Ayana Contreras - Five Chicago Soul Records on World Cafe

In this latest installment of World Cafe’s Sense of Place series on Chicago music, we dig into five essential Chicago soul records with guest DJ Ayana Contreras, host of the Reclaimed Soul program on WBEZ and Vocalo Radio in Chicago.

Contreras highlights songs like Deniece Williams’ “Free” and “Have You Seen Her?” by The Chi-Lites for their innovative production and sophisticated songwriting.

“We had great songwriters and, obviously, great artists, but part of the story is the studios and the producers and the arrangers that we’re able to get this larger-than-life sound,” she said.

Deniece Williams - Free • TopPop

Plus, Contreras shares the song she thinks should be “the anthem of Chicago.”

In addition to hosting Reclaimed Soul, Contreras is a cultural historian, memory worker, radio DJ and archivist. She is also a columnist for DownBeat magazine, and her writings have been published in The New York Times, Chicago Review, Oxford American and Bandcamp Daily. Her book on post-civil rights era cultural history, titled Energy Never Dies: Afro-Optimism and Creativity in Chicago, was published December 2021 through University of Illinois Press.