All posts by Halldór H Kristínarson

Halldór is the managing editor of Shouts - Music from the Rooftops!, an investigative journalist, audio engineer and an animal rights activist. Currently based in Granada, Spain.

A Protest Music Interview: Portes

When searching the internet for contemporary protest musicians I have my techniques and keywords to filter out the real deal from the posers. With all my requirements and strategies I likely never would have found the music of Portes. She is a Guatemalan-born protest musician and activist based out of Colorado, US.

Lucky for me, her PR company contacted me after seeing what the Shouts webpage is all about and so I interviewed Portes about her brilliant latest album, the electro-pop ‘National Anthems’. She also told me about her experience fostering a child, her activism and musical inspirations and her rather unusual day job – cybersecurity and computer networking.

Halldór Kristínarson: First off, for those who are not familiar with your music and your work, who is Portes?

Portes: Portes is a Colorado-based solo indie artist creating music in all genres. As the name implies, it comes from the French, des portes, meaning doors. Each style of music represents a door to explore. Thus far, the music is primarily electro-pop, dream pop, synth, R&B, and crosses with the more aggressive industrial music that sounds like Nine Inch Nails, but stretches to ambient and even worship music.

HK: How did you first get introduced to creating music and has it always been political and protest driven?

P: I’ve been creating music since I was in elementary school coming up with song lyrics and melodies. It hasn’t always been of a political or protest nature, but I recall an early song that I wrote in high school called, “Glory?” that dealt with the Vietnam War, so maybe I had some idea early on in life that I could write music of a deeper, more thought provoking nature.

HK: Can you tell us a bit about the creative process and production behind your album National Anthems? You speak of being new to the electronic music scene, yet it sounds natural. How did the sound you have on the album come into existence?

P: It helped to write music with a producer who had the same political ideology and stance as me. There wasn’t a conflict in content or style between us. The best inspiration for me at the time of making National Anthems was to look at the music of Nine Inch Nails and that aggressive, in your face, angry vibe. It was the feeling I was feeling watching the Trump administration constantly lie to the American people and who continue to do it today, to the detriment of millions of people and the thousands who have needlessly lost their lives to COVID-19. We started with the song, “Pressure” and used that song as the base for the others. Really, the album came together effortlessly. In fact, I had “Sister” as a different type of song and I had the chorus lyrics and melody mapped out a year before I started National Anthems, so it was just a matter of turning it into this new style and revamping lyrics to address the theme of female empowerment and turn it against these high profile sexual aggressors, like Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and Larry Nassar. I’m glad you think it sounds natural. I appreciate that.

HK: Being originally born in Guatemala and later growing up in the United States how has that affected your music, lyrically and melodically? 

P: I lived in Guatemala as a baby for about six months before being adopted. But, you ask a good question about how that experience has informed my music. Knowing I’m from a multicultural family grounds me in being open-minded and willing to experience other people and cultures, including their music.

HK: Have you been back to Guatemala? Do you follow what is going on there or in nearby countries? Or Guatemalans coming to the states these days?

P: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to return to Guatemala. It is something I want to do in the future, when it’s safe to do so. I do follow the news of what’s happening in Central America and issues around societal violence, cartels, and immigration. It saddens me greatly to know the people are being mistreated and displaced. It makes me realize just how blessed I am to have the opportunities I do by virtue of having been adopted and being raised in the U.S. I don’t know other Guatemalans, so I can’t speak to that issue.

HK: Some people believe that the arts and activism should be separated, that the arts should be a form of entertainment only. Other people put forth the same argument about journalism. What is your take on how artists, journalists and other people with a voice should use that power?

P: I personally know where I stand on the intersection of arts and activism. But, I won’t dictate how others should use their creative platform to promote their activism. I can only encourage others to find their passion in politics for speaking truth in a time of when untruths are the norm. Some do it to music, like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, CSNY, REM, among others. I would love for “National Anthems” to have that same gravitas as other protest albums and artists. I have something vital to say and that should manifest into something, so I do it with my music. I’m also grateful to media outlets like Shouts Music Blog who share my art and activism with its audience. So, thank you for that! Journalists have an obligation to investigate, verify, and validate facts, so it’s about truth more so than activism. However, there are journalists like Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! who are more involved in activism.

