Articles

Arts & Lectures: Music & Writing For Social Change


(speaking in foreign language) – And happy Women’s History Month. Before I start, I just wanna
thank our JC president, Dr. Chung, for coming out. And we just, he just
met with our presenter and I had to assure him that
this shirt was not about him. (laughter) (crowd chattering) Welcome to today’s Arts
and Lecture event titled Music and Writing for Social Change by guest artist Taina Asili, who is here all the way from our sister
blue state, Nueva York. Yeah. (applause) This presentation is co-sponsored by the Santa Rosa Junior College
Women’s History Month Committee, the Multicultural Events Committee, the Latino Latina Faculty
Staff Association, Student Equity, and our
Student Government Assembly. My name is Rhonda Finley. I’m a counselor and EOPS, here at the college and I chair the Women’s History Month Committee. (applause)
Thanks. So today’s presentation
will be 50 minutes, followed by 10 minutes
of questions and answers, ending at 1:00. The presentation is being
videotaped and transmitted live to our Petaluma campus. If you need to leave the
auditorium before the event is over please do not walk in
front of this video camera right here. If everyone could take
a moment to turn off any electronic devices, cell phones, that could interrupt the program. Immediately following the
presentation, Taina will do a CD signing in the lobby,
where her CDs will be available for purchase
and during the Q and A we are going to give away some CDs to those who ask questions. Okay? (audience member speaking of mic) Whatever, it’s up to you. – [Woman] Whatever, we’ll talk about that. – Taina and two members of
her band, La Banda Rebelde will also be doing a free
live concert here tonight in the student activities
center across the street in Bertolini at 7:30. (clapping) It’s a great honor to
introduce to you today a musical artist who has become
to me a heroine of our times in that she speaks out in
powerful words and song for critical issues of social justice and against the current
tyranny disguised as democracy. Of Puerto Rican descent,
Taina was recognized in 2015 by the Hispanic Coalition of New York as one of their 40 Under 40 Rising Stars. In January she performed
on stage with her band at the Women’s March on
Washington along side with many other famous activists,
artists and politicians in an unprecedented resistance to a U.S. Presidential election. That’s not an alternative fact. Taina and La Banda Rebelde
have recorded two CDs of social justice songs,
blending various musical genres including Afro-Latin,
reggae, rock and hip hop. Her music was featured
on Democracy Now three times in the past year,
demonstrating the importance of her voice and poetry as an artist and warrior for social change. Taina has performed at
many festivals and venues around the world and
has developed and taught both poetry and songwriting
workshops and curriculum for children and adults that focus on marginalized populations. She’s a co-founder of the New York State Prisoner
Justice Network and is involved in many other social justice organizations and efforts too numerous to cite here. Her poetry has been featured
in a number of CD collections and in the documentary Seen and Not Heard about women and hip hop culture. In addition to her many
artistic accomplishments Taina holds a Masters of Arts in Transformative Language Arts
and a BA in Women’s Studies. Please join me in giving a
warm welcome to Taina Asili. (clapping) – Thank you so much for
having me and thank you for that beautiful introduction. It’s an honor to be here on campus. I came her a year ago, met
Rhonda at an event sponsored by the (speaks foreign language) collective and have since fell in
love with Santa Rosa and many of the people that I’ve met here. Today’s presentation is talking about what I do and what it’s, the
lineage that it’s a part of. So I identify as a
social justice musician. And for me I see the work that I do as a social justice musician as part of a really powerful
history of creating music for social change, creating
music to resist oppression. And I’m going to talk a little
bit today about some of that history and some of that
present day manifestations of social justice music
and pulling from genres, from time periods and from movements. As I was telling Rhonda earlier,
for me this is something that could be a full course. This subject and the idea of
music as a form of resistance is something that is really,
has a long and powerful history with many, many people who
have participated in it, many musicians and songwriters. So today will just be a sampling
of what that looks like. But before I begin I wanted
to tell you a little bit of my own history in social justice music. So I started at the age
of 14 singing opera. And I had a Peruvian opera
singer who was my instructor and I fell in love with classical music, classical European music. But my roots are I’m Puerto Rican. I’m a New York born Puerto Rican, born and raised in Upstate New York, the other New York, and my parents were both
