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The role of music between clubbing and mental health

We asked DJ and mental health advocate Vanessa Maria about music's healing and social power

The role of music between clubbing and mental health We asked DJ and mental health advocate Vanessa Maria about music's healing and social power

"I'm so grateful to be a part of this world, I wouldn't be here without all the amazing women I've met along the way."

When we ask Vanessa who and what inspires her, the answer is one: women. An Englishman of Jamaican descent, Vanessa Maria Wilson is a DJ, activist and creative producer who has worked with NTS, Rinse FM, BBC 1xtra, Mixcloud, Pirate Studios, BoilerRoom and Black Butter Studios more recently. After completing a degree in the field of psychology, she worked at the University of Bristol where she campaigned extensively on student mental health, a topic close to her heart. Driven by the need and responsibility to give a voice to those who don't have one, she delivers through her music a message of inclusivity and awareness on issues such as racial and gender discrimination. She began her career in music in 2018 in Bristol, where she enrolled in "Mix Nights," a course run by record label "Saffron Records" led by women who in turn help others take their first steps into the music business and beyond.

"Less than 5% of the music technology industry is made up of women, non-binary or trans people and less than 1% are people of color! There's been slow change, which is great, but there's still so much work to be done."

The Mix Nights project was born precisely as a social manifesto in the fight against gender discrimination. The goal has always been to introduce more female DJs to electronic music, both locally and internationally, thus helping to support minorities by breaking down social constructs.

Vanessa admits that gender equality is still a long way off and the industry is less and less diverse. The key players are still middle-aged white men who linger on giving qualifications to women deserving of recognition. It is incredibly difficult to address a culture characterized by toxic masculinity when positions of power are still held primarily by men.

Unfortunately, issues of inclusivity affect not only gender but also ethnicity. "Black and minority ethnic communities have been documented to face inequities in their mental health issues," says Vanessa, who has witnessed many Black students report that much of their mental health issues stem from struggles related to racism and racial attitudes of the white majority around them. Vanessa's mission with the Black Minds Matter initiative - a movement that celebrates and supports the Black community - is precisely to connect individuals and families to free mental health services, making them more accessible and reshaping them so that they are relevant and tailored to the Black community.

Vanessa also contributed to the release of a short, self-produced documentary exploring the experience of Black students within various universities. "When Well-being is White" was created with the intent and hope that students would validate their experience in a reality that while it does not belong to them, it engages them. The documentary is used here as a tool to enact political movements in universities and encourage other educational organizations to change the way they see things and treat minorities.

Quarantine gave Vanessa the opportunity to think about multiple issues, worrying about her own and others' mental health. Sharing her passion for music with the public has helped her not lose her footing, which she has been in danger of losing as a result of the extreme stress she has been under.

"The mental health of the music scene was definitely affected. It was a very difficult time for everyone, financially, socially and mentally. The lockdown has been a struggle. We've all been restricted, out of work and unable to do our jobs. Some of our favorite venues have closed, club nights have disappeared and nightlife has been completely suspended. But I believe in the recovery of the industry. The nights are growing in number and musical and cultural nuance; we're on the right track!"

With Vanessa's words, we are witnessing here a true stance, where one refuses to give up and is spurred to never give up. Thanks to the strong connection that has characterized the public scene, we have succeeded in the intent to believe, hope and aspire to a better future. So was born the relationship with Alessandro "Sgamo" Nuzzo, the dj based in Milan that with the platform wegoing.sound connects independent European artists who, after two years of forced closure of borders, feel the need to export their talent beyond their borders. This desire to get back into the game is shared by the entire Italian music scene, in particular by two of the most active names in the Milanese nightlife: Filippo "Milangeles" Tortorici and Floriano Macchione, founders of "Nice Club" at the Apollo who, night after night, are rewriting the history of clubs, making them a place where you dance, breathe and get free. Thanks to their desire to start again and to give voice to the musical language, the post-covid night Milan is showing new nuances. 

Here, entertainment is seen and experienced not only as a recreational act but as a mirror of the city's soul, where music begins to function when it is perceived as a global, hybrid and multifaceted value. This should make us reflect on the fact that a world "without night" is a world that is missing something.

This should make us reflect on the fact that a world "without night" is a world that is missing something.