Category Archives: Interview

A Protest Music Interview: Saffron A

There are different ways to both react and deal with trauma. Saffron A is a young musician from Brantford, Ontario, who chooses to put her experiences into song. Sad songs are as common part of popular culture as anything, but there are deeper levels of personal experiences that are getting their taboo sticker torn off by a new and brave generation.

As Saffron explained to me via email it felt natural for her and impossible not to create songs about some of the traumatic events in her life. In addition to her ‘normal’ touring and connecting with her audience she participates with organisations, such as Take Back The Night, giving talks and singing her songs at various empowerment events.

Check out her latest EP’s, both out this year, on her Bandcamp page.

First of all, for those not familiar with your work, who is Saffron A?

I am a feminist solo artist, and I play the tenor guitar and octave mandolin. My music sits where emotion and intellect intersect, focusing on themes of sexual assault, mental health, trauma and empowerment!

Has your music always been political or made in protest?

My music hasn’t always had this focus, but it has developed through lived experience. My earlier work was more experimental and explores the facets of human relationships. I would argue that I still do those things in my current writing, but with more precision and social awareness.

“At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. “

Your recently released an EP, titled Resistance, which is a follow up to another EP, released earlier this year, called Resilience. You describe the first EP as “a collection of songs which focus on the initial response to experiencing sexual violence.” What made you decide to put these intimate feelings into song and how do you describe the process of both writing and then performing such songs?

It all started with the song Resilience. I wrote it after my assault as a way to process my experience, and released a demo of it to share with my friends and family. At the time it was an easier way to say that something upsetting has happened to me, without having to explain my experience 50+ times. I felt compelled to write these songs as an act of survival, there was little choice on my part. Writing has always helped me understand myself more and process my life and feelings, so it was only natural to process this trauma through song. When I started performing Resilience, the response I received during the song and after the show was profound. I knew that there was more I had to say in connection to this piece, and I had to form a full picture of my experience. That’s when a lot of the writing for this project began.

What’s interesting is a number of songs on the Resilience EP were written previously, but they fit with the narrative so well. With the Resistance EP, I wrote all of those songs from a place of frustration and unrest. At the time of writing Resistance I was finishing my Justice Studies degree. Having personal experiences with facets of the Canadian justice system (the police, court) and being further traumatized when seeking help motivated me to dig in and write Loud and Clear, as well as Priceless Advice. Break and Enter, as well as Flashes speak more to my internal response to external trauma. The title track Resistance is my battle cry to keep fighting and continue to live despite the injustice. Performing these songs is unique every night and they feel like they have a life of their own.

How have people been receiving your music, especially when you play live?

I’ve been cutting my teeth touring this summer, and these shows have shown me how important my music is right now. A blanket statement is that people are challenged and moved by my work on a personal level, but it goes deeper than that. My shows have felt like a collective energy exchange of emotion, and afterwards folks thank me and share their own stories with me privately. I am honoured to be apart of these dialogues and inspire people to think critically about our society and how desperately things need to change.

Recently you both performed and gave a talk at two Take Back The Night events. How did that go and what other activist activities or events do you participate in?

It was amazing to get to speak and sing at the Take Back The Night rallies in Halton and Humber College. It is an honour to be a part of the community in this way and to connect with different populations in public spaces. I also have been a guest speaker at the Transforming Trauma Into Triumph conference by The Gatehouse, which took place at the Toronto Police College. That was an important accomplishment for me, and a great event to be a part of.

Can you tell us about your instruments of choice, the octave mandolin and tenor guitar, and how it came to be that you use them for writing your songs?

I started playing the mandolin, and I’ve stayed within the bounds of instruments that are tuned in fifths! My dad custom built me an electric tenor guitar which changed my whole sound, and then he crafted an electric octave mandolin which was another game changer. They are my signature pieces that set me apart.

You got a new single out, Priceless Advice, which readers can hear above. What can you tell us about it?

