There's no denying that the last four months have taken their toll on us all. From being placed under house arrest during lockdown to grappling with the fact that Black people are four times more likely than white people to die from coronavirus, Black communities have really felt the strain and it has been difficult to get through each day.
This is why self-care is so important and one of the ways we get through hard times is with the power of music. As recently as 2011, researchers found that listening to music causes the brain to release the mood-enhancing chemical dopamine but music has been used in healing and meditation for centuries.
For the Black community, music has sown the seeds of revolution, acting as a bridge over troubled waters for people across the African diaspora who have undergone years of oppression, turning that pain into songs of resistance and empowerment.
DJ Mercedes F Benson has made a name for herself by bringing joy, empowerment and togetherness to the airways during lockdown. The 27-year-old from London teamed up with celebrity fitness trainer Ciara Madden (aka Ciara London) to create tailor-made "Quarantine Glow Up" mixes for Ciara's Body By Ciara Squad on Instagram, a growing private fitness community with over 9,000 members. The duo blended fitness and music, providing a safe space for people to get through lockdown both mentally and physically.
Mercedes has since gone on to work with the likes of BET, MTV Base and JD Sports, as well as hosting her own virtual "night in at home" on Fridays on Instagram Live.
Since we can't get turnt up with our sisters in the club any time soon, Mercedes has made Refinery29 readers an exclusive mix for the summer. Whether it accompanies your at-home workout or your socially distanced picnic with the girls, this mix is filled with empowering tracks from some of the hottest women in the game. From Chloe x Halle and Megan Thee Stallion to Destiny's Child and Jill Scott, the mix celebrates Black Girl Joy.
Ahead we asked Mercedes how and why she got started, the impact music has on her life and how the power of music can bring us back from the brink.
What made you start mixing music during lockdown?
Funnily enough, prior to lockdown I could count on one hand how many mixes I had online. For some reason I never created the time or had the patience to do the mixes at home but alas, with lockdown I had TIME. I had no choice.
How did the collaboration with Ciara London come about?
As I was about to make my first mix during lockdown, an incredible opportunity arose with Ciara London who was building an engagement on IG through fitness. She really liked the mix I sent her and it rolled on from there. I started making five mixes a week and it literally became my outlet during this time of uncertainty. I suddenly found my voice through the love of music, when using words to try and make sense of the world couldn't quite come out. Music became my therapy.
Have you always loved music? What part has it played in your life?
Music is LIFE. From the moment I could walk, I was always dancing or glued to MTV. I never knew that my love for music would manifest in me actually becoming a disc jockey. When I was younger, [I thought I might be] perhaps a backing dancer or Beyoncé's clone (haha) but a DJ, not quite. However with hindsight it makes sense.
Right now it has been the only outlet that has got me through lockdown. It has the power to lift your mood or express how you're feeling through the melodies or lyrics. Music is a universal language and having the ability to select, curate and mix it in a way that thematically touches my core and my listeners feels amazing.
Why is music a source of power and strength for the Black community? Do you think it is used as a coping mechanism?
Yes. Music is rhythm and blues and it's the core of Black culture. We are music – it is our story, our struggle and our light. It's only right that we use our music, our genres – whether it be grime to hip-hop to RnB to house – to unite us. The Black Lives Matter movement happening right now is historical and I think the biggest civil rights movement in history. The songs we make now should retell this story, be retold and played for generations to come.
The Black Lives Matter movement happening right now is historical. The songs we make now should retell this story and be retold and played for generations to come.
Mercedes F benson
How can music be a source of empowerment for Black women?
What I love about the music scene right now is the surge of a new wave of women in rap and hip-hop particularly. There's a boldness and unapologetic Blackness that I absolutely adore and wanted to include in my exclusive Refinery29 mix. We need to use the music we create and support to give us the strength to keep going. We are such a beautiful, talented pool of melanin and the world stays envious while we continue to rise.
What are you listening to right now? Do you have any favourite songs that lift your mood when you feel low?
When I went into the archives while putting together this mix, a song that I used to sing out loud when I was 11 – and still do – came on. "Happy Face" by Destiny's Child is the ultimate mood-lifter and reminds you to always stay grateful and the storm will always pass.