musicians and artists and keepers of tradition. So my father was a Latin
Jazz conductor, a conguero, a conga player, and
also an amazing singer. He was a doo-wop singer. And he grew up in East Harlem
and used to sing doo-wop on the street corners and so he was the person
that taught me about harmony. My mother was a dancer. She danced African dance and Salsa, also a Puerto Rican folkloric art form which we’ll talk about in
a little bit, called Bomba. So my parents were very much
my beginning musical influences but they were also my political,
socio-political influences in terms of understanding
myself in relationship to the world and injustice. So my father, in addition
to singing doo-wop on street corners, was
also witnessing Malcolm X speak on street corners. My mother was, went back to
Puerto Rico and studied Bomba. Together they created a Bomba
group in Upstate New York. Both of them came through
affirmative action programs similar to probably
something that you have here. They went to Binghamton
University and they founded the Latin American Student Union
and Binghamton University. And this was, the founding of
that was something that was not just about going to
a student association and signing up, filling
out your forms, this was something that was inspired
by the Young Lords and the Black Panthers and Malcolm X. The people that were creating
powerful resistance movements in New York City at that time,
particularly the Latinos, particularly the Puerto Ricans. And so they created this
Latin American Student Union through sit-ins and protests, fighting for a space to have our culture
celebrated and honored. So that was the foundation
of my political upbringing. So I had opera, I had
my Puerto Rican roots, then somehow at the age of
16 I got into punk rock. And I fell in love with
punk rock, you know. It was something that for
me, as my parents loved Salsa but I grew up in Upstate New
York and I loved rock and roll and I had that rebellious
spirit and I wanted to express that in my own unique way and so I became a part of
a group called Anti-Product that gained international popularity and for eight years we toured
the country numerous times. We put out records all over the
US, Europe, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and became pretty
well known in the punk scene of our time. And through that traveling
and through that opening up I got interested in social justice work outside of what my parents
had instilled in me. I started to get involved in
work around political prisoners and fighting against mass
incarceration and state violence. I got into learning about climate change and working to fight climate change. I became a feminist,
identifying as a feminist, and got involved in feminist movements. And all of these influences
translated into the songs that I would write. From there, after my time
period in the punk scene, I became involved in
the spoken word movement of Philadelphia. How many of you have
heard of Sonia Sanchez? Have any of you ever heard
of the poet Sonia Sanchez? So Sonia Sanchez is a famous
poet from Philadelphia and I was very much inspired
by her and the poetry the spoken word poetry and slam poetry if you’ve heard of that, of Philadelphia and started to get
involved in that as well and expressing again my own experiences as a queer Puerto Rican you know in the US and what I had been going through and as a woman through my
poetry, through my songs. In 2006 Gaetano and I decided
to create a musical project that was sort of a collaboration of all those different pieces. So it created, it pulled
together my Afro-Latin roots, my punk rebellion, my poetry,
even the opera training that I had experienced growing up. And that was what formed
Taina Asili La Banda Rebelde. That project started
in 2006 and since then as Rhonda said we have
toured the nation many times, toured Europe and Puerto
Rico and Mexico and you know really gotten to cultivate
my own authentic voice and what I wish to offer in my
new stage of life in my work. So that’s a little bit of my history. Through that I have met some amazing, so that’s been 20 years, I’ve met some amazing
social justice musicians and songwriters and I started
to think about this history. So part of my Master’s work
at Goddard College was looking a little bit at some of this history of social change songwriting. And one thing that became
really obvious to me is that since oppression has
existed, music has been a part of that resistance to it. So one example is Bomba from Puerto Rico as I mentioned earlier. Bomba is a Puerto Rican folkloric art form that incorporates dancing,
drumming and song. And it was a Taino, which
are the indigenous people of Puerto Rico and African,
Africano collaboration that was used during the
times of slavery as a way to reclaim our humanity
in the face of inhumanity, as a time to celebrate who we
