A Protest Music Interview: Steven Sedalia (Plus New Single)

“Is community now a form of protest?
Is expression a symbol of sovereignty?
Can a drum solo bring us closer to peace on Earth?”

Young Steven Sedalia is digging deep into important questions with his new single that drops today, September 12th. In the song, Children of the Land, Steven explores the lifestyle of “shamelessly expressing compassion and love to everyone and everything”.

Steven moved from sunny North Carolina to even sunnier Hawaii because he felt called to the island. In order to explore deeper ways to express himself through his music he needed to explore alternative lifestyles as well.

From the farm where Steven lives on the island of Kaua’i he answered some questions of mine about the new single, the nature and people of Hawaii and the current protests taking place at Mauna Kea.

“She gives us shelter, we give her songs.”

What motivated you to move to Hawaii?

I moved to Hawaii because like many people, I felt called here, well what is it that called me? I’ve come to know it as the aloha spirit, a guiding intuition that moves through everything. I came to Hawaii because I wanted to cultivate my musical expression in a deeper and more thorough manner, so in order to do that I needed to move further into an alternative lifestyle.

So by that I mean I wanted to stop the cycle of paying rent and bills, and relocate to an organic farm where I could invest my energy into the music and into the land as an exchange for a roof over my head, and I could learn how to grow my own food.

Has your music always had a specific, earthly message?

Yes, my first love and fascination was nature, I was always outside as a child exploring and just being in the woods and the wonder, ya know. So as I got older my fascination admittedly expanded to include romantic love, and this emotional exploration was the initial guide of my writing, primarily through poetry.

Through change and heartbreak, universal love began to guide my expression and on these new horizons is where I discovered my songwriting. So my songs have always naturally combined organic imagery of the earth, the beauty of a lover, and the love that lives in all of us and guides us.

It seems to me that a lot of music out of Hawaii features stories and lyrics about the earth and natural powers. Why do you think the island brings out that energy?

Oh wow yes well these islands are extremely full of creative power, in Hawaii, we call that mana. I mean it is literal and figurative, the Big Island of Hawaii continues to create new land, and there is a new island in the process of being formed under the ocean surface right now! So this creativity resonates strongly through all of the islands, and that translates into the creation of song and dance through the humans!

Another factor is this land is so young relative to other land on earth, even the oldest island is still far younger than most of Earth’s land. So you have comparatively youthful ‘aina (land) and an ecosystem that is constantly in motion and change, and the tropical climate gives a dense feeling of fullness and life.

On another level, these islands are small outcroppings of land surrounded in all directions by the ocean. From all directions, the ocean is moving toward the center, with everything that it carries, it is bound to bring all sorts of mana that inspires art. So much so that I feel that these islands truthfully love music. They love to be sung to, they pull music from people. I have seen so many people who were never “musicians” learn insanely fast to express in this way.

My expression too has deepened in ways that I know come directly as a result of wanting to give love to this land. People are inspired by shear beauty, we love the feeling of awe, it creates elation and a desire to praise. These islands are alive and though we cannot understand it, they have an expression that is analogous to our emotions, desires, and feelings. She gives us shelter, we give her songs.

“This is the meaning of kapu aloha, to act only from love, similar to the proclamation made by Gandhi, of non-violence. Historically and contemporarily, many musicians in Hawaii use the power of song to express social consciousness…”

Music seems to have been a strong force at the Mauna Kea protests, how is that situation affecting you and the people of your island? Do you feel there are many musicians on Hawaii that use their voice in protest or for good?

Music is the universal uniter, so anywhere people come together to honor the sacred, songs are an integral factor in the community. Mauna Kea is a perfect example of how important music is to hold the human spirit in faith of the good.

What is going on is deep, and really painful for so many of us that love Hawaii. It is another example of the way that colonialism continues to cut and steal and desecrate traditional indigenous land.

I live on Kaua’i, and each of the islands hold several heiau (temples), and certain heiau are connected through the aloha spirit to Mauna Kea, so ceremony and prayer are held at these special places to move mana across the islands to the mountain.

Additionally, there are ocean protests where people paddle out on surf boards in huge groups in support of the Mauna. These kia’i (protectors/guardians) all over the islands gather and simply by gathering and sharing and holding space, the voice of the Mauna is expressed.

This is the meaning of kapu aloha, to act only from love, similar to the proclamation made by Gandhi, of non-violence. Historically and contemporarily, many musicians in Hawaii use the power of song to express social consciousness, for example, the late Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, better known as IZ, many may know for his song “Over the Rainbow,” but not as many know about his advocacy and activism for Hawaiian sovereignty and independence. IZ is a legend throughout Hawai’i, so the activism is woven deeply into the musical culture here.

What do people protest against on the island besides a telescope on a sacred mountain (for the outsider, Hawaii might seem like a blissful and peaceful place)?

It is blissful, and it can also be extremely turbulent. Most people around the world only think of Hawaii as peaceful, gentle, unreal, and as a heavenly paradise. And it can be all of those things! But anyone who lives here will know there is a deep tension that results from hundreds of years of colonialism and oppression.

An all too familiar story, Hawaiians were literally forced by missionaries to quit practicing their spiritual traditions. Not to say that they didn’t practice in secret, they did, but that is just one example of the kinds of oppression that occurred; and the building on top of Mauna Kea is an extension of that destruction of culture.

The telescope represents something more; the protectors are not anti-science, they are anti-colonialism. The widespread activism that lives here is based in the Hawaiian sovereignty and independence movement. More specifically, here on Kaua’i, we have companies that want to divert the sacred river headwaters for profit. The wai wai (water/life) is everything, even the language tells us that water is life.

As a result of our incredible year round growing season and isolation, unfortunately Hawai’i was used as a guinea pig for genetically modified crop testing, beginning decades ago. So there is damaged and contaminated land caused by these GM companies and their pesticides. It has been a direct cause of much sickness and illness, and it continues today.

Photo by David Marsh

Do you partake in any activism outside your music on a regular basis?

Other forms of activism are more personal, so we go into the mountains off of the trails simply to plant the kalo, not to harvest, but simply to give back to the land, and return the kalo to its home. I feel that every organic garden is a statement of rebellion against the industrial agriculture system and a proclamation of self sustainability, and a direct communion with the elements, mana, and the aloha spirit that give us life!

Additionally, I practice what I call emotional and devotional activism, which I define as shamelessly expressing compassion and love to everyone and everything. The song “Children of the Land” is directly inspired by this lifestyle.

Music is a profound expression of sovereignty, a weapon of peace, a tool for togetherness and truth, and a language of sharing love. It remains to be seen if a drum solo can help bring world peace, but if you ask me, I am without a doubt that it can!

Visit stevensedaliamusic.com for more information

Cover photo by David Marsh

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