HK: Who are some of your influences, whether them being musicians, activists or anyone else?

P: Some of my music influences are Sia, Nine Inch Nails, Iron & Wine, and Thievery Corporation to name a few. In addition, I appreciate the informative documentaries by Michael Moore. I recently watched Planet of the Humans, which was eye-opening about our dependence on fossil fuels and problems surrounding renewable energy. I was a QA Engineer for a photovoltaic manufacturer.

HK: Besides the music, you are working on a computer networking and cybersecurity degree. What drew you to that field?

P: I haven’t made music and songwriting my full time career yet, though I’d love to be at a publishing house, until then my actual career is in technology. I’ve been a technical writer, IT project manager, and customer experience consultant. However, in my previous roles, I was hitting a wall in advancement since I didn’t have a background in computer networking, so I went back to school after earning a master’s degree. Turns out I’m pretty good at cybersecurity and have a 4.0 GPA and am seeking a role in my field.

HK: What about your extracurricular activities, do you partake in activism outside of the music you make?

P: I support causes that are important to me. I lived in Haiti, so I support the Haitian Timoun Foundation. I also care deeply about animal abuse and neglect, so I donate to Hope For Paws, The Wild Animal Sanctuary, and local animal shelters.

HK: The act of taking in a child into foster care and eventually adoption, how has that changed your view of the environment around you? I can only imagine it has also affected your music?

P: It changes everything! You still have to take care of yourself first. That’s what good mental health counseling has taught me. Self-care and self-love is a necessity. He’s incredibly empathetic. He cares about the littlest bug and other people. It’s important that he knows that this planet is finite and we have to take care of Earth by cleaning our messes, recycling, reusing, and reducing our waste. He’s also so sweet, so I actually had him sing on my last single, “Human”, which is a song about global warming, climate change, and social injustice. Although “National Anthems” isn’t really for kids, he heard enough of it that we’ve talked about some of the themes and I want to empower him to have his own voice and stand bravely against injustice and uphold the values of our nation, like liberty and freedom of speech. 

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your music?

P: First, I want people to hear what I have to say because I do value the truth and this album was carefully and thoughtfully put out to have an effect that motivates people into action. Second, I hope people find their own stance about the content. Maybe there’s a person who can relate to my experience of sexual assault or who want to protest against gun violence at schools. My son shouldn’t have to do lockouts and lockdowns, but that’s what we’re dealing with now. Lastly, I hope people like the music. I think it’s badass.

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

P: Once I can get back into the studio, I need to do vocals for “Sanctified”, which is a delicate, breathy worship song in the same style as “Human”. Finished songs in queue for release are, “Rocket Crown”, a female empowerment song that blends classical music and hip hop. “I’m on Fire” is an electro-pop love song. “Good Girl” is a fun, catchy EDM song. I can’t be serious all the time. I need some levity too.

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

P: Listeners can find the music on various streaming services, except Spotify. Other than that, saddle up! We’re going on a long ride with Donald Trump, so it’s going to be bumpy, but Portes is here for you in those moments when you feel like screaming from that rooftop, I’ll scream with you. It’ll be very therapeutic. I promise!

Check out more of Portes’ work on Bandcamp ı YouTube ı Instagram

A Protest Music Interview: GÉNN

From one of the smallest nations in Europe, the punk rock band GÉNN arose, rocked, traveled and finally ended up in the United Kingdom. Malta, their home country, is a tiny island in the central Mediterranean sea that is both full of culture at the same time as being very old school and driven by ancient patriarchy.

Even though the music scene in Malta was personal and tight knit, the girls in GÉNN felt they needed to explore further options. In the UK the band found a new home and exciting possibilities.

I spoke with the guitar player of the band, Janelle, about their music and their role as women in the music scene.

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

Janelle: We’re a four-piece Anglo-Maltese post-punk band based in Brighton and we’re ready to kick ass and rock your ears!

H: Malta is a unique and ancient place. Sometimes places like that still have remnants of the old ways in society. With most of GENN being from the tiny island, how can you describe its music scene and how has it been being a female musician in that environment? And is it different in the UK, now that you have relocated to there?

