All posts by Halldór H Bjarnason

Halldór is the managing editor of Shouts - Music from the Rooftops!, an investigative journalist, audio engineer and an animal rights activist on a nomad journey through Europe - still without a definite destination.

Corruption And Betrayal In Puerto Rico: New EP From Yuca Brava (Interview)

Shouts regulars and all around hard working activists/musicians Yuca Brava are releasing a new EP today, Friday the 14th. Previously we have interviewed Felix Castro, the vocalist of the band, about their music and activism.

This time I spoke with Carlos Anglada, the producer, drummer and the other half of the band. Carlos told me about the new album and how it covers the betrayal by the Puerto Rican government of their people.

Halldór: What is going on today in your surroundings?

Carlos Anglada: On January 6 & 7 of this year (2020) Puerto Rico was struck by two earthquakes. The tremors destroyed hundreds of homes, leaving thousands of people in the Southwestern region of the Island homeless. The quakes also damaged close to 300 public schools, which have been declared as unusable.

As it turns out, a geological fault (the Punta Montalva Fault) slashes across the entire Sounthwestern part of the Island. After the fault became active, there have been close to 3,000 additional aftershocks or replicas to date. People in the region live in an unrelenting state of anxiety. Refugee camps have people living in tents, not unlike the refugee war camps we have seen elsewhere. We have begun losing people who have chosen to take their own lives, unable to find any hope in their dire situation.

Adding insult to injury, on January 18th, an independent journalist caught the authorities attempting to empty a warehouse holding a substantial number of supplies that had not been distributed since Hurricane Maria and that could have been used to serve the refugees from the earthquakes. Further investigation revealed that close to a dozen other such facilities were located all across the island, all of them holding potable water, baby formula, cots, portable showers, etc. In addition, when you see politicians holding out on emergency supplies so that they can repackage them with campaign flyers, you know you have seen the height of callousness.

In summary, we’re currently dealing with the fallout of yet another round of gross negligence and mismanagement of a natural event by our so-called “government”. In the meantime the Fiscal Oversight Board (Junta de Control Fiscal – Ley “Promesa”) is pressuring the government to agree to a plan to repay our debt which would deepen our already grave financial situation by extending stronger repay guarantees to stockholders based on inflated growth forecasts.

Halldór: What is this EP about?

Carlos: We touch on a number of issues: the hollowing out of the Island to make room for the wealthy elite (“Bitcoin Messiah”), state and social violence against women (“Cobardes & Escarlatas”), and the constant lying and deceit carried out by our “government” (“Huele a Traidores” & “Status Quo”). However, the overarching theme is the utter and complete betrayal of the people of PR by the current administration.

Halldór: What is driving you or motivating you, today, to pen down some lyrics or create some beats and riffs?

Carlos: Neoliberal and austerity policies have real victims who experience real pain and suffering. Sometimes we fall in love with our own buzzwords and jargon and language and forget that we need to make this oppression real and visible to the people who we know need convincing to see the whole picture. In that sense, we are continually trying to make our perspective understandable and relatable.

Halldór: How is this EP different from your previous projects? In regards to both the recording and the creative process?

Carlos: The Micro Sessions is kind of an experiment in remote collaboration. Felix (vocals) lives in Phoenix, AZ and I live in PR. When Felix was still living here on the Island, we would write apart and once we had good working demos worked out, we would head to the studio and work there together.

Felix had to leave the Island after Hurricane Maria, since his employer was closing up shop locally. Moving to AZ was a huge change for him, and the adjustment period was hard on him and his family. We wanted to keep making music, since it’s quite cathartic for us, but Felix had not yet found how to record, so we had chosen to use the scratch vocals straight from his cellphone in the final tracks.

Our platform is your platform. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Carlos: We’re still a colony. That needs fixing. Urgently.

A Protest Music Interview: Kubun

During a recent crawl through the internet I stumbled upon a musician rapping in Colombian. As US based rap and hip hop tend to dominate the global audience it always feels refreshing to me to hear a good flow in another language.

Kubun’s debut album is all about language, and story telling. As he explained to me in this interview he explores his roots while tackling social issues in his lyrics, and he tells those stories effortlessly.

Halldór: First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Kubun?

