Arthur Jafa, Jason Reynolds, Janicza Bravo and Blitz Bazawule, who all five of them are such incredible artists. And also with the exception of Janicza, they’re all people that I’ve known for a long time in varying degrees of relationship. And so I think what’s really fun about the show is sort of hearing those, the pieces of the relationship that come out. dream is our first episode, and I think that one in particular is really, really fun because I think that sometimes people treat dream, with certain hands. And so they’ll ask her about hip hop or they’ll ask her about her politics and they don’t really get into who she is as a woman. And so I think that that is a really fun show. I enjoyed the one with Jason because he kind of calls me out on a couple of things. And so I think that one was interesting, but I think they’re all pretty, pretty good. I mean, Janicza and I had done an extensive conversation in January of 2020, and I was really trying not to ask her the exact same things that we talked about, so we got into like a deeper one and I felt like you could hear us sort of like — we’re going to become best friends or I’m, I’m manifesting that, and I feel like you hear that in the interview. So yeah, I think there’s some really, there’s something I think about, um, my experience, you know, I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve had a thousand different jobs and worked in different fields. And so I think I relate to people in many different ways. And I feel like that has come out in these interviews with these very, very different people who have different practices, but like finding ways of connecting with them.
Dyana Williams (10:23):
Many Lumens starts when? And where can we hear it?
Maori Karmael Holmes (10:26):
The first episode will launch January 4th and we’ll just release them, you know, for the four weeks after that. And you can hear it if you go to many lumens.com and then we’ll be available on all of the platforms. And I don’t know what all of them are right now, but I know it will be on Spotify and Apple podcasts. And I think a couple of other places, but definitely at manylumens.com. And our Twitter and Instagram handle is @manylumens.
Dyana Williams (10:53):
Thank you so much.
Maori Karmael Holmes (10:54):
Thank you so much.
Maori Karmael Holmes (10:57):
Thank you for listening to this episode of Many Lumens. Visit us at manylumens.com to subscribe and follow us on Instagram and Twitter, @manylumens. Many Lumens is brought to you by BlackStar.