Priceless Advice is featured on the Resistance EP, and it deconstructs the messages people socialized as young women are given to keep themselves safe. These “helpful suggestions” come from parents, the police, friends, the media. Society puts the responsibility on women not to be violated instead of teaching men not to violate others.

Where you are from, do you feel there is a strong scene of artists like you that use their voice to spread either political, intimate or protest messages?

I’m from Brantford, Ontario, and there is a small but mighty activist scene. The music scene itself is not welcoming to bold women, but groups like Advocates for a Student Culture of Consent are cool to collaborate with. Another barrier is that there are few spaces for people to have concerts, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting anyone to see me play in those venues because I can’t ensure their safety. Brantford needs safe accessible art spaces, but there is a gap.

What are some of your musical inspirations? Do you follow other contemporary artists that also use their voice responsibly?

For me personally, Janis Ian is my favourite songwriter of all time. Her brutal honesty and vulnerability in her work is inspirational. I’m also influenced by the versatility of Jack White. More politically minded bands like The Clash, Hole, Nirvana and Bikini Kill push me to be blunt in some of my writing. 

Riot grrrl bands have been having a resurgence, so The Shiverettes and Peach Club are so needed. They’re bringing important messages to the forefront!  In the world of popular music, Lizzo is a gem, and her messages of self love and empowerment bring me to my feet.

Some of my friends in the Canadian music scene like The Lifers, Annie Sumi, Missy Bauman, Scott Cook and Piper & Carson are also important voices. They make noise and speak their minds, but also leave people feeling safe and cared for at the end of their sets. They share their own social commentary in a way that people listen and don’t feel alienated.

What is on the horizon for you?

In short, more music, more touring, more adventures! I’m excited to share what I’ve been writing and I look forward to bringing my songs to new places and spaces.

Lastly, thank you very much for participating and for your music. Is there anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Thank you for giving me a platform to share. Consent is everything! Support your local music scene and empower marginalized voices! If you like any of my songs, please share them with a friend and follow my journey on social media!

Check out more about Saffron A’s work on her Webpage ı Spotify ı Facebook ı YouTube ı Instagram

A Protest Music Interview: IFEEL

According to new and updated laws in Croatia many old, traditional habits are dying out; chaining and tethering of dogs, fur farming and breeding animals for fur, animals working to pull logs and firewood out of forests and animals in circuses – it’s all been completely banned as well as many other things. After all, animals have their rights too.

The struggle is still existent though and the battle continues, as in most places. Dogs and cats are left on the streets and mass production farming and torture is rampant. But animals have a few supporters and soldiers out there in human form that use their voice for the voiceless in human society.

IFEEL is one of those soldiers. The Croatian-American rapper has been active since before 2012, when his debut album was released. His latest effort, LET’S TALK ABOUT IT, came out last year and his craft has only gotten better and more empathetic.

IFEEL has a unique voice in the global rap scene. He explicitly sings for and about animals and it’s clear that he is a voice on a mission. I caught up with IFEEL via email and learned about his music, his love for animals, his work and his activism.

For those not familiar with your work, who is IFEEL?

I tell stories about animals’ lives. A lot of songs are from animals’ point of view, because they cannot talk and tell us how they feel. We have all been cleverly and systematically lied to and desensitized to ignore violence around us. My mission is to bring this to light and inspire people to have a better life and help animals have better lives. I do this with music and activism.

When did you start making music and writing rhymes?

I grew up on Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa, KRS One, Public Enemy and Tribe Called Quest, which had a meaningful, positive impact on my life/music path. Music has a power to change the world… especially hip hop, because you can say a whole lot in three verses – with energy and power that can move people. No other music genre can do that. I started writing rhymes when I was in college, in my early twenties, but my first studio album ANIMAL IN ME came out in 2012.

Your latest album Let’s Talk ABOUT IT is very political and straight to the point. Has your music always been political?