are and remember who we are, remember our roots when they were being taken away from us, when we were not allowed to drum, when we were not allowed to
hold on to our traditions. And when the slave masters
would go away to church, our Bombasos as we called them,
were a time where we would organize slave revolts. And this is just one example
of so many other places across the earth where
colonization has existed, people continue to drum. People continue to sing. New creations, underground
movements of music and community were formed. And so you see that in African
American spirituals here, or Capoeira in Brazil. And then we have other examples. English folk songs against
you know class resistance. You see Irish rebel music
when people were fighting in Ireland to resist
the English Imperialism. We look at India and the
anti-imperialist protest music of India, or even flamenco
from the Gitanos in Spain. So we see examples of
this all over the world. And even today our
contemporary musical forms that we might not think
of as resistance music, whether it be jazz or blues,
rock, hip hop, reggae, salsa, all of those styles came out of a people who were reclaiming their humanity in the face of inhumanity, out of a people that
were taking their roots and their culture and making
them more contemporary and creating a space. These movements came out of
people who were oppressed and were creating music
out of that oppression, creating something beautiful
and something powerful out of that oppression. And so what we think of, we
might not think of them today as resistance music, but
to me all of these genres are representations of just that. So what I want to do today is look at five different categories
of social justice music that I’ve kind of created
over my time looking at this. And I’m going to invite
you to listen to the music. We’re going to look at the
lyrics and look at examples of it and I want you to think about
what do you feel or experience when you hear and read this song? So often times people give me
a literal interpretation like well this song is about X, Y, Z. But really music is not
just about understanding it from an intellectual
perspective but also the power of the music comes from what
we feel when we hear it. And that’s a little bit
more difficult to articulate but really that’s where the
power of that music comes from. So I also want you to think
about how does this song, if at all, related to what’s
happening in our world today? A lot of the songs from
the past have messages that translate very well to
what’s happening in the present. So does it related to
what’s happening today. And then we can look a little bit about what you notice about the
structure of the song. So our first category, the
first lens that I look at when I’m looking at social justice music is music that speaks our truth, so to bear witness to our
own lived experiences, to tell our truth, our pain, our anger. Often times the voices or the
experiences of the oppressed have been silenced, so
music has been created as an act of resistance
to break that silence and find power in our shared experience, to find our humanity in
the face of inhumanity. And so the first example of
that that I love to think about is Nina Simone. How many of you have heard of Nina Simone? Beautiful. So this song, is called
Mississippi Goddam. ♫ Knows about Mississippi goddam ♫ Alabama’s got me so upset ♫ Lurleen Wallace has made me lose my rest ♫ Everybody knows about Mississippi goddam ♫ Can’t you see it ♫ I know you can feel it ♫ It’s all in the air ♫ I can’t stand the pressure much longer ♫ Somebody say a prayer ♫ Alabama has got me so upset ♫ And Memphis has made me lose my rest ♫ Everybody knows about Mississippi goddam – So this song was created
as Nina Simone’s response to what was happening
politically during that time, particularly as a response to
the murder of Medgar Evers. And this is Nina Simone’s
expression of her truth as she witnessed what was
happening in her community, in the Black community in
that time of the 1960s. Another example of speaking
our truth is a hip hop group called Rebel Diaz. Their song is I’m an Alien. How many of you have heard
of Rebel Diaz before? Has anybody heard their hip
hop group out of the Bronx. Definitely check them out
if you haven’t already. Rebel Diaz, they’re from Chile
and they were born in England and grew up in Chicago. ♫ That will make our soul search ♫ Earth mother it feels good ♫ To say things that uplift the hood ♫ For what it’s worth
we’ve been here for a while ♫ Follow the moon take a walk for a mile ♫ In the shoes of the
man that pick your fruit ♫ I want access to schools ♫ I don’t want to join the troops ♫ You came to my country ♫ You brought the dictator ♫ Gave him money and told him pay me later ♫ So taste the tomato, tomato whatever ♫ The students the
farmers working together (speaking foreign language) ♫ Whoa I’m an alien ♫ I’m an illegal alien ♫ I’m an alien ♫ I’m an illegal alien ♫ I’m an alien ♫ I’m an illegal alien ♫ I’m an alien ♫ I’m an illegal alien ♫ Illegal I am not ♫ A human being – So this song is their