J: Malta and the Maltese language are definitely part of us….as a band, we’re very much connected to the Mediterranean region and way of life..three of us are from Malta (Leanne, Leona and I) and Sofia is also half-Portughese. The band started in Malta. There aren’t a lot of female musicians over there and the alternative music community is small but tightly knit. When we got robbed in 2018, the music community came together to fundraise new equipment for us which was honestly such a heartwarming gesture.

We decided to relocate to the UK mainly because of the fact that the UK has been and will always be a hub for alternative music. It’s definitely different over here as it’s more of an established industry and it’s super cut-throat. However, we thrive when faced with challenges…we also found Sofia (our drummer) here! So you can say that it was meant to be.

H: On your brilliant debut album, Titty Monster, there seems to be a theme of female empowerment and feminism. What inspires you to write down lyrics? How important is it for you to use lyrics to send a specific message out into the universe?

J: Honestly, we didn’t set out to write a ‘feminist’ album. We were simply writing a diary of what we experience…and since we’re women, this is what we go through on a daily basis. I think it’s great that there are more female voices and point of views in music and art nowadays. Leona (the singer) writes the lyrics. She’s an existentialist…so the lyrics reflect what she would be thinking at that moment and her experiences as she navigates through life. The lyrics usually reflect a ‘story’ that happens to one of us or a particular experience we’re going through either collectively and personally. I think Leona does a good job in reflecting this in our lyrics. 

Photo by Bridie Florence

H: Do you feel a responsibility to use your music as a tool of empowerment for young girls (or anyone else) or do you separate the music and the activism?

J: As a band, we do kind of separate music and activism. We’re musicians and artists first. However, since we navigate spaces as womxn, speaking about issues that affect us and other womxn is unavoidable and it’s also important in the current global climate. We do hope our music inspires young girls (and big girls too!) to pick up an instrument and explore all of their talents! The world would definitely be a better place if more womxn believed in themselves and supported each other. 

H: What do you hope to achieve with your music?

J: We would really love to be able to tour the world with our music and connect with other souls 🙂 We’d love to create timeless pieces that inspire others as much as we are inspired by others’ music. That would be the dream .

H: What musicians have inspired you? Are you following other contemporary artists you’d like to throw a shout out to?

J: Personally, I’m inspired by a wide range of musicians including Jeff Buckley, Warpaint, Hinds, Joni Mitchell, Amy Winehouse, Chopin, Pink Floyd, The Clash, CAN, The Doors…to name but a few. I’ve recently discovered Jefferson Airplane and I’m a huge fan. I’d like to throw a shout to fellow Brighton-based outfits Austerity, Stone Cold Fiction and Arxx…label mates Ghum…and Maltese artists Djun, Beangrowers, Oxygyn, Sam Christie, Berne, Joon, I Am Willow and Beesqueeze, amongst many many others!

H: What is on the horizon for the band?

J: Considering the current situation, we went from a tonne of gigs to zero. But that’s okay. We’re writing and working on our craft instead 🙂 Hoping this pandemic situation blows over soon so that we can also go back to gigging.

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

J: Stay safe!

Cover photo by Bridie Florence

Femicide and the Punk Rock Scene in Chile: Interview with Sin Lencería

This article was originally published in The Advocate

At the time of writing this article Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has declared a state of emergency in his country. In one of the strongest economies[1] in Latin America inequality reigns[2] and the country’s citizens are currently voicing their frustration by taking to the streets in protest.

Economic inequality is far from being the only thing Chileans have had to protest in recent years. A little over four decades ago its citizens had to experience a U.S. backed military coup that overthrew the government. This resulted in more than 2,000 people being killed and thousands of people tortured, among those internationally acclaimed protest musician Victor Jara[3].

Events like these are bound to leave marks on a nation. It was not until 2004 that the liberty flame that Pinochet ignited in 1975 was put out. Not only are these flames (popular in many countries) a waste of energy and usually commemorate war and violence, but for decades families of those murdered by Pinochet had to see that flame burning.

