All posts by Halldór H Bjarnason

Journalist. Traveler. Activist. Audio engineer. Music maker.

“Grow Food!” – Interview With Charlie Mgee of Formidable Vegetable

Charlie Mgee is not flying anywhere, anytime soon. Not because of fear of heights, the man seems not afraid of much seeing how he lives in a vegetable oil fuelled truck-house, but because of the irony as he puts it. As you’ll learn below Charlie is a man that puts his money where his mouth is.

Charlie leads the musical collective Formidable Vegetable and sings his lyrics for the band as well. After having studied permaculture he wanted to share the knowledge with more people and through music. Hence the existence of this quite unique band.

On 15th of March Formidable Vegetable drop their 3rd LP and so I figured it was time so see what Charlie had been up to since our last interview.

So, how have you been since the last time we spoke?

Flat out! Just this past few weeks I’ve been demolishing a house (free wood for the future Formidable Veg HQ!), planning water harvesting & ponds for our little patch of land, converting my house-truck to run on waste vegetable oil… oh, and getting ready to release an album!

Formidable Vegetable has a new album coming out. What sets this album apart from the first to LP’s (if anything)?

This one is a bit more “grown-up” sounding… in parts – actually, its part grow-up (songs about wanting to find a sense of home) , part childish fun (songs about composting toilets that don’t flush).

The first album was inspired by the permaculture principles – this one is inspired by the three ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share – hence the title – Earth People Fair.

You mention that the album is inspired by the permaculture ethics. For those not familiar with the subject, what is permaculture and how to you translate the concept into music and performances?

Permaculture is a way of designing things more in-line with nature in order to help us build resilience in the face of things like climate change and peak fossil-fuels. It’s pretty much a set of helpful tools that can be used to design homes, gardens or entire farms – or even less visible stuff like personal decision making or community structures.

I studied it a few years ago and thought that it was way too important not to be limited to a few people, so I wrote some songs in the hope of spreading it round a bit!

Is your music your tool for activism or do you separate the two in any way?

Music is definitely my main tool for activism. Apart from being ‘active’ and trying to do permaculture related stuff in my own back yard (ponds/gardens/house demolitions etc) I think it’s a great tool for spreading the message and hopefully inspires other people to take action, too.

This week I’m playing at the School Strike for Climate and next month I’ll join a convoy to protest the massive Adani coal mine being planned near the Great Barrier Reef, which will be a great way to integrate with other forms of activism.

Photo by Jono ‘Dropbear’ Chong

What are some other musicians, activists or even politicians that are fighting for nature and harmony that you’d like to give a shot out to and recommend to our listeners to follow?

Pete Seeger is probably my favourite musical activist of all time. He did so much for the environmental movement in the US.

Bob Brown is the former leader of The Greens party here in Australia and is the one leading the convoy to protest the coal mine. He’s a legend as well.

I saw in a recent FB post that you decided not to tour your music outside Australia for now. Can you tell our readers a bit about this decision?

I just thought it was getting a bit too ironic doing so much international travel when I sing about climate change and fossil fuels. I still have a long way to go before becoming fossil-fuel free (not just with transport, but food, business and a whole lot of things), but cutting international flights out of the picture is an important step I think.

If anyone knows of a sailboat heading to Europe, maybe I’ll try and make it back that way!

What’s on the horizon for Formidable Vegetable?

More school shows and smaller house-concerts & garden parties from the back of my veggie housetruck. I want to scale down, not just in my life, but also with my music.

It’s ironic, as obviously I want many people to hear the songs as possible, but doing smaller, more intimate shows – especially in the context of a permaculture farm or garden – I feel can have a greater impact on the people who come. I guess for everyone else, there’s YouTube!

Thanks for participating and for the music! Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

GROWWWWWWW FOOOOOODDDDDD!!!!

Find Formidable Vegetable’s music on Bandcamp and the group’s webpage. Cover photo by Patrick Latter.