expression of how they are, they feel and how they’re
viewed in this country. And Rebel Diaz not only is a hip hop group but also are prominent
activists that are doing work in New York City and
really around the nation on a lot of issues
including police brutality, prison injustice and immigrant rights. The next category that I
like to look at in terms of social justice songwriting
is solidarity music. So solidarity music is music
that is created in solidarity with another movement. So also in the act of breaking
silence, songs of solidarity with other’s movements of resistance have been an important
part of social justice. Not to be confused with
appropriation, which is writing as if someone else’s
experience is your own or speaking uninvited and unaware about someone else’s experience. Songs of solidarity reflect
movements that have called for people to help spread
awareness of their struggle and are written with careful
research and respect. So we’ll look at a
couple examples of that. How many of you have heard
of Rage Against the Machine? Has anybody heard of
Rage Against the Machine? So Rage Against the Machine
was a group that I loved in the 1990s and recently
had an opportunity to tour with (speaker
drowned out by music). This song is called People of the Sun. ♫ We’ve got to turn the
bass up on this one. ♫ Check it since 1516
minds attacked and overseen ♫ Now crawl amidst the
ruins of this empty dream ♫ With their borders
and boots on top of us ♫ Pullin’ knobs on the floor
of their toxic metropolis ♫ But how you gonna get
what you need to get ♫ The gut eaters, blood
drenched get offensive like Tet ♫ The fifth sun sets get back reclaim ♫ The spirit of Cuahtemoc
alive and untamed ♫ Now face the funk now
blasting out your speaker ♫ One the on Maya Mexica ♫ That vulture came to
try and steal your name ♫ But now you got a gun ♫ Yeah this is for the people of the sun ♫ It’s comin’ back around again ♫ This is for the people of the sun ♫ It’s coming’ back around again ♫ It’s comin’ back around again – So this song was created
as a song in solidarity with the Zapatistas, of Chiapas, Mexico. And that was at that time the
Zapatistas were calling for people to lift, uplift their
struggle and uplift their movement and to create a
lens to what they were, their struggle and what
they were working on there. And so Rage Against the
Machine used their popularity and their voice as a song
of solidarity with this. Anne Feeney is a folk singer
who I also had the privilege of touring with this summer and she’s a very well known
folk singer who’s been doing work since the
early 1960s touring with, not touring, excuse me,
traveling to visit picket lines. (music drowns out speaker) ♫ An across the USA ♫ These multinational bastards ♫ Don’t use tanks and guns it’s true ♫ But they’ve declared a war on us ♫ Fight back it’s up to you ♫ Oh it’s a war on the workers ♫ War on the workers ♫ Oh it’s a war on the workers ♫ War on the workers ♫ Oh it’s a war on the workers ♫ And it’s time we
started calling the shots ♫ Going to work ♫ Could be the death of you and me ♫ But we’re not unarmed ♫ Our weapon’s solidarity ♫ Jim Beals and Karen Silkwood ♫ The list goes on and on ♫ With every year that
passes 60,000 more are gone ♫ Oh it’s a war on the workers ♫ War on the workers ♫ Oh it’s a war on the workers ♫ War on the workers – So Anne is an artist, who
as I said before has spent her entire career not getting famous, although she is extremely well known, but using her work, going to picket lines, going to strikes and
supporting the workers and that has been, her
entire career has been doing that work. It’s been very profound. And that’s a powerful way that artists support and work in
solidarity with movements. This next artist is Pol Mac Adaim, who I performed with in Belfast, Ireland. He’s a well known musician
there and he wrote this song about someone named Troy Davis. How many of you have heard of Troy Davis? Has anybody ever heard of Troy Davis? So in 2011 I want to say,
Troy Davis was on death row and would still maintain his innocence. There had been a lot of
evidence to prove his innocence. People, Desmond Tutu, very
prominent people called for him to not be executed and there
was a large movement of people not only in the US but across the world that were calling for
him to not be executed. Sadly he was executed and
there was a movement for people to say I am Troy Davis in solidarity with (music drowns out speaker). ♫ They had much to do ♫ To apprehend the suspects
with hardly any clues ♫ So they worked on many witnesses ♫ Who did what they were told ♫ And this travesty of justice did unfold – One of the things that I noticed when I went to Belfast Ireland, Belfast as you know, or as you may know, has a long history of people
who have been fighting for Ireland to be free and for this, for the North of Ireland to be free, and Pol Mac Adaim is a
part of that movement. So they have a lot of work
