A Protest Music Interview: Nehedar

9 albums released since 2007 is quite the feat, let alone for only one person. That is what Emilia Cataldo has done (among other things – such as bringing life into this world).

Nowadays Emilia performs with a couple of musicians as a trio and as such can be heard on Bandcamp through her latest release, Escaping Zion, a wonderfully crafted political pop album that touches upon a wide variety of societal aspects such as gun violence and the lack of empathy for migrating people.

First of all, for those not too familiar with your work, who is or are Nehedar?

Hi, thank you for this interview! I’m Emilia Cataldo, and I’ve been performing as Nehedar since roughly 2003 in NYC. Live I play acoustic guitar and sing. Currently Nehedar performs as a trio, (Elyse Maister on Cello, Brad Reiss Drums) I recorded all my albums with Craig Levy (Little Pioneer) plus guest musicians. My most recent one Escaping Zion features Elyse on all songs. Brad hadn’t joined the band yet.

How important is it to you to use your music for good, change or activism?

I do like the idea that the music could be used for good. I would love if a gun control organization wanted to use my song “Thoughts and Prayers“or if Bernie Sanders or another good progressive wanted to use “Best in Show” which I wrote before the US 2016 Democratic primary. I’d donate my song “Safe” to a refugee aid organization. There’s an aspect of my music that’s devotional, and I’d be more than happy to donate it to worthy causes. 

Do you consider yourselves protest musicians?

Just speaking for myself, I am not strictly a protest musician, but I make protest music. Some songs will be 100% protest songs, while others may be less so or not even at all. 

I’ve written many songs that directly criticize aspects of society (such as On Killing, Debtor’s Lament, Thoughts and Prayers, Subway Ratt, Biblical Bulletproof, Dino, Is It Annoying) and a number of other songs that cryptically and sarcastically lampoon capitalism, cynicism, mind control and greed (Sign, The Story, Self Fulfilling Prophecy, Catacomb, A Dollar’s Fine, Dissent,  etc) Really so many songs could be included in that second category. 

You have been steadily releasing albums since 2007, 9 of them as a matter of fact. Has your music always been politically driven or has it changed in that sense since your first album?

My first album, Pick Your Battles was openly political. Never Let You Go contains the lyric “I turned to the left, the left was lacking, I turned to the right, the right was wrong, I looked to my shoes, they held no answers but onward they point the path I choose.” That lyric is infinitely more meaningful to me now than it was at the time. Even the album cover and name Pick Your Battles were politically charged to me.  Not every song was political, but quite a few were. My live set was also very political in the early days (post 9/11 NYC) when I primarily performed as a duo with guitarist David Keesey.

At this time in your life, what do you care most about and try to communicate with your music?

I believe I’m witnessing cults transform into fascism in front of my eyes. I have a new song only on Soundcloud called “Bad Faith” which explains ideological thinking that doesn’t stand up to reason. I’m sort of studying this phenomenon online. I have a new unrecorded song, called Song For Sale which deals with clickbait journalism and the commercializing of art, the commercializing of everything in the US including health care.  I’m primarily interested in the concept of mental colonization versus mental independence and the way people in the US and beyond are dividing themselves into opposing teams as if to prepare for a fight. I’d like to frustrate that effort if I can, I am a pacifist.

Are you following or listening to any contemporary protest musicians or socially conscious artists that you’d like to give a shout out to?

I’d like to give a shout out to my soul sister Aliza Hava

Photo by Chris Aldridge

What is your experience with protest music in New York? Do you feel the acceptance of politically driven music has increased in the past years or has it always been the same?

I think NYC appreciates protest music, but I also think New York has become a place where most artists in general can’t afford to live.  Protest music is usually anti-capitalist, and NYC is so saturated in the capitalist agenda, I think it’s a mismatch.  Everyone in NYC has to hustle so much if they’re not independently wealthy. 

What about outside the music, do you partake in activism or any projects that you would like to share with us?

I donate money when I can, and hold and perform at benefit concerts when I can, but practically, at this time, I mainly pour it into my songwriting.

Photo by Chris Aldridge

Are we living in a simulation and/or is this the end?

I don’t know but even if we totally screwed up and ruined the planet for humans, life would continue. The work we made, and the data we stored might even endure and be found. I think at the very least we exist as energy, and energy never dies.  

As a mom, I really want a healthy world and I’m very worried.

If you could form a new trio with 2 people – living or dead – musicians or not, who’d you choose?

I’m gonna have to give it up for Elyse Maister and Brad Reiss for being the best. I’d love to share a bill with other people, or add to the band, but as a core trio to showcase and perform my songs, they are the ideal! 

Thank you very much for participating and for the music you make! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Thank you so very much for the work you are doing and for this generous opportunity!


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