Wack Rappers Beware: Interview With DC Rapper Tim Hicks & Exclusive Song Premiere

According to Tim Hicks, leader and activist from the hiphop collective that is The Cornel West Theory, real rap is coming our way soon. The group seems to have its batteries in order too, for this hiphop is as politically charged as it gets.

Tim is a busy man these days, producing a new album for both the CWT as well as putting out a solo project. 45 is also busy these days and seeing how the capital is Tim’s playground he has felt the effect of this president deeply and so he has a word or two in his lyrics aimed at the man.

The DC rap game veteran got some words for all the poser rappers out there as well according to a recent FB post: “new and legendary MC’s, do lots of pushups, we’ll be waiting”. So naturally I asked Tim to drop a few names of real rappers who are doing it right today.

Check out his shout outs below along with his plea for a more unified world and his banging track off of his upcoming album exclusively here on Shouts!


Shouts Exclusive Listen

“Jim Vance” by Tim Hicks from his upcoming solo project “Bullets”

How have you been? (since our last interview)

I’m hanging in there family. Fighting the good fight. Music, life… always Fatherhood, and trying to be a saint living in a sinner’s body.

You have both a solo album as well as a group album coming out soon. What are the main differences between the two? Is your solo stuff as political as the CWT?

Great question and I pray my answer hits the mark. So, my solo project, Bullets, is something that I wasn’t really planning to do. It was just time. I have ideas that I’d like to express outside of the group context. Those ideas sometimes just take the form of beats that never see the light of the internet. This time, they took the form of me rapping over those tracks.

The Cornel West Theory is always at the core. The Dirty Church is the entity that produces all the music for CWT. I lead both. I brought the elements together for my solo piece. My solo album is my way of establishing myself as a bonafide – true to the tradition – cut from the cloth – not to be f*cked with – EMCEE.

It’s also an album dedicated to the city I was born and raised in. That city is Washington DC. As far as politics, I’m always writing with the intention to speak truth. There’s a false, yet very real reality in the world, and within Hip Hop these days. I prefer to go with the truth, and that truth is sometimes political. Sometimes it has nothing to do with politics.

I’m in a band called The Cornel West Theory. What can I say. I have an obligation to Doc West and his spirit. I have an obligation to Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. To Curtis and to Gil Scott. No weak-heart rap. This year we’ll see at least 2 new Cornel West Theory albums, NWOK (new world order kids) and DSIGHED (pronounced decide).

We have an exclusive listen to one of the tracks off your upcoming solo album. Can you tell us a bit about this song?

This tune is called Jim Vance. It’s an introduction to my solo voice. A way of me waving hi at all my heroes in hip hop, and announcing my arrival to all the wack ass rappers spitting that bullshit on the mic.

This track is a way of giving people a taste of what a MC from Washington DC sounds like. Not a DMV rapper who claims DC but ain’t really from the city. For folks who don’t know, DMV stands for DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Salute to the whole DMV, but there is no DMV without DC. I’m from DC.

You have campaigned fiercely, on and off the music stage, for the MOVE group as well as for one of its supporters, Mumia Abu Jamal. Mumia was recently granted the right to appeal after having served already a few decades in prison. What is your relationship with Mumia and why is his case, as well as the MOVE history, important to you?

Mumia is me. Mumia is my poppa from another mother. Mumia is a righteous brother who deserves to be with his wife and family because he’s innocent. I visited Mumia back in 2013, and became aligned with MOVE members Pam Africa and Ramona Africa. Ever since then, I’ve been blessed enough to fellowship with these awesome elders, and even have them record for our album, Coming From The Bottom. They became family to me. I met Mumia’s wife and performed at a memorial service for their daughter Goldii who passed away a few years ago. Those are my peoples. 

Mumia’s case is important because his freedom means that the world can now experience and be taught by one of the most brilliant, loving, and courageous men to ever walk the planet…but up close and personal as it should be. Free. Mumia is a bright shining light.

