Brown Arts


New Episodes: Tuesdays, April 16-July 2, 2024
Fearless conversations that reveal the extraordinary in all of us.

An Artistic Innovators IGNITE Series Project

New Episodes drop every Tuesday, April 16 - July 2, 2024

About HELGA Season VI

A co-production with WNYC Studios, WQXR, and Brown Arts Institute

Artist, performer, and host Helga Davis (member of BAI's Artistic Innovators Collective) brings a soulful curiosity and love of people to the podcast HELGA, where she talks about the intimate lives of creative people as they share the steps they’ve taken along their path. She draws listeners into these discussions with cultural change-makers, whether already famous or rising talents, whose sensibilities expand our imaginations as we explore what we think we know about each other. The upcoming season features guests from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, including Brittany HowardTremaine EmorySuzan-Lori ParksSampha, and distinguished members of the Brown community: Professor Enongo Lumumba-KasongoProfessor Noliwe Rooks, Whitney White '15 and Anna Martin '16.

The new season of Helga is a co-production of WNYC Studios, WQXR, and the Brown Arts Institute. WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including RadiolabOn the Media, and Death, Sex & Money.

HELGA Season V is also a co-production of WNYC Studios, WQXR, and the Brown Arts Institute.

Transcripts are posted to individual episode pages as they become available.

WNYC Website 

Season 6 Episode Descriptions

Formerly the Grammy Award-winning Alabama Shakes' lead singer and guitarist, and now a spectacular and charismatic solo artist, singer-songwriter Brittany Howard joins Helga in the studio after her second solo album, “What Now.” In this episode Howard discusses her early experiences with grief and its impact on her creative awakening, her stages of self-discovery and the importance of therapy as a critical aspect of mental health and therapy, and how she balances her many musical forms with her understanding of authenticity, spirituality, and passion.

Whitney White is an actor, singer, Obie Award winner, and winner of the Lilly Award, which recognizes extraordinary women in theater. Whitney has directed productions of James Baldwin’s “The Amen Corner;” Aleshea Harris’ “What to Send Up When It Goes Down,” about the victims of racialized violence; and Jocelyn Bioh’s “Jaja’s African Hair Braiding” on Broadway. She’s also directed productions of “Richard III” and “Othello,” and her five-part musical exploration of Shakespeare’s women and ambition, entitled “Reach for It,” was commissioned by American Repertory Theater in Boston. In this episode, Whitney shares how powerful moments on stage originate in the body, not the mind; how she preserves her inner self amidst the demands of large-scale productions; and what it means to embrace and live in her full self.

Tremaine Emory is a visionary fashion designer, once the creative director at the streetwear brand Supreme, and founder of his own brand Denim Tears which aims to tell the stories of the African Diaspora through fashion. His work has been recognized widely for its bold originality and counter-cultural drive. In this episode Emory discusses the psychology of how we validate ourselves in consumer culture, the layers of history held in terms of Black self-identification, and what it means to leave the world looking different than when you started out. 

Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, otherwise known as SAMMUS, is a dynamic rapper, producer, and scholar. Poetically exploring themes of anxiety, awkwardness, Afro-futurism, and activism in three full-length albums, three EPs, a beat tape, and several collaborations with notable artists, her productions are nothing short of riveting and reflexive. As a Brown Practitioner Fellow, Enongo’s research continues to expand the bounds of Black feminist sound studies, ludomusicology, and hip-hop praxis. In this episode, Sammus remembers how she crafted “elsewhere spaces” in her childhood to navigate nervousness and dream up cartoons, video games, and music. She also discusses how she learned to reconcile her love of being an unapologetic nerd with her drive to be an emcee, and what it means to show up as a socially conscious artist.

Suzan-Lori Parks is a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. Suzan was the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama with her 2002 play, “Topdog/Underdog,” and in 2023, she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. In this episode, Parks discusses “365 days/365 plays,” her bold idea to write a play each day for an entire year. She shares her views on storytelling, resilience, and family—along with a few songs on her guitar.

Sampha, whose full name is Sampha Sisay, is a British singer-songwriter and producer of Sierra Leonean descent. He won England’s prestigious Mercury Prize in 2017 for his debut album, “Process.” His music is a seductive blend of meditative, confessional lyrics and intricate, genre-spanning production. In this episode, Sampha discusses the images that have inspired his second album, “Lahai,” alongside family dynamics, fatherhood, and trusting his intuition in art and life.

