As a librarian for digital collection development, T-Kay Sangwand stewards many of the UCLA Library’s efforts to preserve and make archival materials from around the world openly accessible. As a DJ in Los Angeles’ thriving independent music scene, she takes listeners on a historic and transnational journey, whether it be the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon on dublab — a non-profit radio station and arts and culture organization, or in her (pre-pandemic) frequent live sets.
The name of her dublab show, “The Archive of Feelings,” captures Sangwand’s deft ability to merge her personal and professional passions.
Sangwand, who earned her master’s degrees in information studies and Latin American studies from UCLA in 2008, also delves deep into the communities she calls home. As a Fulbright Scholar in Mexico City in 2018-19, she embedded herself with a group of young artists and activists working to reclaim Dia de los Muertos traditions from increasing commercialization.
Currently, in collaboration with her dublab colleagues, Sangwand is contributing to a pair of community-oriented arts initiatives in Los Angeles. She is a participant in “Celebration Spectrum,” a public art installation by Tanya Aguiñiga and Mark “frosty” McNeill that is part of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health initiative, WE RISE 2021.
Celebration Spectrum is on display at Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles throughout the month of May, as part of Mental Health Month, and features mixed visual materials — including historic photographs of the city from UCLA Library’s archival collections — and a Celebration Tapestry soundtrack, curated by 24 DJs, that reflects the ethnic diversity of Southern California.
In addition to Sangwand’s 30-minute recorded set reverberating through Grand Park at 11 a.m. daily through May 31, two other UCLA-affiliated dublab DJs are part of Celebration Spectrum. Dexter Story, an ethnomusicology doctoral candidate in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music is on at 3 p.m., while Alexandra Lippman, a 2017-18 postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Society and Genetics who DJs as Xandão, “spins” at 7 p.m. nightly.
Sangwand is also a humanities adviser to the second season of the “Deep Routes” audio documentary project that explores the development of L.A.’s musical subcultures in relation to the built environment, specifically public transit lines. This project is a collaboration between dublab and Metro Art and is funded by California Humanities.
What brought you to UCLA?
After completing the information studies and Latin American studies dual degree program at UCLA in 2008, I moved to Austin, Texas, for my first professional job as human rights archivist at the University of Texas at Austin. Despite loving my job in Austin, I always knew I wanted to come back home to L.A. and when I applied to UCLA Library and was offered the librarian for digital collection development position in 2015, I knew immediately it was the right opportunity to come back.
What are your responsibilities in that position? What do you enjoy most about being at UCLA, and/or working in the library?
As the librarian for digital collection development, I manage a portion of the digital library program’s portfolio of external collaborations. My primary responsibility is to manage our postcustodial archival collaborations with Cuban cultural heritage institutions that are part of the International Digital Ephemera Project. I have also worked closely with the Modern Endangered Archives Program, the Arhoolie Foundation and their Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Sound Recordings and recently oversaw the redesign of the Center for Oral History website.
I particularly enjoy working with cultural heritage institutions in Cuba to digitize and provide access to archival materials that would not be easily available otherwise, such as Chinese Cuban newspapers, vintage Cuban radio recordings and film posters designed by Cuban artists.
How did you get into DJing and connected with dublab?
My love for working in independent radio began 20 years ago. When I was in high school I started listening to the college radio station KSPC 88.7 FM in Claremont, California, which is about 53 miles east of UCLA. Thanks mostly to KSPC and the DJs I met there, I decided to pursue my undergraduate studies at the Claremont Colleges and hosted a radio program in addition to becoming general manager at KSPC. After I graduated, I looked for other opportunities to host a radio show and contacted dublab and have been there since 2006. Through traveling for librarian/archivist work, I’ve also since been able to DJ in Spain, Mexico, Cuba and Rwanda.
Describe the aesthetic of your monthly show, “The Archive of Feelings.”
I describe “The Archive of Feelings” — shoutout to Ann Cvetkovich for her incredible book of the same name — as “a celebration of sounds, and struggles of everyday life across linguistic and geographic boundaries gathered through serendipitous findings from around the world.” All my sets tend to be global in scope and I’m particularly drawn to collecting vintage vinyl from around the world. I always try to visit at least one record store in any city I visit, and as a librarian and archivist, I am fascinated by how physical musical objects follow migration routes and travel over time. My sets also explore the diasporic connections through music, from how a Ghanain children’s song is sampled and becomes a famous Nuyorican salsa hit to how cumbia styles differ from Angola to Colombia to Mexico.**
What has been your role in curating Celebration Spectrum, and how does it weave together your personal and professional lives?
Initially, I was invited by one of the curators Mark “frosty” McNeill (co-founder of dublab) to submit a 30-minute DJ set that reflected the installation’s celebration theme and spoke to the cultural diversity of Los Angeles. My set highlights field recordings of celebratory music from countries and territories that are represented in L.A. through their respective diasporic communities. For example, you can expect to hear ceremonial music from the Quechan/Yuma people, fragments of a bembe celebration in Cuba, feast day music from Cambodia, Ethiopian wedding songs and popular folk music from Iran.
Due to my library/archive background, I was later asked if I could advise on finding archival images of celebrations in L.A. In collaboration with dublab, I culled celebratory images that depict L.A.’s diverse ethnic communities from UCLA Library’s digital archival collections — Los Angeles Times Photographs Collection and Los Angeles Daily News Negatives. The 31 selected images range from the 1940s to the 1980s and depict children celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Thai dancers at a temple festival, Filipino family celebrations, early Nisei Week events and a Greek parade. These images will be projected within the installation space each evening.
Los Angeles is slowly emerging from its pandemic hibernation. How do you think Celebration Spectrum, and the WE RISE program as a whole, will help reawaken people’s senses for art and public events?
I believe Celebration Spectrum and the rest of the 21 WE RISE outdoor art installations and projects are a perfect opportunity to safely and comfortably ease folks into attending public events and remind us of the joy of experiencing art and music in community. They are designed to be physically distant and family friendly and Celebration Spectrum is a visually playful and aurally stimulating experience.
Both WE RISE and Deep Routes are arts initiatives that dublab is collaborating on with local public service agencies: the L.A. County Department of Mental Health and Metro, respectively. What drives you to invest and give back artistically to the community?
Over the past year, living through a pandemic has shown us, more than ever, that arts are essential to our health. How many of us wouldn’t have survived the last year in relative isolation without art in its many forms — music, podcasts, books, all the creative Instagram Live/Twitch/Zoom livestream parties? For me, both pre- and during the pandemic, curating DJ sets and radio shows are always a joyous experience and a fun and meaningful way to connect with broader communities.
During the pandemic, as we were all seeking solace, escape and community through the arts, I gained an even deeper appreciation for dublab, which continued to offer its signature programming and open access to its online archives in addition to new creative online broadcast events at no charge to the world. With audio documentary projects like Deep Routes, dublab is expanding its programming and bringing in storytellers from both the organization and the wider community to highlight the intimate ties between geography, musical subcultures and community. I continually learn from and am inspired by the dublab family and I am thrilled to be a part of this strong community of folks who believe that music and arts are not a privilege, but essential to our everyday life.