Kubun: Kubun stems from the word “Muyskkubun”, a language of Colombia. In its own languge, it literally stands for “language of the people” or “language of men”, with “Kubun being the section of the word that means “language” or “word”. That being said, Kubun is a concept, open to interpretation. Tracks and lyrical themes vary greatly, though I must admit, the base is hip hop. I am currently living in France, but I try to be as true as possible to my Colombian roots.

Halldór: How long have you been rapping or making music/beats?

Kubun: I haven’t been rapping for all that long, I’d say about 1-2 years, with the majority of that time having been just for fun at get-togethers, improvising and whatnot over drinks and a smoke. However, I used to sing in a rock band previously.

“I feel the language has a lot to do with it. My Spanish tracks are much more political than the ones in English, as thoughts in Spanish are reminiscent of Colombia and its situation.”

Halldór: Has your music always been political? How do you see the connection between music and activism?

Kubun: More than political, I’d say conscious. All my songs, at least in my head, have meaning. However, I feel the language has a lot to do with it. My Spanish tracks are much more political than the ones in English, as thoughts in Spanish are reminiscent of Colombia and its situation. I feel that music and activism go hand in hand, as music moves the masses more than any other form of art (at least in my opinion), also being a tool for the artist to express themselves all the while making a point – at least when the lyrics are intended to signify something.

Halldór: On your debut album, Muyskkubun, you rap both in Colombian Spanish and in English but you mention on your Bandcamp page the Muyskkubun language as well. What is your connection to that language and the Muisca culture?

Kubun: To be honest, I have no direct connection to the language or culture, except for a few “Muisquisms”, but this is natural to Colombian Spanish, as it has some loan words from the language. However, a slang way of saying I am Colombian is to say I am Chibcha. Someone who says they are Chibcha will always be Colombian. The Chibchas are the tribes who spoke muyskkubun, and me, being a very nationalistic and patriotic person, felt that maybe this was a subtle way of going back to the roots of my country.

Halldór: The rights and stories of indigenous people seem to have a place in your work. What other issues move you and inspire you to write down some rhymes?

Kubun: When a write, I don’t really think, I just do. Call it inspiration, I guess. The Spanish Gypsies call this sort of inspiration (at least in Flamenco) “el Duende” – it’s when you feel the music enough for lyrics to just spill out of your mouth – a trance like state.

Halldór: Your rapping style is very much story driven. Where does that storytelling come from for you and what rappers before you have inspired you and your work?

Kubun: Much of my lyrical content doesn’t come from my own experiences at all. In the grand majority of cases, they are usually everyday situations you hear from friends, acquaintances or on the news of what happens in Colombia. This is another reason why I chose Kubun as an alias, because in a way, I am the word of men. However, these stories run deep through my veins, as the impotency and disdain one feels seeing your country in a situation such as the one that is not seen outside Colombia is very much real. I’d have to say that my biggest inspirations are Calle 13, Canserbero, Luis7Lunes and Sr Pablo; all great storytellers.

Halldór: Colombian people have been striking for several days now, can you tell us about what is happening in your country at the moment?

Kubun: Like in many countries, Colombia is striking because it is fed up with the overall system. Ask many people and you’ll get different responses as to why each one is protesting. The legality of fishing sharks for their fins, for example, the inequality and polarisation of riches, the corruption of the government, the reparations that were promised to victims of different tragedies and were never delivered, the falsos positivos (soldiers killing innocent civilians, making them pass by as rebels to earn the bounty and commission). I don’t think anyone could properly answer this question.

Halldór: How is your music and rap scene around you in regards to activism, do you feel there are many artists using their voices for good and in protest?

Kubun: There are many artists using their voice in forms of activism and protest. In Colombia and Latin America for that matter, there is actually a sub-genre of rap called “Rap Protesta”. However, meaningful rap, with lyrics that are intrinsic and of valued is unfortunately overshadowed by commercial music which is of no value for social change; the reason as to why rap as a musical genre came to be.

Halldór: What do you do outside the music?

Kubun: I am an amateur musician as of now, I couldn’t really live off of my artistic work. However, I do have a Bachelor’s in Aviation & Airways Operations Management and a Master’s Degree in Business Development. I currently work within the aeronautical industry.

Halldór: What is on the horizon for you?

Kubun: Hopefully many new inspirations to come that’ll bring with them meaningful projects.