Noliwe Rooks is an author and chair of Africana Studies at Brown University. A profound advocate for education equality, her work has shed sustained light on the challenges that poor and African American communities face. In this episode, Noliwe discusses her family’s and her own decisive experiences with education inequality, its broader cultural context and impact, and the role that family and community can play in fostering success at school.

Jenna Flanagan is a journalist known for her past work as a contributing reporter for WNYC's All Things Considered and former host for PBS’s MetroFocus. Throughout her career, Jenna has been a champion of the uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations that move us forward as a community. In this episode, Jenna discusses why local news is so essential, the legacy and lineage of Black women in the media, and the secret to getting a great story out of just about anyone.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin is an author and activist immersed in the tireless fight for gender equality and social justice. In the course of her career, she co-founded Ms. Magazine, which played a pivotal role in the feminist movement of the 1970s, served as president of The Authors Guild and chair of Americans for Peace Now, and co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. In this episode, Letty discusses some of the pivotal moments that defined her political thinking, her feminism, and her understanding of Jewish tradition. She sees her activism as a seesaw, always moving to protect those who are under attack.

Anna Martin is the host of the New York Times’ popular Modern Love podcast about “relationships, feelings, betrayals, and revelations.” In this episode, Anna and Helga discuss how love is perceived and expressed across cultures with widely contrasting languages; the role of host when people share often their most important, formative memories; and their own personal Modern Love stories. 

Walter Mosley is an acclaimed author whose work comments on the intricacies of Black livelihood by grounding science fiction and mystery in America’s turbulent social and racial climate. Decorated with the O. Henry Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, a Grammy, and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award, with his works translated into 25 languages, Walter is a testament to Black artistry. In this episode, Walter discusses the release of his latest novel, Farewell, Amethystine, and the types of overlooked characters and stories he wanted to celebrate in his novels. He also reflects on the complicated relationship he had with his father and what it is like to write about love—and closes us out with a recitation of the very first lines he wrote that made him realize he could be a writer.

Fredara Hadley is an ethnomusicology professor in the Music History Department at The Juilliard School. Her research pays homage to Historically Black Colleges’ and Universities’ (HBCU) influence on music. Her works have appeared in The Washington Post, Billboard, the ICTM Yearbook, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies, among other magazines. In this episode, Hadley discusses the underappreciated musical legacies of HBCUs, the communal value of sacred spaces, and the need to reckon with culture when appreciating music.

Season 5 Catch Up

Dec 13, 2022

Somi, GRAMMY-nominated jazz singer, discusses what happens when a teacher steals your joy, connecting to her ancestors, and how she is still finding her voice.


Dec 20, 2022

Legendary dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones talks about growing up a "Black Yankee" in the 1950s through the 1960s and the adjacency of violence to the power of seduction.


Dec 27, 2022

Carrie Mae Weems, one of today’s most influential contemporary artists, discusses advancing the field by including Black artists and what "grace" means to her and her mother.


Jan 3, 2023

Tricia Rose, Chancellor's Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University, discusses the beauty of chaos, and how essential it is to build safe communities of accountability.


Jan 10, 2023

Kevin Young, poetry editor for The New Yorker and director of Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, talks about the power of unexpected transformations.


Jan 17, 2023

Kara Walker, silhouettist and former MacArthur genius, discusses navigating her own inner conflicts and achieving great acclaim through making use of symbols of Black servitude. 


Jan 24, 2023

Macarena Goméz-Barris, Chair of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, discusses finding beauty in the most ambiguous of places.


Jan 31, 2023

Arthur Jafa, decorated video artist and cinematographer, talks "Black potential" and the passing of the critic and musician Greg Tate.


Feb 7, 2023

Video artist and cinematographer Arthur Jafa discusses "Black potential" and the origins of "Love is the Message."


About the Team

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Helga Davis

Helga Davis is a vocalist and performance artist with feet planted on the most prestigious international stages and with firm roots in the realities and concerns of her local community whose work draws out insights that illuminate how artistic leaps for an individual can offer connection among audiences. Davis was principal actor in the 25th-anniversary international revival of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s seminal opera Einstein on the Beach.