MOVE still has members who need to be freed as well.  Chuck Africa, Eddie Africa, Delbert Africa, Janet Africa and Janine Africa need to be freed immediately!

We did have an amazing breakthru… Michael Africa Sr. and Debbie Africa were both released after 40 years in prison! Ona Move! Long Live John Africa! FREE EM ALL!

You recently dropped a single called S.H.U.T.. Can you tell us a bit about it? Has the shutdown affected you or anyone you know personally?

Oh yeah, let’s rap. See The Cornel West Theory talks about the sh*t that most rappers avoid because it doesn’t sell. We’re also from DC, so we’re right in the face of the American government, as opposed to other folks who throw stones from the guest house.

The song was directly aimed at number 45, and his administration. A totally illegal government. I say this based on their actions. Yes, it touched my family and friends directly. Some of my people lost money, time, and gained stress in the process. I’m sure most Americans felt the same way.

This is a rough moment dealing with this dude. Somebody gotta talk about it. Music is soft now, cause nobody’s talking about it. The problems. We will.

You have been known to use social media to let poser rappers know you’re coming. What rappers are actually doing something right today? Who are using their voices and bringing the good stuff these days?

I dig Mankind. Two dope brothers from Harlem. We got some stuff in the works so hopefully y’all will get that soon, but Mankind is fresh! My man yU from the DMV area. Folks know him from being a part of Diamond District with Oddisee & Uptown XO. Folks need to know about yU.

My man Born I Music, Ardamus, Prowess The Testament, Asheru and my man ADST. Kenilworth Katrina and Uptown Shane. I’m into new voices. I like A$AP Rocky and Ferg, Joey Badass, and some of J Cole’s stuff.

Salute to Smif-N-Wessun, who just dropped a really dope album with 9th Wonder. Dope and Dope! I wanna hear the legends sounding fresh. Smif N Wessun did just that. I also wanna hear force back in hip hop. 

Will you be touring the new music in 2019?

Hopefully. We’re not signed and without a budget these days so getting funding is an issue. I’m sure there are some folks who are real about their business and have the means to bring us out. JAH willing, our paths will connect.

We’re always working on something so we’re ready to roll when the calls do come in for shows. However, plenty of folks like to look at us as the act that will play for pennies. As if we’re new to this.  We’re grown ass men with families. Music is a job, and musicians need work.

I know people are tired of these boring ass performances from the same ole folks or from new folks who aren’t worth seeing. We been out here. It’s no games live. We joke all the time about folks being afraid of us. We believe some artists are worried that if we open for them, we might take their shine. We’ll be working on getting shows tho.

For those serious about business, let em know to reach out to us at thecornelwesttheory@gmail.com or on social media @cwestspokesman and @cwesttheory

What matters to you in 2019? What fights are worth fighting?

My babies, and my donna. My family. The human family. I’m tired of seeing folks divided over race and racism. It’s worth fighting to 
destroy the concept of race. If folks stop identifying as colors disguised as levels in a class system, we could accomplish a lot.

I was told that a racist person’s worst fear is to see black and white united. To unite, we gotta let these labels die. In our minds, in our speech, and then hopefully in our daily lives. Yes, there are plenty of pieces to the system that must be addressed in order to get that change to be visible.

One thing I suggest is that folks remember that we all bleed and need love. It’s worth fighting for women and LGBTQ rights. It’s worth fighting for all immigrants trying to find safety and a better life. It’s worth it to stop spending money on death, and fight for the end of homelessness.

No one is a f*cking color. Period. God made us all. No one is above anyone. Let’s all get on the same level. One Love.

Bob Marley said it best… folks said he should side with Black people, others said he was for White people. Bob said he was on God’s side.
Salute to all the folks who give us energy and support.

Salute to Shouts! Iceland what up! Europe what up! Africa what up! Asia what up! South America what up! 
Whole world what up!

Check out The Cornel West Theory on Bandcamp ı Facebook ı Soundcloud ı YouTube


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!