Category Archives: Interview

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.

kubun.bandcamp.com

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!

straymusic.bandcamp.com
facebook.com/musicstray

A Protest Music Interview: Soya The Cow

What do you do when you want to fight for the animals and the planet? Petition? March? Make protest art? One Swiss artist, Daniel Hellman, found a way to mix his love for the performance arts, music and animals by creating an alter ego: Soya the Cow, “the gender and species bending drag cow”.

Through the powers of this artistic creature Daniel takes the stage at animal and human rights protest events, gives talks about consent, performs music, is part of the programming team of a sex-positive, feminist art festival and much more.

The creation, Soya the Cow, is wrapping up her first music album and after discovering her work via her fascinating Instagram profile I hit her up with a few questions about her activism and her upcoming album.


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

Soya the Cow: Soya is species and gender bending drag cow. She is a singer and songwriter, working on her first album that will be released in 2020. She was born to inspire, challenge the status quo and fight for the voiceless. She unites queer-feminist ideas with animal rights activism and poetry. Soya stands for love, social justice and climate justice for every being on this planet.

Halldór: Has your art always been political or made in protest?

Soya the Cow: Before becoming Soya, I have been making theater projects with political ambitions and topics, dealing with the rights of sexual minorities or refugees and also with animal rights. But I had the urge to do more, to reach more people and to speak more directly to people’s hearts. That’s why Soya the Cow was born. First only as an idea inspired by fierce drag artists and by my favourite animals. And with the help of amazing friends and collaborators, suddenly she was there – with a beautiful face, long lashes and udders!

Halldór: Your art flows, effortlessly it seems, between different disciplines such as fashion, activism and music. How and why did these different talents or outlets join together?

Soya the Cow: I grew up singing in a Boys’ Choir and since there were no girls in the choir, I used to play all the female characters in the theater nights that we organised in our rehearsal camps. It was just natural for me to put on heels and a wig. Later I became a professional singer, then a theater maker, then an activist. Somehow it seems that these different portions of my life, that seemed isolated in the past, are coming together now in Soya. It’s a very exciting feeling.

Halldór: The rights of animals is a large part of your art. When and why did you decide to fight for the rights of those who don’t have a voice in human society?

Soya the Cow: There are many important battles to engage in. But when I was researching for a theater-dance project about meat and death, it really shook me in all my being. It was an earthquake in my internal moral compass. I got exposed to what is actually going on behind the closed doors of factory farms, transport vehicles, laboratories and slaughterhouses, and also in the oceans and fish factories. I allowed it to touch me. I looked into the eyes of cows, pigs, chicken or fishes, and I learned to see them as individuals with personalities, as subjects. Not as mere objects who only exist to satisfy human interests or pleasures.

Once this shift had happened, I knew that I had to do my best to end or at least reduce this insane amount of unnecessary suffering. The brutality is so extreme and it’s happening every single day, it’s part of our daily lives to the point that most humans don’t even realise any more that we are part of such a violent system. I have gone through this myself and there is just no justification. That’s why I want to use my voice for ALL animals, for climate justice and the liberation of everybody.



Halldór: You are about to release your debut album. Can you tell us a bit about your musical background and how the process has been creating this piece of work?

Soya the Cow: I studied classical singing, but was bored with the stories told in the opera world. As a queer person of the 21st century, I needed to create work that made sense for me. For my album, I teamed up with the producer Phil Constantin. He has a background in jazz and electronic music and we share an openness towards many musical styles and forms.

For this album, I have been writing lyrics and songs that take the subjective experience of a dairy cow as a starting point to reflect on questions that reach far beyond the topic of animal rights – from the loss of a child to the threat of extinction. Drag has always been playing with imitation and appropriation, it is absolutely serious and hilariously exaggerated at the same time. We also have this element in our music. We visit different musical styles and make them our own. With lots of love, sadness and a good dose of humour .

Halldór: Some protest artists and musicians perform at very specific events with therefore a limited audience. How do you reach the people that most importantly need to hear your message?

Soya the Cow: That’s an important question. I have performed at the Animal Rights March in Berlin in front of a few thousand animal rights activists, that was of course wonderful! Similar when I was performing at street blockades of Extinction Rebellion. But I have also been singing in the context of contemporary art festivals, where killing animals for food is still the norm. Soya is a rebel and trouble maker at heart, and I’m open and willing to be exposed to audiences that might find Soya very disturbing. Maybe I can even sing at the Eurovision Song Contest one day!

Halldór: Are you following other contemporary protest artists? How do you feel about the scenes you work in (the drag scene, the visual arts scene or the music scene) in regards to protest and activism? Are people using their voices?

Soya the Cow: I see many artists doing incredible work. Powerful, political and challenging. In all fields. I do not make a big distinction between art and activism any more. The only thing that changes is the context. But it’s people with a vision and something to say and to share, who use their creativity to raise awareness, to give space for voices and ideas that are not listened to enough.

I also think, that art and activism are not sufficient. We can inspire or create a spark. But this spark needs to travel and spread. We need artists, activists, scientists, journalists, entrepreneurs, politicians, healers, teachers and much more… If we want to bring the transformation the world so desperately needs, all of these people are essential.

Halldór: How about other musicians or artists, who are your influences or motivations?

Soya the Cow: There is a long list of artists who I admire deeply for their art and their capacity to touch us and to inspire whole movements. I think of eternal muses like Nina Simone or David Bowie, or today I’d love to mention Janaelle Monae. Equally important for me are anti-speciesist activists like Earthling Ed, who manages to reach hundred thousands of people with his speeches and his smart and always respectful conversations with meat-eaters. Or my friend, animal rights activist and writer, Virginia Markus, who runs a sanctuary where humans, cats, chicken, horses, pigs, cats, donkeys and goats live peacefully together as one big family. It’s a magical place that gives me hope.

Halldór: What other extra curricular activism activities do you partake in beside your music?

Soya the Cow: I’m part of Animal Rebellion. We are a branch of Extinction Rebellion, fighting the inaction of our governments in regard to the climate and ecosystem crisis. We demand climate justice for all animals, the end of animal agriculture and the fishing industries and the transition into a plant based food system.

I’m also working in the programming team for the sex-positive, feminist art festival La Fête du Slip in Lausanne (Switzerland). This is my contribution to a more diverse representation of genders and sexualities in the art world.

Halldór: Some people seem to believe that arts and activism should be separated. What do you feel about that?

Soya the Cow: I believe that nothing should be separated. We need more connection, more conversations. There are artists whose work is unpolitical and that’s ok with me. I might also enjoy looking at it or listening to it. It’s just not the type of work I want to dedicate my time for. What I find more important is that we stop harming others in the sake of art. Or fashion or food.

Halldór: What is on the horizon for you?

Soya the Cow: At the moment, I’m running a crowdfunding campaign, to finance the album and my first three music videos. I want to collaborate with a women’s video collective in Switzerland. And the album is due to be released in the spring. From there on, it’s an open journey and I’ll show up where my voice and message are needed.

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

Soya the Cow: Be kind with all animals, including yourself! And follow me on social media, if you want to stay tuned when my music comes out.

@soyathecow
On Facebook
www.soyathecow.com