that they do in solidarity with social justice
movements here in the US. The next category is
historical remembrance and cultural reclamation. For many people, for
many oppressed people, our connection to our roots,
our ancestry, our history, have been cut off, so
music has also been used to reconnect us to this
histories, traditions and ancestral ways. And I thought I would
share one of my own songs. This song is called Sofrito. And I don’t know if we have
any Puerto Ricans here today or any folks who know what sofrito is. Sofrito is a sauce that is
used in Puerto Rican cooking. It is a base but it’s also for me in this song symbolizes
remembering our roots, remembering my culture and my
people and where I come from. Puerto Rico is a colony
of the United States and the reason why I’m here in
the United States is because of forced migration, and being forced to come to this country. And in many ways I see my
connection to my ancestry and reclaiming my roots as a part of that decolonization process. So this song is written in Spanish. Spanish is not my dominant
language at this point. English is my dominant language, but even writing in Spanish is part of that cultural reclamation for me. (music with Spanish lyrics) So that’s my song Sofrito,
which I will perform tonight. (audience clapping) This is a group that I love,
Sweet Honey in the Rock. Have any of you ever heard
of Sweet Honey in the Rock? Oh good. I lovedSweet Honey in the
Rock and this song is by a very famous song,
it’s called Ella’s Song. It was written by Bernice Johnson Reagon of Sweet Honey in the
Rock, and it’s a song that’s sung at many demonstrations and protests even to this day. ♫ Until the killing of black men ♫ Black mother’s sons ♫ Is as important as
the killing of white men ♫ White mother’s sons ♫ We who believe in freedom ♫ Cannot rest ♫ Sing it with me if you like it ♫ We who believe in freedom ♫ Cannot rest until it comes ♫ The older I get – I love this song so much
because I learned from Bernice having heard her recently talk about this, this song was a song
that was actually written and a conversation that
she had with Ella Baker, who was a civil rights
and human rights activist that she knew very well. And so she sat down and
had a conversation with her and this song is almost
a literal translation of what Ella Baker said to
her in that conversation. And Sweet Honey is an example
of people who have continued to hold on to our historical
memory and our cultural memory for African-American people. This is another artist you
might not have heard of but who I love dearly and
had a number of opportunities to meet and perform along side. Her name is Chiwoniso,
she was from Zimbabwe. In 2013 she passed away at the age of 37 and I miss her dearly but this,
Chiwoniso was another artist who lifted up her cultural
heritage as someone from Zimbabwe and also spoke of that
history and that struggle and so this song Rebel
Woman is a documentation of that, of the rebel women of her nation. ♫ Her rifle by her side ♫ Rough worn hands upon her knee ♫ Rebel woman yeah ♫ Rebel woman yeah ♫ There will be no compensation – She’s one of my favorite
musicians of all time. So that’s Chiwoniso. Another important aspect
of social justice music, and I put this one as
four because often times people will think of this as number one but there’s so many aspects to me of social justice songwriting. This one is songs that
are a call to protest. So music has been used to
organize people to come together in specific ways to resist. It calls for people to come together to protest and organize. So that is the music that
is a call to protest. An example of that would be Victor Jara and his song Venceremos. From Chile. (singing in foreign language) So that was Victor Jara. Another example would be
Ruben Blades, Ruben Blades and his song Tiburon. How many of you have heard Ruben Blades? So this is his song Tiburon. This is one of my favorite songs. I might be covering it soon. (singing in foreign language) (music drowning out speaker) And then another song, a contemporary, have you ever heard of The
Peace Poets or the song I Can’t Breathe? This might sound familiar
to you if you’ve been at a Black Lives Matter demonstration or any kind of demonstration that is addressing
violence in our community. This is a song that became viral. ♫ Calling out the violence
of these racist police ♫ We ain’t gonna stop
’til our people are free ♫ We ain’t gonna stop
’til our people are free ♫ I still hear by brother
crying I can’t breathe. – So this song was published on YouTube and then Samuel Jackson covered
it and many other people sang it, celebrities, and it went viral and now you hear this song sung
at demonstrations and Poets, The Peace Poets are from
the Bronx and their work is really just creating
songs for people to sing at protests and demonstrations. Another song that is a protest song is by a group called Blackfire. They’re now known as Sihasin and they’re a Dine punk band
from Flagstaff, Arizona. Has anybody ever gotten
