About Ayana Contreras


I am passionate about sound and color. I work in radio, my first professional hosting gig was hosting WBEZ’s “Global Overnight” program in 2007. I  am currently host/producer of Reclaimed Soul, a weekly radio program that airs on  Vocalo.org  91.1fm (sister station of WBEZ) and on WBEZ in Chicago.

I’m also a producer for a nationally-distributed radio show called Sound Opinions, which is hosted by Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, and a columnist for DownBeat.

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.  

I am also working on a book called Energy Never Dies, which documents the cultural contributions (via art, music, advertising, and media) that post-civil rights era Black Chicago gave to the world.

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.


16 Comments on “About Ayana Contreras”

  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.

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