Leo Yue /The Highlander

The Associated Student Program Board (ASPB) hosted 2021’s Winter Soulstice on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m., featuring Jorja Smith as the headliner and Pink Sweats as the supporting act. The event came just in time to close off one of the last major events ASPB was hosting for Black History Month; both of the performers for the soulful night are rising Black artists that let their voice and lyricism shine in their stripped down tunes.

Pink Sweats, who boasts over 14 million listeners on Spotify and close to 234 million views on YouTube, began his set wearing his iconic pink colors. The singer songwriter lost no time as he introduced himself and started with his first song, “17.” He was accompanied with a single guitar, played by a musician who occasionally accompanied him on vocals. The Philadelphia native got his start as a vocalist and songwriter for artists like Rosie Bondz and Aaron Camper, but has started releasing music on his own since 2018. 

His music is comforting in a way many students may be searching for as we near finals. His next song, “Lows” featuring lyrics like “A single moment feel like all day /Lookin’ in your eyes erase all the pain,” and his heartfelt lyrics were expounded upon with his smooth voice. In an interview about his last project, “PINK PLANET,” he explained that it “is about love, it’s about inclusivity, and it’s about creative freedom.” 

One of the songs the artist featured on that album that he also sang during the event was “Not Alright,” a change from his usual love ballads. Although the song features an upbeat pop tune, it has much more bleak lyrics. Pink Sweats prefaced the song by saying, “Sometimes in this world you’re not alright with what’s happening, with all the injustice.” The song was played acoustically for Winter Soulstice, which allowed the lyrics, which touched upon life as a Black person in America to stand out instead of the beat. The song was released as a single during June 2020, at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd’s last words were reverberating through American society. 

The lyrics are relatively simple, stating, “I ain’t got no home /I’ve been roamin’ on this Earth forever/ Please don’t beat my soul/ ‘Cause that’s the only thing I treasure.” In an Instagram post, Pink Sweats wrote that “Not Alright” is a song he wrote about the wide range of feelings “you experience being black in America.” He added, “I was planning on putting this record out with the rest of the album, but I need you all to hear this one now … A lot of us are not alright, but you’re not in this fight alone.” This message is especially poignant during Black History Month as his artistic presence emphasizes the celebration of Black artistry and his song pays homage to the difficulty of traversing society as a Black individual. 

Jorja Smith, the headliner for the event, joined next. Winter Soulstice usually invites big names in the R&B world to Winter Soulstice and Jorja Smith is certainly one of the biggest. The English singer songwriter has made waves with her passionate lyrics and impactful vocals and currently has close to 10 million listeners on Spotify and over 335 million views on her music videos. Additionally, she’s been featured on Drake’s 2017 surprise LP “More Life.” 

She appeared on students’ screens in a white room that allowed her presence to take center stage. Unfortunately, however, the show was the epitome of a depersonalized, pre recorded show. She looked undoubtedly beautiful in her two-piece green skirt and top combo and white gogo boots, but her small anecdotes about her favorite show seemed detached and straight out of an interview blurb. The only times it was obvious she was performing for the UCR community was when she would address UCR, as she did at the end of her set. 

Smith’s set up, however, was far more professional than Pink Sweats. She was accompanied by a few musicians, so she was able to branch out more musically instead of limiting herself to an acoustic set. To the delight of her fans, she performed one of her most popular songs, “Come Over.” 

She also performed “By Any Means,” which she released in August 2020 with the intention to contribute to the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement. She said in an interview statement that she was inspired to write “By Any Means” because of the protests and her desire to keep the conversation going. The lyrics include, “If you can feel the pain then you know you’re alive/ Both feet on the line/ By any means I will fight.” The music video was the lead single on Jay Z’s Roc Nation Reprise project, which aimed at uniting artists in protest against social injustice. 

Winter Soulstice was a little more poignant this year as both artists briefly addressed how their songs attempted to keep this important discussion alive through their music. The event ended at 8:30 p.m., with a couple of closing words from the host about upcoming events and the giveaway ASPB is holding in tandem with the event.

ASPB’s next event is “Sound Clash” which will include a Q&A with Brie Larsen. The event will take place digitally on Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.