a chance to hear them or listen to them? I love their music. They’re good friends of mine. ♫ How can we have justice on stolen land ♫ Stolen lives testify
to human rights violated ♫ So you want to fight the terrorists ♫ Well start with the FBI the
CIA and now the Forest Service ♫ What do we want ♫ Justice ♫ When do we want it ♫ Now – So they’ve been doing work in their area to fight, this is called the Peak Songs, I think it’s called the San
Francisco Peaks I believe, that they have been doing work
to protect their sacred land and working to stop I think
it is, what is it called, a ski resort that is occupying that land. So they’ve been doing work to stop that. This is my band again. This is a song that we
wrote called And We Walk. ♫ Blistered, sunburned, blessed ♫ This is a quest we must take on ♫ For our sacred sites and earth we love ♫ For our children we will not rest ♫ Each step is a silent prayer ♫ To end the drilling of the wells ♫ That poison water we so depend – So this song was inspired
by the movement in Vieques, Puerto Rico to stop the US Navy from bombing and really
occupying that land. And it was also inspired by
work that I’ve been doing with Jun-san Yasuda who is
a Japanese Buddhist nun who runs these peace walks
to stop nuclear power and nuclear weapons and basically anyone that is
doing work to use their bodies, use their physical bodies
to interrupt violence towards our earth. So that’s what that song
is called, why it’s called And We Walk. And that was a protest song that I wrote. And the last category is celebration and I think this one
is sometimes overlooked because we often think
of social change songs as something that maybe is
angry or something that is a little bit on the serious side, but I also believe that
celebrating who we are and celebrating our accomplishments
and how far we’ve come is an important part of
social justice songwriting so I include that in this category. And an example of that
would be a group called Blue King Brown. Blue King Brown is led by a woman who is, they’re Melbourne based
but she’s from Samoa and this is a song that
she sang in celebration (music drowns out speaker) ♫ Give me the truth and I’ll be yours ♫ I’ll be yours ♫ Now don’t you exploit the way I feel ♫ Not for a second ♫ You told me you’d stand up for the cause ♫ Now I want to give you the opportunity ♫ To make that promise real ♫ Come and show me how you feel ♫ Women around the world are on the rock ♫ Moving throughout these lands and seas ♫ We’re comin’ ♫ Hatred and war – I love Blue King Brown. If you haven’t gotten a
chance to check them out they are very, they do
a fusion of a lot of different styles of music. The last artist that I
want to introduce to you is a dear friend of mine. Her name is Monica McIntyre
and she is a cellist, vocalist and based in New Orleans and
this song is called Conjurer. ♫ Down down down ♫ I have practiced magic ♫ And I have watched it work ♫ It has been decided that ♫ I am a conjurer ♫ I am a conjurer ♫ I am a conjurer ♫ Protection goes before me ♫ Protection is all around ♫ Protection stands beside me ♫ For this is sacred ground ♫ Speak good things into being ♫ Abundance all around ♫ Happiness and joy rain down down down ♫ Happiness and joy rain down down down – So Monica is a artist
that writes a lot about healing and celebrating her
power as a spiritual person. Sorry, excuse me, their
power as a spiritual person and Monica, this song in particular is a perfect example of that. Monica works a lot on
really looking at wellness and self-care for our
movements and for our people and so this is an example
of honoring that power which is a part of that reclamation too, that cultural reclamation
piece but also a celebration, and acknowledgement
that we have that power. So that is Monica MacIntyre. So that wraps up what I
wanted to share with you in terms of the pieces of examples but obviously we could
think of a million more and I would love to hear
who some of your favorite social justice artists
are and what inspires you. But I wanted to just ask you to, I wanted to go back to this
question of what did you feel or experience? Were there any songs that you
heard or read that you felt particularly touched
by or had an experience whether good or bad or no label at all but felt something from. Feel free to share. And apparently you can
get a CD if we share. (laughing) Hi. – [Audience Member] I was
impressed by the last woman before you spoke about
her I felt it was already working on me that way. She was distinct and that kind of goes into a different part of me
and the rhythm of it too. – [Taina] Right. – Helped that it (speaking
of mic) you know what I mean? – [Taina] Absolutely. – I was able to absorb
that without even trying, it was kind of entering me. So thank you for that. – Thank you. And I think that’s one of the
powerful things about music is that it’s not something
that always has to translate in terms of language. So for example I sing
songs in multiple languages and people might not