 She also starred in Wilson’s The Temptation of St. Anthony, with libretto and score by Bernice Johnson Reagon. Among the collaborations and works written for her are Oceanic Verses by Paola Prestini, You Us We All by Shara Nova and Andrew Ondrejcak and Yet Unheard, a tribute to Sandra Bland by Courtney Bryan, based on the poem by Sharan Strange. She has conceived and performed First Responder and Wanna as responses to Until and The Let Go by multidisciplinary artist Nick Cave. In addition to hosting HELGA, she is artist in residence at National Sawdust and Joe’s Pub, winner of the 2019 Greenfield Prize in composition, a 2019 Alpert Award finalist, and the 2018-21 visiting curator for the performing arts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  

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Alex Ambrose
Senior Producer

Alex Ambrose is a culture editor and a music and media strategist at the intersection of art, technology, and education. He currently serves as an A&R consultant at Universal Music Group’s Decca US and a creative strategist at The Fearless Cooperative. He is also the founder of Hacking The Application and Admissions Process, an organization that seeks to democratize college counseling. 

During his time at New York Public Radio, he conceived and produced festival content with Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, BBC Proms, New York and San Francisco Philharmonics. He was the Executive Producer for the Peabody Award-winning podcast Meet the Composer with host Nadia Sirota and the trailblazing Helga podcast with host Helga Davis. He also was the founder of and lead producer for WQXR's Q2 Music, an online radio station, web magazine, live-event series, and content incubator devoted to contemporary classical music.

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David A. Norville

David A. Norville is an American oboist and media producer based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, David has been recognized by organizations like YoungArts, Sphinx, and The Jack Kent Cooke foundation for his merits as an oboist and young artist. He is known for producing works like The Of Freedom PodcastBlack Music Seen, as well as Castle of Our Skins’ Black Student Union Intercollegiate Fellowship Program. David currently serves as an Associate Producer for New York Public Radio’s WQXR and is a founding member of The Black Orchestral Network.

Unity, self-determination, collective work & responsibility, and cooperative economics undergird David’s work deconstructing race and social-class through multifaceted artistic lenses. He aspires to use his platforms to creatively empower artists of the African diaspora through the production of online educational platforms, multimedia concert curation, and mentorship.

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Alan Goffinski

Alan Goffinski (he/him), is an arts administrator, songwriter, and producer from Charlottesville VA. He is the former Executive Director of The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative and the Charlottesville Mural Project—two city-wide organizations that utilize art and culture as a way for people to better understand themselves, each other, and the world around them. He is also a founding member of the Indianapolis-based whimsical performing arts collective Know No Stranger which has been described as “Sesame Street but for adults... but also for kids.” He produced the experimental music radio program Telemetry in partnership with the University of Virginia. Early in his career, Alan spent years making music in a nationally touring indie-punk band (signed to Victory Records) prior to becoming a social worker specializing in early childhood development. He began making kid’s music under the moniker Little Skunks as a fun way to be a part of the day-to-day lives of his nieces and nephew.

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Elizabeth Nonemaker
Executive Producer

Elizabeth Nonemaker is the Executive Producer of QXR Podcasts. She brings to that role a background as a composer, writer, educator, and journalist specializing in arts and culture coverage. Prior to joining New York Public Radio, Elizabeth wrote about classical music for The Baltimore Sun and other publications, and served as the managing editor and in-house audio producer for the online music magazine, a publication devoted to exploring what it means to be a 21st century musician. She worked for the arts and entertainment show “The Frame” on Southern California Public Radio as well as The Children’s Radio Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa. As an Annenberg Fellow at the University of Southern California, Elizabeth co-founded the online arts publication

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Racheal Arewa

Racheal is a junior at Brown University studying Behavioral Decision Sciences and Visual Arts. Her passions lie at the intersection of human behavior, storytelling, and graphic design. When she is not editing a short-form interview on Audition or prototyping on Figma, Racheal is most likely refueling her soul by step dancing and taste testing.

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Brown Arts’ IGNITE Series uplifts the spirit of artistic collaboration across Brown, Providence, the Rhode Island region, and beyond. Ignite your creative curiosity through this multi-year series of programs, activations, interventions, and investigations.

Season 6 is a co-production with WNYC Studios, WQXR, and Brown Arts Institute

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