Sufiyah Asia Yasmine, alias Saylove, is a hip-hop artist, an advocate for victims of human trafficking, and, as of earlier this year, Maine Public Classical’s newest and silkiest-voiced radio personality, hosting The Jazz Floweron Friday nights from 6 to 8, ahead of Rich Tozier’s long-running Jazz Hour. Saylove, a Waterville native and University of Southern Maine grad, has lived in Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica and holds a master’s degree in peace and human-rights education from the United Nations’s University for Peace. Her show possesses a sort of a cross-borders ethos of its own, a deep dive into jazz and its many historical connections to a whole range of genres, presented with a radio voice so dulcet it probably counts as jazz too.
Before diving into your radio work, tell me about what you do with human trafficking. I work with a national nonprofit, an anti-sex-trafficking group. I’ve been in that field for a little over a decade, recovering and mentoring exploited girls. I had a background as a troubled adolescent myself, and I heard a story about a girl who got life in prison for taking the life of her trafficker back in the ’90s. That always stuck with me, and when I was completing my master’s degree in peace education and human-rights education, I thought of that girl and thought, “Let me find her and see if I can help her.” I started a grassroots effort to raise awareness of her plight, and she eventually got pro-bono attorneys. Finally, her sentence was reduced and she was released from prison. After that, I got involved in other guardian-ad-litem programs and assisting in finding missing girls. It’s very different from deejaying.
And so how did you get into radio? Well, this is some real trivia about me: when I was 10 years old, I was the mascot for a Waterville station, WTVL. At promotional events, I’d wear a bear costume. It was my first job other than babysitting, and it was pretty intense labor — I think I almost got heat stroke a couple of times in that bear suit. I’d also get to go into the offices and the studio and see what they were doing, and I always wanted to be on-air. Later, when I was a student at USM, I started producing and going on-air at [college-affiliated community radio station] WMPG. That’s also when I started going by Saylove. I had another emcee name before that, Emcee Soothsay, and that was my graffiti tag name. The way I would stylize it was “Emcee Soothsay” and then “love” underneath. So turning that into “Saylove” just sort of made sense to me.
Was music always important to you? My father’s a jazz composer, so when I was young, I always heard music in the home, and I loved it. I wanted to be a musician and still aspire toward that. I’ve made a couple of albums, but it’s been a long time. The first one I don’t even have available publicly right now. I engineered it myself, so it wasn’t exactly the highest-quality studio album. The second album was an EP, from 2013, and I still sell that one through my website. I guess I should probably put it up on iTunes and that kind of thing, but I’ve never even used Spotify. I still use vinyl records and turntables. I’m pretty much old school, I guess you’d say.
How did The Jazz Flower come to be? My good friend Dennis Ross is the founder of [Portland jazz, soul, and gospel station] WJZP, and I’ve been freelancing for him since 2011. So I’ve kept some sort of radio presence in Portland for a long time. Then, I saw this opening posted that they needed a producer for a program at Maine Public. Rich Tozier was in the process of retiring from his other duties at the station, and they weren’t sure if he was going to stay on with his radio program. So originally the idea was that I’d fill his spot, if needed. It turned out that he continued hosting, but Maine Public decided to expand its jazz night with a new program, and from there I basically developed the concept for The Jazz Flower.
It has a different feel from other programming on the classical channel. Having a background in hip-hop, I always want to have that hip-hop cultural perspective — jazz is one of the main roots of hip-hop. So I come at it from that point of view. It’s not that I don’t go back to the 1920s or up to the present, but I kind of think of the show as rooted somewhere in the 1960s and ’70s jazz era, when there was a lot of fusion going on with soul, R&B, and funk.
What kind of response have you gotten from listeners? There seems to be a good fan base developing, and a lot of people seem surprised that it’s something out of Maine — “Is this something syndicated?” is a pretty common question. We have listeners out of state too. I don’t always know exactly how the show is reaching people, but Rich has a following that extends well beyond Maine, and some of his fans from places like New York City have been tuning in to The Jazz Flower too. Some of them even commented that I play music they haven’t heard before.
And besides the music, you have that classic, smooth radio voice, which is not your regular speaking voice. You know, that voice just came naturally to me. I’ve always been like that on the mic. I feel much more focused on-air. When I’m presenting music, I feel really calm.