Halldór: Thank you for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Kubun : Listen to the music, not the sound.

A Protest Music Interview: Stray

Being homeless for the first time at the age of 8 is perhaps, and hopefully, not something too many people can relate with. That was the reality for Stray, a young singer songwriter who just released her first album.

The protest music piece was recorded by herself on the farm where she now lives free from abuse and where she helps others get through similar things.

Halldór: First of all, for those who are not familiar with your work, who is Stray?

Stray: First homeless at the age of 8, I once roamed the streets alone like a cat, rummaging through the bins. At 21 I bought my first guitar at a flea market and started teaching myself to play. I sing about social, environmental, and economic justice in my music.

Halldór: You describe yourself as an artist who uses her voice to talk about issues that both have personally affected you as well as other things you deem necessary talk about. Why do you think music is such a great way to get political messages across?

Stray: The personal is political, I was homeless on and off due to severe abuse, couldn’t seek shelter at any of the local churches because I’m gay, and couldn’t afford apartments by myself due to poverty. So I was often trapped and choosing between an abusive home life or a homeless life.

These are traumas that I couldn’t talk about with people, both because trauma often makes us speechless, but because it had been dangerous for me to open up to people, and I also didn’t want to upset anyone else. You partially keep your trauma secret to nurture others.

So music was the only way I could speak about what I was going through. Music tells untold truths, and protest music speaks truth to power, so they’re a perfect medium for political expression.

Halldór: Your debut album was recently released. Can you tell us about the creative and recording process of the album and the inspiration behind some of the songs?

Stray: These songs are my voice for when I had none. I wrote them during a time when I was terribly isolated. I had officially escaped from my abusive family, ending all contact with them, and was also escaping a different toxic environment.

I moved with all my savings to a broken down farm and started rebuilding myself from the ground up. This album tells that story. I believe Lost & Found, Burning Bridges, and Skeleton Key are the soul of the album. I recorded everything myself on the farm, turning a small bedroom into a little studio.

Even though the writing and recording of the album was done entirely alone, I now share my studio space with others, so that they don’t have to face the same financial obstacles I did along the way. I call it the Marginal Music Collective.

Halldór: Besides your music, which obviously is a tool for activism, what other activism do you partake in?

Stray: I believe in direct action and mutual aid. We can’t rely on hierarchical institutions to save us, many of them maintain the status quo or do more harm than good by entering communities and “saving” them by telling them they know “better”.

As a working class person myself, I grow food for the working class and homeless on my farm and share it with others for free and for donation. I volunteer with Food Not Bombs protesting environmental injustice, poverty, and imperialism, while feeding people.

When friends have been abused at home or were homeless, I’ve taken them in, knowing personally what it’s like to go hungry and go it alone, I refuse to allow that to happen to others.

Halldór: According to your Bandcamp profile you sound like a superhero, feeding people at your farm by day and recording protest music by night. Can you explain more about your farm and the life you live there with other people?

Stray: hahaha aww thank you! I founded Forest Moon Farm as a sanctuary for marginalized people and rescue animals. It’s a permaculture farm designed with environmentalist and organic principles and the garden is full of circles and spirals in accord with nature. I live here peacefully with two other people.

People come and visit to learn about organic gardening and permaculture, get free food, do yoga, and eventually when we can afford to rescue some animals, spend time with animals in nature. We even have a few acres of forest for nature walks.

“I’m Burning bridges cause I can’t afford the tolls
It lights the way for all us beaten souls
I’ve had to dive in to avoid the patrols
And just keep swimming cause underwater is all I know”

from ‘Burning Bridges’ (2020)

Halldór: What musicians inspire you? Are you following other contemporary protest musicians that you want to give a shout out to?

Stray: My musical heroes are Janelle Monae, Fiona Apple, Taylor Swift, India Arie, and Ani DeFranco. I adore Blunted Lip by Laura Kerrigan, she has a beautiful voice, heartfelt lyrics, and a hilarious twitter full of queer pride and personality. I also love SoulSpot, they have great vibes and their singer and music are unbelievably smooth.

Halldór: What is on the horizon for you?

Stray: I’m doing a series of house concerts this summer, writing my second album, and I plan on adopting some goats!

Halldór: Thank you very much for participating and for the music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Stray: Food, Housing, and Health Care are Human Rights!