Home Is Where The Sound Is

More often than not, it was music that saved me from the stressors of ascending adulthood and my college career. It wasn’t exactly the most fun experience being a Black, Jamaican-American woman on a predominantly white campus, in the southern United States. My solace came from my amazingly powerful Caribbean girlfriends, of course, but most importantly my love for music. Whether it was writing my final papers, my senior thesis, through films like Dancehall Queen or Shottas, or just laughs with friends as they mocked me for playing Beres and Maxi Priest as they kindly changed Spotify to Kartel or Popcaan, music largely got me through my best and my worst days, inspiring me to push forward while keeping my culture close to, not only my ears, but also my heart.

Last year I had interned with The Beautiful Project, an amazing collective of Black women image makers using photography and writing to recreate Black women’s representation in the media. One day, founder Jamaica Gilmer handed me a camera and a new interest was born. I learned about shutter speeds and ISO and stepped my game up from iPhone prodigy to a professional lens. Photography soon developed as a new way for me to express myself and capture the images and stories I usually told through words.

I chose to celebrate the women, music, and culture that have made me feel at home in such a strange place and asked them to tell me their favorite songs, let loose, and allow me to capture it. I am grateful for their time and patience and that they allowed me to capture them in all of their openness, freedom, and dance moves they often saved for our parties at night. Being the mere lens in their self-reflections as they shared with me what our music means to them was an honor and one I continue to delve into in my research. What seamlessly started as an experiment turned out to be a beautiful manifestation of my friends and our heritage, and for that, I will forever be thankful.


This song puts me in a good mood and allows me to dance, de-stress, and re-energize. I listen to Caribbean music as a way of staying connected to my home country, Jamaica, while I am in the US and I love how free and fun Caribbean dance is.
— Morghan Phillips
Nicole Ross.JPG
Sometimes Duke [University] is just really stressful and dancehall is a great reminder that I can get through whatever obstacle is in front of me...My culture is a part of my identity and I will always identify as a Caribbean woman of color so again, music and dance help me celebrate my culture but also allow me to celebrate myself.
— Nicole Ross
Danielle Holt.JPG
Caribbean music has always been a big part of my culture and identity, as it is for many Caribbean people. Saturday mornings my house would fill with reggae, as this is the day that Papa Wabe, a Jamaican radio host residing in Baltimore, comes on the local radio station for his reggae program. This music, particularly the old reggae songs that my parents grew up listening to, have shaped the woman I am today and instilled teachings in me such as genuine love and compassion.
— Danielle Holt
Amber Hall.JPG
Reggae reminds me to be honest in all that I do and remain and conduct myself genuinely with all those before me in mind. My music keeps me connected to the island when I’m not physically there. It’s for the ages!

Dancehall empowers me and my sexual expression because the choice of a dance partner is mine alone. If I decide to have one at all and if he cyaan manage and wul it dung, mi cyaan badda. Dancehall is a space where the woman’s choice is honored and that goes unparalleled in American dance styles and spaces.
— Amber Hall
Brittany Gardner.JPG
As a Caribbean-American, music and dance were the main ways that I have been able to learn about and embrace my Jamaican identity. I remember staying up for hours with my sister trying to learn the new dance that came out and even some of the old ones. Music was just one of the many ways in which we asserted and embraced the love, life, and spirit of Jamaican culture.
— Brittany Gardner
There have been so many days when only my culture, my Caribbean music got me through. Now that my undergraduate career comes to an end, I see it has been the music’s messages of resistance and progress that my leadership stems from. Whether it was putting on Duke’s first J’ouvert festival to finishing my senior thesis in the midst of this country’s political climate, reggae and dancehall have always been in my soul. Wi likkle but wi tallawah!
— Alexandria Miller