I don’t talk much about politics, but I definitely talk about evil little men who run the world and profit off the greed and pain of other beings. I respect rappers who have the courage to talk about what they believe in. All artists who take a stand for an issue in their own creative way are fighting for justice. We are all fighting the same fight. Hip hop has always been a powerful weapon for social justice. I rap about what I am passionate about and I believe that I can make a difference in the world with what I do – inspire people to see things in a new way – for humans, animals and the planet.

LET’S TALK ABOUT IT is about things we need to start talking about if we want to survive on this planet and bring the humanity back. Our society and world as a whole is falling apart in many ways, but here I talk about the negative effect we have on our own lives, lives of animals and environment. This album is a blueprint on how to
change that. I offer a reason, incentive and solution to the problem. The album is designed to tell you the whole story in a positive, emotional way in about 60 minutes.

How and when did your love for animals begin?

I grew up in a family that respected nature and animals so the respect and love for animals was there since day 1. I reaffirmed my respect and love for them when I found out how “food” was made: I immediately went vegetarian and in 2012, I went vegan. I could not say that I love animals and at the same time eat animals. I also knew that I had to find a way to inspire others to feel that as well.

I visited countless animal shelters and sanctuaries. That is where the real connection happens. In the heart and mind. I recommend visiting and helping shelters and sanctuaries.

You perform quite a bit at vegan and other animal rights events. But how about non activist events? How do you get your message across to those that don’t want to hear it?

I perform at vegan events and festivals but not at non-activist events. Most of the topics I talk about are not mainstream, so from the start I’m reaching a smaller percentage of people than an average rapper. When it comes to people and my music, though, no one gets defensive because I don’t attack anyone in my songs and music videos. I motivate people to feel something they have never felt before. Those who don’t want to hear that message don’t listen to my music.

How can non-vegans help make this world a better place for animals?

There are many ways to help. Going vegan is the easiest and healthiest way to do that. The first thing to do is find out WHY you want to help. I did it because of the animals. Someone might do it for their health, others for the planet. The fact is that we humans feel better when we help others. And it can give our life a meaning.

How is your home country of Croatia in terms of animal abuse/rights? Are things changing?

There have been many positive changes in the last five years in regards to fighting for animal rights, and veganism is booming in Croatia. I collaborate closely with Animal Friends Croatia, the main animal rights organization in the country, on many vegan / AR campaigns. I also organize a group of activists called VEGAN THUGZ and we promote veganism and compassion in positive, creative ways (vegan chill&grill events, fundraisers for animal shelters and
sanctuaries, volunteering in animal shelters and sanctuaries, promotion of veganism at festivals, online Facebook actions).

When inspired in a right way, and especially on social media, many people are willing to do much more than click like and share. Facebook activism is one thing. Face-to-face activism is something completely different – and more fulfilling and meaningful. For effective activism, it’s important to learn how to combine both online and offline work.

You are a certified biotherapist. Can you explain what that is about and how you help people and animals through that discipline?

Healing has always been a part of my life. After finishing university (psychology), I worked with abused children in group homes, where I helped them express their emotions and heal with hip hop music. Years later, I discovered biotherapy and got my training and experience helping people and animals with their illnesses. With biotherapy you can help others heal by helping boost their immunity – their own defense systems. As a certified fitness trainer, I help people feel better, too. What we eat, drink and do has a lot to do with that. That is why I give a free online “FEEL GOOD” guide to all people who get my album. Empathy, fitness, good food. It’s a good start for a better world.

What are some of your musical motivations these days? Any contemporary (or not) musicians you want to give a shout out to?

Travis Scott, Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, RZA, A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$. There’s a lot of interesting game changers in hip hop lately. Change is good. Hip hop has a bad rap nowadays because of the mumble rap scene, but I think that won’t last much longer.

If you could have 4 different animal species as your back up singers, which animals would you invite along?

