IN A DIALOGUE WITH, RADIO PRODUCER, SIENNA FEKETE, BASED IN BROOKLYN, NEW YORK.
Sienna is a Radio and Podcast Producer at Top Rank, who is passionate about storytelling, oral history, and sound in general, learn more about her below in an interview by Devonrae Jones <3
Photography by Mary Kang
Where did you grow up and what brought you here? Tell us your “New York” story.
I grew up in la with my mother on a steep hill in Highland Park. I grew up surrounded by 99cent stores, sun and fresh mango from corner carts adorned with bright rainbow umbrellas. I came to New York in search of a change of pace ~ excited about things like seasons, public transportation and a thriving arts community. I came to New York to write, so I began my undergraduate degree studying writing at The New School. My time at The New School was dreamy, radical and evocative. I learned so much studying there ~ about my interests, my self and my community. It was essentially this interdisciplinary hub in which I could explore all my developing interests from literature to dance to sound. The New School was a special place for me, quintessential in me finding my voice and my community and ultimately propelling me towards my current love of storytelling.
How did your interest in story telling begin? Was there a moment when you realized sound was your thing?
Storytelling has been a consistent thread throughout my life. As an only child, books and I had a very close relationship. I would read every night as a kid and as someone with an already very active imagination this developed into a fascination with stories. The act of storytelling itself is especially visceral and intimate. I love hearing people tell me about their families and their childhood. I'm an extremely inquisitive person. In college I was able to explore this in some exciting new ways as I began taking classes in podcasting, radio and sound art. There's something really special about the quality of the voice, each one unique and pure. I think voices can tell a lot about a person. Music was also something that drove my love of sound. I did an internship with the BBC in London during the summer of 2015. I was working with BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, which has amazing music programming. London has such an active radio culture. Folks across all boroughs and cities listen to the BBC and are dedicated to it in this beautifully communal and connected way.
Lead us through a normal Monday for you. What does it take to produce a podcast?
Mondays are a day of planning, for all the projects and ideas to come. I like to map out everything I'm feeling excited about and inspired by from the weekend. There's also a lot of time spent listening and editing and going back and forth between that cycle. One of my most favorite and fulfilling projects is a podcast I produce hosted by two of my friends called Top Rank. It's an offshoot of a magazine highlighting women across fields, from the arts to activism to education. Making the podcast is a fun and collaborative process as we all feed off each other's ideas and strengths. We spend a lot of time pitching and conceptualizing episodes, what guests we want to bring on, compiling interview questions, recording the episode at Red Bull Studios and then editing it and making sure it sounds really crisp when creating the final mix. It's a lengthy process but when the final product comes out it's always a rewarding feeling.
A great deal of your work acknowledges social justice, race and identity. How do you go about striking a balance between compelling content and deliberate informative content?
At Top Rank our goal is to create content that's exploratory and conversational rather than prescriptive and conclusive. We're dedicated to addressing issues that feel relevant to our community, covering topics like women's reproductive justice, identity politics in relation to social media and art as labor. Most of our episodes develop organically, inspired from conversations, arts events, lectures and the current political climate. I see these conversations as a way for us to learn from inspiring women in leadership as mentors, educators and positive role models.
Do you feel being around so much oral history has impacted your life in any way?
I view oral history as a tool ~ a tool for learning, listening and self actualization. Being around so much of it has influenced me in really positive ways. I think it has made me a stronger communicator. It's also such a wonderful resource for documentation, learning about family history and connecting with our ancestors.
Can you recall an especially fulfilling production moment/podcast? Why?
My coworker and I recently attended the Well Read Black Girl festival at BRIC in downtown Brooklyn. We recorded interviews with panelists, authors and participants to the conference and later produced a piece highlighting the event. The festival was inspiring and left me feeling really uplifted by all these incredible black women and I think the piece conveyed the powerful energy of the event. I loved the interview process as well because it made me get outside of my comfort zone and push myself to go up to all these established writers and media-makers with my little zoom recorder and ask them questions about their creative process, the current state of literature and shifting the paradigm to include more women of color.
You also DJ! Top 5 songs if you were stuck inside of a room for all of eternity.
Maimoun comes from the Persian language word meaning to welcome guests/invite company. If you could invite anyone to your dream dinner party who would it be and why?
Frida Kahlo for sure. She's been one of my most consistent role models throughout my life. To me, she exudes strength, intention and the power of woman. She would be incredibly present and intense dinner guest and I think we'd have really good conversation. Since I'm from la I'd make us sweet corn tamales, which is something I grew up eating a lot at farmers markets and always makes me think of home.