About Me

I am passionate about sound and color. I work in radio, serving as Music Director/Director of Content at Vocalo Radio 91.1fm in Chicago, an NPR affiliated station that is the country’s first Urban Alternative formatted station. My first professional hosting gig was hosting WBEZ’s “Global Overnight” program in 2007. I am currently also host/producer of Reclaimed Soul, a weekly radio program that airs on Vocalo (sister station of WBEZ) and on WBEZ in Chicago. Additionally, I’m a journalist and reviewer for DownBeat Magazine, whose work has also been published in the New York Times, Oxford American, and the Chicago Reader, among other publications.

My first book dropped in 2021 via University of Illinois Press: Energy Never Dies: Afro-optimism and Creativity in Chicago, which documents the cultural contributions (via art, music, advertising, and media) that post-civil rights era Black Chicago gave to the world, and how that work still influences today’s cultural creatives.

From 2017 until 2020, I served as a producer for a nationally-distributed radio show called Sound Opinions, which is hosted by Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis.

Before joining the team at Sound Opinions, I served as Executive Producer of two other weekly programs on Vocalo:

The Barber Shop Show (hosted by WBEZ’s Richard Steele)
and Practically Speaking (hosted by Audra Wilson)

My mission with my productions is to illuminate issues and perspectives that are too often left out of mainstream media. I also want my work to shift perceptions about what we choose to value (and what we don’t value nearly enough).

For nearly a decade, I blogged at Darkjive.com. My goal was to document the narratives, history, and cultural significance of the music scene in 20th Century Chicago. I’m a DJ who spins my “findings” across this city.  

At one time, I taught Radio and Podcast Production and Media Literacy to High School students through YOUmedia (a collaboration between the Digital Youth Network, The MacArthur Foundation, and the Chicago Public Library).

In 2014/2015, I was an Arts + Public Life resident artist at the University of Chicago. Before that, I was a resident artist at Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects (an experiment in re-valuing the undervalued and rebuilding a community). 

I also love Chicago: where we’re going and where we’ve been.

I believe in the power of out-of-the-box ideas.  Ideas can baptize our perceptions and forever change our view of the world, if we only believe in possibility and ask questions (despite what might be right in front of us).  This site is intended as a portal to such change.  Look out.


23 Comments on “About Me”

  1. HELLO,
    My name’s Cauleen, I’m a filmmaker working on a project here in CHicago. I keep stumbling ont your name whenever I do research, but it’s always AFTER you’ve spun somewhere – I’m just not hip to the Chicago scene yet.
    Can you please tell me when you are next spinning/performing/presenting?
    Thanks much. And check out my project website (which has been neglected of late) for the series of films I’m doing loosely inspired by Sun Ra, Chicago, and the cosmos : http://solarflareark.wordpress.com/about/

    • Hi Cauleen, all of my events are posted on my blog: http://darkjive.com. In the sidebar, at the bottom, you can also join darkjive’s facebook page, where you can stay up to date with events (and inform like minded folks of pro-analog or music history related news/views/events).

      Thanks for reaching out!

  2. I heard about 30 seconds of your segment this morning on Morning Shift on WBEZ; wondering if you could direct me to your list of music that “walks the line between Gospel and Soul”? Or some links? I’ve been looking for something JUST like this for years and was unable to listen to the whole segment. Thanks so much.

  3. I’m listening to you all on WBEZ now and I’m going crazy because it’s so damn refreshing to know that there are others out there like myself who LUUUUUUUHHHHHH vinyl. Ha!

    Cheers to you ma’am,


  4. Hey Ayana, found this site after heavy digging. Could you direct me to any forums or sites about Chicago’s Zodiac Records.
    I found an amazing vinyl while digging but can’t find anything more.


  5. Hello Ms. Contreras… My name is Mr. J.R. Summers. I’m a WBEZ listener and my ears perk up whenever you come on. I give you the “Right On!” every time. 🙂 Your background knowledge is remarkable.
    I have over 70 short stories written (All of them are true-I’m the leader of an interesting life) and I think you could have an ideas of ways to share them with the world. Maybe I can enhance your life as well. If nothing else, you would love them anyway just like I love what you do. I hope to hear from you.


  6. Ayana, I just wanted to say thanks for digging through all that music, most of which is outside my normal listening genres. I love it. There is simply too much music to have or experience it all without having help from people like yourself, picking through cutout and used record bins.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Ayana, we’re a bunch of interesting older people living in Hyde Park at Montgomery Place. We would love to have you come and talk to us about your life with soul and/or some of the rest of your interests. There is so much we are uninformed about. Any chance you could do it? It needs to be a Friday night? Betsie Zerlin

  8. It was SO hard to find this show once I heard it. I am listening to your show now.
    I was introduced to you via: “There’s More Soul Than Motown In The Motor City”
    on WBEZ. SO happy to find your show. Very powerful.

  9. Ayana, I want to congratulate you on your show’s success. I stumbled onto Vocalo a few years ago while searching the dial for something/ANYTHING different… Your station has yet to disappoint me! Reclaimed Soul is always full of surprises and the week’s show dedication to Herb Kent was excellent! That skit by the Electric Crazy People drove me to tears of laughter! If you ever find their rendition of “I Can’t Believe I Ate The Whole Thing”… PLAY IT. Let me know if you ever want to raid my extensive stack of 45’s.
    Your fan forever,

  10. HI Ms. Confreres,
    We want to attend some of your DJ events. Can you tell us where you’ll be spinning in April and May, or where we can catch your schedule?
    Your show is beautiful and refreshing.

  11. Just hear the Hear and Now session on WBEZ. You Ms. Contreras are amazingly phenomenal. A followed for Life

  12. Good afternoon…

    And please do tell me where to find the cubana cover music video to my michelle on YouTube!


    I also hoping that you’re having a great day!!!

  13. Hey Ayana,
    I listen to your show every chance I get and Sunday mornings on Vocalo. You really know your music and history. Just when I thought I wouldn’t hear much of the soul music of the last 50 years you were just dishing it out there. Thank you sooo much!

    When I was growing up in Little Village during the late 70’s I used to ride my bike to WVON to get a look at the DJ’s (the Good Guys) and especially Herb Kent. BTW, I still growing up and live here in K-Town.

    I hope this year my wife and I can catch up with you when your spinning some sounds in an outdoor setting with good food cooking all around.

    Thanks again for keeping the music alive!🙏🏽

    Chuy Garcia

    • Thanks so much for the kind words. This year, I’m hoping to do another Reclaimed Soul in the late summer. It would be great to see you and your wife there. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

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