Wolf leads the pack, elephant knows, dog shows teeth and barks, and there’s a pig. Pig is the brains of the pack. And also one of the most abused animals on the planet. Maybe that’s why the pig calculates and plans all the moves. Btw, they are not my backup singers, they are a part of my team already.

What is on the horizon for you?

I’m in the studio working on new music… working with a very special producer and we plan on bringing something different in 2020, something much needed in the world of hip hop.

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

Thank you for reaching out. And thank you for your activism. We are all given talents and opportunities to become the best we can be and to help others and the world. That’s what life is all about. It’s not just about “me”, it’s about “we.” Check out my video TRUMP MUSIC. It shows what happens when we start idealizing and following dangerous psychopaths.

www.MusicIFEEL.com
https://www.facebook.com/MUSICIFEEL
https://www.instagram.com/ifeelanimals

A Protest Music Interview: Xenofon Razis

Living in the middle of capital city riots will surely influence anyone. For Xenofon Razis, an Athens native, the riots and protests in his city went hand in hand with a change in his career and gave birth to his solo music efforts.

Razis has a mother from Marocco and a Greek father and a very strong and open view of the world. He firmly believes we are all citizens of planet earth and should not claim any land as something that doesn’t belong to others than ourselves and should not deny to immigrants the chance to live anywhere in peace. This, and more, is what he sings about, passionately.

On my nomad travels around Europe I was fortunate enough to catch up with Razis in Thessaloniki, on the other side of Greece. Razis normally gives out interviews extremely sparingly so we consider ourselves humbled and lucky to have caught a moment with the singer-songwriter.

Thessaloniki has a dear place in Razis heart and I got to chat with him for a short while in one of his favorite venues where later that night he’d play a 3 hour gig. Below is a transcript of that interview.

[Recorded audio interview transcript:]

Why the concert here [in Thessaloniki]?

“I have a very nice relationship with Thessaloniki people. The guy that has the bar, we used to bring bands together some years ago. Rover Bar is really a nice place. Overall it’s one of the nicest places in Thessaloniki that does punk rock shows and stuff. These guys [playing through the sound system] Vodka Juniors are one of the biggest punk rock bands in Greece and they also played here once.
Other bands like Despite Everything also played in this bar and of course a lot of punk rock bands still play here once in a while from Greece and from abroad. It’s a nice a place, a small venue, with no entrance.”

How long have you been performing?

“Well, I have been performing with this project as a solo singer-songwriter from 2011 when I stopped playing with my main band and some of my songs from when we used to play they were recorded differently and then I made them acoustic because I didn’t have any bands to play at the period from 2011 to 2013. For two years I was only with this project. So I re-recorded songs from electric to acoustic. And that’s how it started. From the time I recorded I started touring in Greece and main Europe. In pubs mostly, and in places like social communities, and stuff like that. I always support these places.”

Has your music always been political?

“Partly yes. In Greece as in many other European countries the rise of right wing parties, patriots and nationalists is already flourishing unfortunately. My old house used to be downtown Athens, I was living right across the Greek Parliament lets say two streets below it. Many riots and big protests against the radical and cruel decisions of the Greek government towards the working class took place almost right outside the flat I was renting next to Syntagma Square , so I was already taking part in these protests not only for living pretty close but mostly because as everyone else I was deeply affected by these harsh government decisions and new laws. All my life I’m part of the working class, in between low salary jobs and not quite good working conditions so you can’t just avoid all that and pretend that everything is going well. You must react and fight back raising your voice.

Technically my acoustic project and its music started together with all the main riots… because of living around them. So a lot of stuff that I wrote came from these things. Many of my songs are about working class struggles, with anti-racist and anti-fascist lyrics and especially for not being so possessed to patriotism… or I don’t know… you are from a place right? It doesn’t mean you own the place. If it’s a city or a country or whatever.