necessarily speak that language and understand what it means
but there’s a translation, a vibrational translation that
happens when we hear music. It literally physically affects us when we’re listening to sound. There are vibrations that
are affecting our ears. There are things happening in our brain and other parts of our body, so that to me is one of the powerful things about music as a voice for change. Any other feelings or experiences from some of the music that you heard? – [Audience Member] (speaking
of mic) celebration, just made me happy to
be me, where I am today. – Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s an important aspect of social justice music
because especially for, you know, for myself for example again as a queer Puerto Rican woman, I’ve been told my whole
life that I don’t belong. Literally people have told me to go back to where I come from, you
know, and so to hold my place that I belong, that I am
worthy, that I am loved, that I am beautiful, I mean that to me is a really important, powerful aspect of social justice songwriting. And reclaiming our love
for ourselves, absolutely. Any other thoughts. – I love the Nina Simone in the beginning because I felt this sadness
recognizing we’re here again hearing that Mississippi
Goddam, because I got to hear Mississippi, My My Mississippi
was just written this year as a protest song when
Mississippi banned gay rights laws they just passed in one line
they just wiped them out. And a local woman in San
Francisco wrote My My Mississippi which reminded me of this,
that feeling of oh god we have to do it again. Again! So I’ll pass that My My
Mississippi to you afterwards. – And with that it also reminds us that we have done this before
and we can do it again. Because music is that
documentation, like for example I mentioned earlier that my parents were the keepers of the Bomba tradition. It reminds us that we
have moved through so much to get to this present moment
and we brought that lineage with us and we brought that strength and we brought that power
and what we have to face now we have all that we need to
face what we need to face and music becomes a reminder of that. – I just also wanted to say that what made me remember also
is that music can change I’m saying a young person’s
life to do, to inspire. I remember the first time
that I heard Women on Wheels, Holly Near, that whole
thing of women’s music that wasn’t on any radio
station and there were no YouTubes at that time. Yet I went with a lot of young women who never heard it before
and were transformed. The day before they weren’t feminists. The next day after going to
the Women on Wheels concert you’re transformed into
something else, so that whole transformation that happens
with music like this. – Yeah absolutely. – What I love about it besides being empowering and educational and
study with word and feeling is that it’s not always obvious to people who may not resonate with the message. It’s a very brilliant way to
exist and to spread the message because it’s subversive in that way. It’s like in a package
and people who may not, if you tell them the same message they may walk away from you. But if they hear the
music they may not get it and then they get it. And so it’s another way of getting in. – It makes people more open sometimes. – Right, it opens people
up, you know, to another way of perceiving things. And also it’s a way that
really exists in the society because if we really put it out
mainstreamed the doors shut. – [Taina] Right, exactly, exactly. – [Audience Member] While you
were talking about Nina Simone I have heard of her more
famous song Strange Fruit. Never actually heard
it, just heard about it. – Which I think was
written by Billie Holiday. And I’m glad that you
mentioned Strange Fruit because Strange Fruit
came, was written I believe by Billie Holiday who as I said before, I mentioned that jazz came
out of really was born out of resistance and Billie Holiday
would be a perfect example of that and that song would
be a perfect example of that. – I remember Rage Against the
Machine from a long time ago and really I was always like
turn that down it’s so angry I can’t handle it. And so to revisit it in this context, I never actually got to
know the content of it because it became really mainstream, relatively mainstreamed. But now I know the history,
the mythology and see the words and put all the pieces of
the puzzle together it’s like of course they’re angry. These people went from being
a high powerful culture to feeling squashed down. There’s rage of course, so thank you. – Yeah. And it’s one of the things, you know I like a lot
of different art forms and how I express myself. Even still in my music I
love to have that moment to rage because we need to release that. We need to release that anger. That anger is an important part, that expression is an important
part of moving through that. And I think that Rage Against
the Machine was an interesting you mention that they
