Taina Asili

Posted: March 10, 2012

interviewed by Chris Richards, March 2012

My favorite part of doing interviews is when I am fortunate enough to catch up with someone who truly inspires me and reminds me why creative work is so important.  Taina Asili carries a potent resistance spirit the can penetrate the deepest burnout, and rejuvinate our most broken cynics.  I often struggle to remember that small victories are progress, and building a resistance movement is a brutal struggle, but not a hopeless one.  Lucky enough for all of us, folks like Taina are doing what they are doing to keep our motivation in check.  My words cannot do justice, so here is a video:

For a full bio on Taina, please visit her site HERE.  Enjoy the interview…

Can you give us a brief explanation of who you are and what it is that you do?
I am a musician, activist and parent.  I perform music with an Afro-Caribbean/reggae/rock ensemble called Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde our music is focused on issues of social justice.  Music is my passion and is fueled by desire for personal and social transformation. It is fed by activist work, such as my work with the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, the Albany Political Prisoner Support Committee, and most recently, Occupy Albany. And it is inspired by my parenting.  I have 8 year old child and another child due this April.

What goals do you have for your music and its impact on the world?
My music is my way of telling my story and sharing my vision for a more just world. My hope is that it can be a source of inspiration for people to work towards the healing of this earth and all those upon it. For many years I performed with a punk band called Antiproduct, and through my work with this band I was able to see how much power the spoken, written and sung Word can have in influencing individuals lives and feeding movements. To this day I receive emails from people telling me that our band’s music inspired them to become more involved in social justice work, or that the music told a story that resonated with them and helped them to move through personal healing work. This is what I aim to do with Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde as well.

Can you tell us about your kickstarter campaign and what you hope to achieve with it? (SUPPORT THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN HERE)
Our Kickstarter campaign is working to raise $15,000 to fund a portion of our 2012 Reclaim the Thunder Tour, a US and European tour which will include free performances for social justice organizations, community centers and schools.  The money raised will contribute towards offering free performances to at least 15 select organizations in the US and Europe to assist with their consciousness and fundraising efforts. For years I have been asked to perform at benefit concerts, at political gatherings/protests, at radical conferences and at high schools, which I often do, especially locally. But many times these organizations and schools lack the funding to bring a 6 piece group to their event. We hope that this next tour will be something much greater than just playing at venues. We really want to offer our music as concretely as we can to movement work, and we see this fundraising campaign as the best way we can bridge this funding gap and still take care of our basic expenses as artists. I am very excited about the possibilities.

Ideally, what experience would an audience member take away from your live performance?
I seek to move people emotionally and physically when we perform. Most of our music is written with the intention of inspiring audiences to dance to the movement of rebellion.  Just like my Afro-Taino ancestors who danced as a way of reclaiming their humanity in the face of inhumanity, as a way of acknowledging spirit, to pray for a better world, and as a time to organize slave revolts.

Your bio mentions carrying on the tradition of your ancestors, how does your background and ancestry inform you and your politics?
I am Puerto Rican and my parents were both artists who focused on carrying on our cultural traditions as a form of cultural reclamation and resistant to oppression. One art form in particular that they passed on was bomba, which I referenced in the answer above. But beyond being inspired by my own family’s cultural lineage I’m inspired by the powerful art of resistance to colonialism for over 500 years in the history of the Puerto Rican nation, from bomberos to newyorican poets to hip hop.

What place does art and creativity have in building a resistance movement?
Art and creativity have always been a part of resistance as far as I know, from the bombas of Puerto Rico to the anti-apartheid songs of South Africa. Even in our most contemporary resistance movements art is at the forefront. It is the food that feeds the soul of the people, and as we move forward with our work for justice, art must continue to be an important part of that work.

In October the The New York Times published the article, “At the Protests, the Message Lacks a Melody” claiming that music for the movement had disappeared. Riotfolk musician/activist Ryan Harvey wrote a response to this article in the blog Even If Your Voice Shakes where he says:

‘As an underground folk musician who regularly performs with other similar musicians, this simplification of what protest music is and where it is found brings me a bitter frustration. McKinley and other journalists covering this issue have consistently ignored the massive underground of contemporary “protest music” that has been thriving for years.’ http://www.truth-out.org/cant-find-protest-songs-check-inside-movement/1321378247

And this is so true. There is a vibrant powerful movement of underground radical musicians, not visible in the mainstream, that continue to feed resistance movements.

What sort of organizing or social/political work do you do outside of your music, and how are they connected?
The bulk of my political activism has been around prisoner justice, with a particular focus on political prisoners. For most of my adult years I have worked on the campaign to free former death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal (www.freemumia.com). I lived in Philadelphia for many years and worked closely with the leaders of this work. This was my entrance into prisoner justice organizing, though my life has always been impacted by the prison injustice system by the incarceration of two members of my immediate family. Since my move to Albany, I have helped to found the New York State Prisoner Justice Network (www.nysprisonerjustice.org), which has been in existence for 2 years.  In addition to this work I have been involved in many other types of movement work such as Puerto Rican independence, indigenous rights, environmental justice, and holistic health movements. And of course, I consider parenting to be my most important activist work.

Do you have advice for other artisans who are considering using their gifts to instigate change?
Remember that our art is our power. Let us draw upon our creative energies in the best ways we know how to manifest change.

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