In my opinion we are citizens of planet earth. And that’s what one of my songs is about. If you read the lyrics for example of Athens City Prison and the name of my previous record, it’s about this. I believe that by coincidence you were born in a place and you are named as Athenian or Norwegian or whatever. It doesn’t mean anything. Just happened that your parents met there and had you born where they lived at that moment. 

We are all human beings, we should be all equal. We all have to remind ourselves about stuff like that and of course remind it to others cause there are people that consider themselves better than other nationalities or better superior because of skin colour or coming from an older or richer nation or whatever which is wrong to think like that. 

Many Greeks immigrated through the years from many places that they used to leave like in the 1920s from Micra Asia and Smyrna and coming to Greek mainland they were treated with respect. Same thing happened when lots of Greeks immigrated in Australia or all over Europe and the US. As a nation with strong immigration background we should respect immigrants from other countries that are mainly stuck to Greece for a lot of reasons (mostly because the EU closed the borders etc) and treat them as human beings and not as illegal aliens or whatever.”

What drives or motivates you to put something into a song?

“Many things. For example I write about war, I am an anti-war person, I don’t like war. When someone wants to create war he wants to create hate. I used to write songs when the Afghanistan war started. And the Syrian war. I also write about social life, I am a human being, I have feelings. So I write about relationships and experiences and adventures. Emotion is something that goes around my songs, the feeling of friendship, solidarity, equality and also stuff for the underground scene. All this and much more is in my songs.”

What about the protest music scene in Greece? Are there many artists using their voice for good?

“Yes, a lot of bands from mostly the punk rock scene and even the metal scene. Mostly they are anti-fascist music groups , you know, they don’t like the music scene of Greece which is mainly very commercial. This kind of stuff that I sing and that I write and the stuff that other bands from the punk rock scene or the punk hardcore scene write it might not be that popular but they are in a good place. They do it because they want to get away from the everyday life, say something different about all the shit that goes on around us and be different from the mainstream stuff on the radio and all that.

Whatever happens to other countries in the underground scene happens also here. We have a very strong underground scene in Athens and some other Greek cities. In my opinion we’re getting better than the past. Unity is strong, stuff is getting more and more organised. There are a lot of things that should be solved. Even in community places but we’re in a good way, on a good roll and lots of shows are going on almost every weekend.”

What about other protest artists that inspire you?

“One of my favorite singer songwriters among others is Woody Guthrie. He was a white American anti-fascist and anti-racist musician in a period where white supremacy was taking over and all the African Americans were oppressed and treated like slaves. That guy in that period , in a way of his own, was against all this brutality and all the racism that was going on around America something very brave for this period of time. And his music apart from being inspirational in lyrics is also really nice. He is like the root of many anti-fascist musicians. He was a guy in a place where everything was very tricky and very dangerous for people who weren’t white and he wrote songs in solidarity of the oppressed African Americans. So this guy and his music was something that was stuck in my mind for many years.”

What is coming up for you?

“This album came out last year from two labels, one from Germany, Mad Drunken Monkey Records, Noise Effect Records which is from Thessaloniki and with the help of MacSlon’s Radio, a German guy that has a web radio with a kind of celtic punk music. And also the other big help I had was from Germany again from Tape or Die, they made the same record on cassette. This happened last year. Now, I have been touring around ever since. I did a tour in Germany, some months before. The plan is now I stop playing that much because I have some other stuff going on like the fact that I have a child now, I am a dad…”

Congratulations!

“Thanks. I also have two other bands that we’re going to release our records within 2019/2020. So I am focusing mostly to the other bands and my family. I am going to put this project on a hiatus and maybe only play for some specific shows around Greece or Europe when the time comes.”

So it was lucky to catch you?

“Yeah!”

So finally, is there anything you want to Shout from the rooftops?

“Well according to my style, I don’t know how to sing, I just shout. So, it’s something that you don’t have to be afraid to do, just shout your guts out to whatever that is inside you and eats you and don’t be afraid to shout to what you think is wrong.”

Check out Xenofon Razis’ music on Bandcamp.