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Q&A with host of the Current’s new stream, Carbon Sound

Carbon Sound’s Sanni Brown helps create a thread between radio and younger listeners while highlighting the diversity of Black artists in Minnesota.
Image by Awa Mally, Courtesy of MPR
Sanni Brown has been in the radio business for years, and Carbon Sound will showcase Black talent outside of the current societal molds.

After a long career in the radio and music business, Sanni Brown is leading a new Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) music stream onto the scene as its host. Last month, The Current launched Carbon Sound, which will showcase the diversity and range of Black musicians outside of the current molds society places them in. University of Minnesota graduate Julian Green works as the content director and Andre Griffin works as the community engagement specialist.

A graduate of Concordia University, Brown has experience in everything from teaching kids at the YMCA to musical performances and radio production. As the new host of Carbon Sound, Brown is more than ready to help lead public radio into the ever changing future of music. The Minnesota Daily caught up with her to talk about everything from genre labeling to Legend of Zelda to her prophetic stay in a shelter home.

How did your background in music and radio lead you to hosting Carbon Sound?

“I graduated from Concordia, St. Paul in 2008 with a degree in psychology. After taking a year off, I went to Globe University for their music business program and ended up applying for a scholarship called the “Do you want to be a DJ?” scholarship. I ended up getting it and got to go to the University of St. Louis for their journalism and broadcasting program. Since then, I have worked at 89.9 KMOJ, myTalk 107.1 and eventually at MPR.”

What made you apply for the scholarship in the first place?

“Honestly, I was looking for more money because I had exhausted all my funds with my undergrad, but it also came from a childhood fascination with radio. When I was young, having your own boombox was like having your own phone today. When you didn’t have enough money to go buy cassette tapes, you would record songs off the radio. I started editing the tapes to have space between like produced records. Then I started recording my voice, making up songs, listened to how people talked on the radio and recorded my own commercials. It blew my mind that I could press record and pick up the sounds around me. I’ve been infatuated with sound ever since then. If you ask me how I got here, that’s how.”

How is Carbon Sound different from the other shows and streams that the Current has launched in the past?

“So the show that I have been hosting for the Current over the last five years is called The Message and we pretty much do hip-hop and R&B. When I think of music, I don’t really think about Black people making electronic, punk, rock or all these other genres that they’re clearly making. Carbon Sound is not just another hip-hop and R&B stream. It’s all the genres. And it’s based on Black musical expression. That’s why I’m so honored to be on it.

Why is it called Carbon Sound?

Carbon is in everything around us. When you think about Black musicians and the styles that they created, it’s used in everything in music today.

Going off of Carbon Sound’s goal of expanding our understanding of Black musical artists, what do you think of genre labeling now and do you see it in the future of music?

“I think as humans, we don’t want that genre rating and I think we don’t want it because look at all the fusion, we’re naturally just fusing sounds. I really don’t like putting folks in a box and I don’t know anyone who likes it.When I grew up, hip-hop was more simple, but look at it today. There is drill, trap and so many legs of dance music. It’s nice to hear how people express themselves in music so differently and if you are boxed in, you just miss out on hearing about and experiencing new attitudes.”

How long has Carbon Sound been in the making?

I first started hearing about the project in mid-2020 and then I started to learn more. It’s a nationwide program by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which started in my hometown of Chicago. Basically, it’s their effort to bring a new wave of young people into public radio.

Why do you think Carbon Sound is an important show to have specifically for the Twin Cities community?

I’m not going to lie to you. I was scared in 2020 about how the music scene was changing, especially after the murder of George Floyd. I do feel like this is necessary because of everything that’s happened in the last few years. Have you ever noticed what happens when something goes away and you’re scared, and then something new comes along? I’m gonna give you a great example. Do you play Legend of Zelda?

No, but I have definitely heard of it.

“Okay, so when I was playing Ocarina of Time, the Deku Tree, which is the guardian of the forest, died. I was so sad until I saw a sprout. Like the sprout, Carbon Sound is this hope. That’s why it’s important, because it illustrates that we’ve got to pick up and keep going. Let’s keep what we did wrong in mind, but you gotta get up and keep going. We are making changes to music movements, and this is like some phoenix out of the ashes type stuff happening right now.”

This is a cheesy question, but what is your favorite thing about being a radio show host for a living?

“Sharing information. I love giving people information that makes their life better, or even their day better. I’ve taught kids for 20 years, so that’s a little bit of teacher in me. When I’m sharing information on the radio about a new album dropping or a concert, you get to stop for a second because nothing else matters. I know it seems small, but to me, it’s not. When I was little and Boyz II Men were going on tour, I was glued to the radio for tickets. I ended up missing it and that was the worst. I look back on it and laugh, I literally have so many memories of good radio like that.”

Why should young people and college students listen to Carbon Sound?

“I think it’s useful to them for just being in the know like this is a new project and it’s made for them. I’m so on top of that. It’s just nice to be locked into something that’s not like everything else. And I know that’s what I liked when I was young. I liked being like, this is new and I’m the first person to know. Also, I want young local artists who feel like they don’t have a platform for their sound to get that completely out of their head; there is a platform for your sound. We’re tied into the local music community. If anybody knows any local musicians, send them our way, I want people to know we’re a resource, whether you’re a consumer or creator.”

After all of your years in the radio industry, how does it feel to be the host of Carbon Sound?

“It feels good, my hard work paid off. I’m excited to get up and go to work and tell people about music. I’m not gonna lie, it was hard. It was a lot of putting my ego to the side because in entertainment, you kind of gotta have an ego or people push you around. Right now, even though there is still more work to do, a lot of work is done and everything’s in place.

Now, I want to have a hot dog and just lay down and just kind of reflect on my life. I’m really glad my daughter got to see me fulfill my dream, I really am. I remember when I lived in the shelter that was right across the street from MPR and looking at, you know, the little news that goes across the building. I just want young people to know it’s gonna look like it’s impossible, but just keep pushing.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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