The inequality in the country shows its teeth in other aspects of society as well. Femicide (feminicidio), although not as rife as in Mexico and Colombia, is a grave problem in the country. The term started being used in Latin America due to the hundreds of women murdered in northern Mexico[4] since the 1990s. A specific term had to be coined for this type of homicide to design situations in which women were being murdered solely because they were women.

One of the main problems for women living through this history of violence towards them and their sisters is the lack of action from the governments that are supposed to protect them. Fortunately, this is changing – in some countries at least. In Chile, law number 20480[5], now also known as the femicide law, shows amends to violent intrafamiliar offenses[6] and increases punishment for those crimes. These small steps come with many hurdles still, because the people in power of the judiciary system continue to find ways to lower sentences twisting language to their ways.

But all is not lost and today rises a new generation of musicians and activists that keep the protest flame lit and the legacy that Victor Jara and other artists left behind alive. One of these artists are the young women that make punk rock band Sin Lencería (which translates to ‘without lingerie’).

The band has been active since 2012 and since day one they have used their voices on and off stage to communicate to their audience the injustice their fellow women face in general society as well as in the very ‘machista’ punk rock scene. Their album Sin Lencería, Ni Miedos came out last August and, as they told me via email, the band has no other plans but to keep speaking up for women around the globe and fighting the good fight.

Halldór Bjarnason: Your music is a fighting tool against gendered violence. How have you perceived ‘machismo’ and gendered violence so far in the music scene around you and your community since the start of Sin Lencería?

Sin Lencería: Even though the punk scene tries to be more aware of social conflicts, it’s still in debt with gender related problems. There’s still harassment at gigs and very little participation of women in the public and as part of the bands and that’s something that needs to change.

Being female musicians hasn’t been easy, the band started in 2012 and since the beginning there’s been prejudice against us and the way we play, some people used to think less of us just because we’re women and because we look young. And sometimes even the compliments were weird, like one time a guy told our drummer that she was so skilled that she “played like a man”. He was trying to be nice but he didn’t even realise that by saying that he was implying that women usually are bad at playing their instruments.

But there’s still a bright side. There are some local collectives inside the punk scene that are trying to change this situation like “Femfest” or “Mujeres Al Frente”, they create different types of musical events that encourage inclusiveness and invite women to be part of the scene – providing safe spaces. Women are getting together and we’re raising our voices. “Mujeres Al Frente” has done 4 different feminist shows in these past years in Chile and one in Mexico. We love those events because they’re one of the few times that we get to see so many girls gathered together and at the center of the mosh pit with full energy!

HB: Has your music always been political or made in protest?

SL: Yes, since the beginning we’ve wanted to show our discomfort and talk about the problems that affect women in their daily lives. The band starts from that base point, from realising that it’s time to talk about sex harassment, gender violence, feminicides, discrimination, prejudice, etc. We need to change that Latin American culture that’s so patriarchal that needs special words that does not exists in other languages like “machismo” to explain how bad things are and the lack of equality that exists.

HB: Feminicidio (feminicide) is a fairly young term but an age-old problem that furthermore has been quite the plague on South, Central and North American countries. How do you feel your government is tackling this problem that you have sung about?

SL: In our country there’s still a long way to go for these problems to be taken seriously. There’s been some improvements over time but it’s not enough. A couple of years ago the government created the “Ministerio de la Mujer y Equidad de Género” (Ministry for Women and Gender equality) that supports women that are victims of violence, providing legal and psychological help. There’s also a “Ley del Femicidio” (Feminicide law), but these laws are still too soft towards this type of problems and the feminicide law only works for violence inside legally married couples or couples that live together.

The Chilean law is working on new ways to protect women that are not married and people that suffer couple/partner violence, but to this date it’s still not approved. The only thing women can do when they suffer harassment from a violent partner is to make a legal complaint with the police and they’re usually very questioned in the process, and even if they make repetitive complaints the best they can get is a restraining order in most cases and, even then, they’re left with fear that the violent partner could easily ignore the charges against them and find the victims anyway.

