We had the good fortune of connecting with Brandi Waller-Pace and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Brandi, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
Decolonizing the Music Room does something that is not seen often in mainstream music education- centers the voices, knowledges, and experiences of BBIA (Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian) people. Our nonprofit challenges the historical dominance of White Western European and American music, narratives, and practices. We are direct in our approach, and have found that when other racially minoritized folks, who have already been doing powerful work, see what we are doing they feel as if they have a visible community which which to connect, and are further emboldened as they move forward. Creating this visible solidarity and co-conspiratorship has had a large impact.

We have aimed to upset many problematic norms in our field: entitlement to the knowledge and emotional labor of BBIA people; the expectation that racially minoritized folks should enter spaces and help teach and diversify without compensation, simply for the honor of having been included; having cultural outsiders poised as “experts” and given attention above culture bearers. Creating DTMR outside of any traditional systems has allowed us to be unabashedly bold in our approach. As a result, we have seen huge changes in dialogue within the music education community, related fields, and have even seen our work impact areas we never would have expected.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a musician; I sing and play piano, guitar, guitar, banjo, and ‘ukulele. Music is a huge part of my life – not just professionally, but in my home when I engage with my children and when I create for myself and with friends our of the sheer joyfulness of it. I studied jazz at Howard University and it is my first love; I learned to perform, improvise, compose, and arrange. I have used those skills in my music making throughout the years. When I became a general music educator, I found that my background provided big advantages for me as I navigated the many hats I was required to wear and the many proficiencies I was expected to have. Aside from professional jazz performances, I spent a couple of years singing and playing piano with the East Fort Worth Community Jazz Band, which was an absolute blast and helped me maintain and improve my chops!

Several years ago I picked up my first banjo and fell in love. I began gigging in an old time trio on guitar and continued improving my banjo skills, soon incorporating it into performances. As I grew on the instrument, my knowledge of its history as a creation of Africans enslaved in the Americas deepened. I found community among other Black American roots musicians who were reclaiming musical traditions and teaching them. My sense of identity, belonging, and affirmation was impacted in an incredibly positive way; and can’t put into words how grateful I am to have found the banjo. It even lead to me launching a music festival, The Fort Worth African American Roots Music Festival, which premiered virtually in March of this year as programming of Decolonizing the Music Room.

The biggest challenges with my music have been finding time and avoiding spreading myself too thin, due to my wide range of musical interests. I had my first child in grad school and had two more soon after. The rest of my twenties was mostly taken up by parenting and teaching, with the exception of a few performances and serving as an artist in residence at Arts Fifth Avenue, a nonprofit here in Fort Worth. It wasn’t until my early thirties that my children got to an age where they were a bit more self sufficient and I could get out a bit more. Even so, I was still doing her things: teaching, serving on the racial equity committee within my district, participating in a community educational equity fellowship, mentoring, writing curriculum- so many wonderful things I was privileged to take part in. I have had many moments of realizing that I overloaded my plate and having to power through because I could not back out of commitments. It taught me the need to maintain balance so that I can be a better human and parent, as well as give my best to the jobs I am doing.

It is really important to me that the world knows how much my work is framed by my positionality as a Black woman, educator, parent, musician and those things cannot be separated from my persona as anrtist. Antiracism is important to me, decolonization is important to me, bucking traditional systems and centering counternarratives is important to me. I have learned the importance of co-conspiratorship, but also unapologetically drawing boundaries that are healthy and strong. I have also learned how important it is to unpack our socialization and not hold tightly to conventions, something I continuously work on. And important, we must lift others up as we climb and create space so that others who have been excluded can come in.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
One thing I love about Fort Worth is that it feels like a very big small town, but still has some lovely amenities one would expect to find in a major U.S. city. I would take my friend to our museum district to view art, the Near Southside cultural district to enjoy some inventive restaurants, and downtown to relax in Sundance Square. There are many wonderful trails to walk, and we would definitely visit a few near the center of town and in neighboring cities. I would also invite my friend to visit during a time when one of the great local cons was happening, so we could go cosplaying together!

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give a shoutout to the work of everyone who helped get Decolonizing the Music Room off the ground, and those who continue to help keep it going: Lorelei Batislaong, Syreeta Neal, Christopher Mena, Audrey Melzer, Nicholas Prosini, Valerie Diaz Leroy, Andrew Ellingsen, Michelle McCauley, Alice Tsui

Website: www.decolonizingthemusicroom.com ; www.brandipacemusic.com ; www.fwammusicfest.com

Instagram: @decolonizingthemusicroom ; @brandipacemusic ; @fwaamfest

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/decolonizemusic

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCjh3JeD_gdUDYcUXCiaiGfw (DTMR); https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCy24B4cAKedfekKrdFUk9UA (Brandi Waller-Pace) ; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtQHmc1U-fToSEzSoUhVKkg (FWAAMFest)

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.