became very mainstream. So if you’ll notice some of
the artists that I presented were artists that were
underground or maybe lesser known and some that were, you
know, extremely famous: Nina Simone, Rage Against
the Machine, Sweet Honey. And you know, Rage Against
the Machine did a lot of work to bring issues that were not
mainstream to the forefront, so the Zapatistas, many people
heard about the Zapatistas or (speaks foreign
language) or these movements that maybe people didn’t know about through Rage Against the Machine and became actively involved and are still involved
to this day in activism around those issues. Mainstream has a powerful place too. Any other thoughts on that? – Are any of the songs (speaker off mic drowned out by static) to poor people and this song
really touches something that keeps happening even
if before the president took office we’d always hear this, you don’t belong here, you’re an alien, so it’s something that just brings up those feelings of anger too such as we’re always called aliens for some reason even when we’re not. – Whether you are or you aren’t, right? (speaker drowned out by background noise) Absolutely. Thank you. – Also it’s a sense of it awakens empathy and understanding the world
from somebody else’s perspective and in that finding solidarity. I mean that’s a very empowering
feeling, not feeling alone. Feeling like you’re part of a movement. All that is empowering. – I agree and I think that yeah, there’s something about
the sense of exactly that, knowing that you’re not alone. That we are together and struggle. Rhonda mentioned that I performed at the Women’s March on Washington and I told a story about how
when I came two days before. I performed actually three
events during that weekend. One was Disrupt J20, which
was the demonstration on the actual inauguration day and I remember walking into the streets and there was Trump hats, not
that many because as we know not that many people came but enough that I started to
feel a sense of being alone and that I was alone in what I was feeling and what I was facing and what my family and my children are facing as we move into this new
era and the Women’s March the next day, getting to, the environment completely transformed and again there was a sea
of about a million people all together in solidarity
and a stage full of artists some underground and some very famous like Madonna and Janelle Monae
but all of us coming together in these songs of resistance and that to me was very powerful even for myself as a
social justice artist, to remember that I’m not
alone, that we’re not alone in this struggle. – (speaker off mic drowned out by static) I think it’s really important
for breaking down barriers, socio-economic barriers,
people remembering historically where they came from and also breaking inter-generational barriers. – Absolutely. Absolutely, I think there’s
been something interesting that’s happened since
the age of the internet and since the age of
social media in particular, that what happened, what has
existed before the internet didn’t really exist. And you know, if you look
at your Facebook status, what’s the first thing that you see is the most recent thing
that’s happened, right, that’s the first thing that you see. And everything is all about
what is happening right now. And maybe from one perspective being in the present is
really powerful and important. But if we’re only thinking
about what’s happening in the present and not
remembering our past and not remembering our
history and all of the tools and teachings that have
been built to help guide us into the future, then we become very lost and in the 20 years of
activism that I’ve been doing, recently I’ve found that
people don’t know a lot of that history and songs
are powerful documentation of that history. So I share these songs,
I do this workshop, not only to remember, not only to think about social justice and the importance of social justice music,
but also for us to begin to investigate some of that history and the documentors of those
movements so that we can find those tools again. Anyone else? Okay, we’ll take one more. (speaker off mic drowned out by static) Yeah a lot of these songs, Ella’s Song, we who believe in freedom, ♫ Until the killing of a black man ♫ Black mother’s son ♫ Is as important as a
killing of a white man ♫ White mothers son That line is something that
I think about all the time as the mother of a black child. You know, I have an almost
14 year old black son and I think about that all the time. That what we’re facing at
that point is still something that is really relevant
and important for today. But the other piece of that song is “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” And I’m reminded that again we are not alone in the struggle. We have the tools that we
need to keep on moving on. So with that I think
we’ll close the workshop. Thank you so much. (clapping) Thank you Rhonda.

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