An example of the problems with the femicide law in Chile, that also affected the punk community, happened in 2017 with the murder of Isidora “Dorito” González. Her case was very brutal and cruel because she wasn’t only murdered, but her body was also dismembered. Once they found the culprit and took him to trial, he was initially sentenced to 40 years of prison for femicide. But later his lawyers argued that the victim and the culprit didn’t have a romantic relationship, nor they lived together or were married, so his sentence changed from femicide to simple homicide and they reduced his sentence from 40 to 15 years. And that makes it clear that the laws are still very basic and don’t reflect the Chilean reality, where women are still getting killed just because they’re women.

HB: How do you feel people have been receiving your feminist music? How do you get your message across to the people that need to hear it the most?

SL: People have been very supportive in general, we think it’s because Latin America is going through a period of change and we’re speaking up for women rights and diversity. What we like about making songs is to think that the same things we feel and go through are also experienced by other women and at the end of the day we’re not alone, instead, we are a huge net of sisters fighting for the same reasons.

“…we like the fact that the song makes some people uncomfortable, because it’s the first step to start questioning why it makes them feel that way.”

But we’ve also been criticized by some people, especially because of our song “No quiero tus piropos” (I don’t want your catcalls) that speaks against street harassment and has some insults in its lyrics. But we like the fact that the song makes some people uncomfortable, because it’s the first step to start questioning why it makes them feel that way.

Our message flows in our songs by essence, but we also use other resources to get our message across. Playing live is very important, because it can help women to feel represented and motivated to start their own bands. Sometimes we create zines and sometimes we use social media to share our thoughts. We also try to participate as much as we can in collectives like the ones that we mentioned before.

Besides, nowadays is easier to share our music because of technology, in the past the options were limited and even if your music got some recognition, there was the fear that the media would misunderstand your message, like what happened with the press blackout of the Riot Grrrl! movement in the 90’s. In our case we manage our own media and that give us a lot of freedom to express what we want and to have a closer bond with people.

HB: What do you hope to achieve with your music?

SL: We hope that our music works as support for women that don’t feel protected or represented by social norms. And that when they listen to us, they can feel freedom to shout as loud as they can about everything that’s bothering them and that they had to keep quiet in the past. On the other side, we also hope that singing about these issues could help people to start questioning themselves and open up to be a little more understanding and empathetic.

HB: What bands or musicians influence you? Are you following any contemporary protest musicians?

SL: Our strongest influence is Bikini Kill and all of Kathleen Hanna’s projects in general. We’re also very inspired by L7, Joan Jett, The Distillers, 7 Year Bitch and other classic punk and postpunk bands like Ramones, Misfits, The Clash, The Slits and Siouxsie & the banshees.

On a Latin American level, we have influences from the Peruvian band Los Saicos, with his classic “Demolición” which we like to play live from time to time. And we also feel influenced by Chilean bands like Los Prisioneros, Los Ex and Lilits. In the present, we admire the work of a lot of our fellow hardcore and punk bands like Portaligas, Dizclaimers and Límbico. We’re also listening to music from around the globe and we like bands like Vivian Girl, The Coathangers, The Regrettes, Skating Polly and Hands off Grettel.

HB: What is on the horizon for you?

SL: At the moment, we want to keep speaking up for feminism, we plan on continue making music and recording new material, because we still have a lot to say. And in the near future we would love to travel around sharing our songs.

HB: Lastly, thank you for participating and for your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

SL: Don’t be afraid to make music, don’t be scared to say what you think if you feel something’s wrong, your opinions are important, you are important.

Follow Sin Lencería on Facebook ı Bandcamp ı Twitter ı YouTube

Endnotes:

[1] https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-richest-countries-in-south-america.html

[2] https://www.borgenmagazine.com/economic-inequality-in-chile/

[3] https://shoutsmusic.blog/2018/07/05/justice-finally-served-for-1973-murder-of-chilean-musician-victor-jara/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_homicides_in_Ciudad_Ju%C3%A1rez

[5] https://www.leychile.cl/Navegar?idNorma=1021343

[6]https://books.google.es/books?id=dkNuDQAAQBAJ&lpg=PA263&dq=law%2020480%20chile&pg=PA263#v=onepage&q&f=false