Tag Archives: 2020

A Protest Music Interview: Nejma Nefertiti

Killer rhymes, social activism, teaching and sound, clothing and perfume design. These are just some of the traits of musician and activist Nejma Nefertiti. Nejma creates art in order to create awareness. Her music is her sword as she fights for social justice and a more equal and positive world.

I interviewed Nejma once before as part of the Afro Yaqui Music Collective but now I wanted to learn more about her own music and her take on the turbulent times we live in, especially in her native United States.

Halldór Kristínarson: You just dropped a new video for the song ‘Blue, White and Red’. Can you tell us about this song and the motivations behind writing it? How was it rhyming over the piano played by Nina Kennedy and how did that cooperation come to be?

Nejma Nefertiti: “Blue, White, and Red” is a collaboration between myself, classical pianist Nina Kennedy, and producer Mike Gutta, who originally designed the beat. The track was re-created by musician/producer Brenda Alderman. It was released in 2019 to honor Juneteenth. Producer April Gibson, shot the video back then but there were complications that led to it’s editing and release being postponed till this year. Sometimes you have to trust the process and the universe because Juneteenth, 2020 was the perfect timing.

The motivation for the song was inspired by the systemic racism, oppression, and exploitation, of Black and Brown people in the United States and the rape, murder, and displacement of First Nation people. We wanted to make sure it was ready to honor and celebrate the legacy of Juneteenth this year. The core people of this project are all friends or family in some way. It’s a blessing to create with people you love and respect.

Rhyming over Nina Kennedy’s piano playing was classic. We mixed our genres together and put it on a trap beat which made it something entirely different altogether. Nina has a strong and interesting history in music. It was an honor collaborating with her. Check out her newly released book: Practicing for Love: A Memoir.

HK: More recently you released ‘Create A Path’, which has some brilliant, personal lyrics. Can you tell us about how it has been for you creating your career in the rap game?

NN: Lol. I don’t know if I consider myself to be in “the game.” To me the game is the industry and I’m on a different path, one I had to carve myself. It’s been a journey of ups and downs like everything in life and a process that’s ever growing. I’ve definitely received beautiful opportunities being an emcee and revolutionary spirited artist.

I would have never thought years ago, that I would be teaching Hip Hop Culture to students and becoming a resident of universities. I’ve traveled all over the United States, to Venezuela, Iraq, Montreal… it’s been incredible to practice my craft in such a way, and perform for many different audiences in many different settings. I’ve connected with amazing people and that continues. It’s all about having a platform and what you do with it.

My earlier years were filled with lots of struggle, which advanced my work but also set it back. Right now I’m in a strong place. I have my community to thank for that. The further I get, the more I change this “game.” I’m new to many things, but not rap. I deserve to be here and to be recognized as a woman contributing, building up, and advancing Hip Hop culture. The best thing about it, is that nobody owns me or my work. I am free to be exactly who I am. I’ve learned to work with people who believe in me and accept me for who I am. If they don’t, it never works out. It’s almost always disappointing but I realize every single time, that it wasn’t meant to be and that greater things come out of the process. The process is always bigger than the product.

HK: Much of your work is very activist driven, your lyrics, your music and your work outside the music. Do you feel things have always been the same in your country or do you see any changes on the horizon?

NN: I think this country has been through many changes over time, and in my lifetime, there has always been a struggle for peace and justice. But there has always been a broken system built off of greed, capitalism, patriarchy, and racism. We can see that in history way before I was here. This country is built off of lies, murder, and deceit. It’s gone on far too long and that’s why a revolution is taking place. This country also has a history of revolutionaries fighting for justice, equality, and freedom. That will continue until we see real change.

I see changes actively taking place right now and it will continue. Nothing lasts forever, not even evil empires. I think this all goes far deeper than we may imagine but truths are being revealed because the people are saying “Enough is enough!” Things are being recognized and people are awakening. I didn’t know if I would experience this in my lifetime, but we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

HK: For readers outside of the U.S., can you describe your feeling for the situation right now in your country?

NN: It’s about damn time and it’s just the beginning. I’m proud of our people taking the streets and the many things people are doing beyond that. There’s many ways to be a part of this. It’s part of our story and legacy. We are taking back what’s ours. The demands are clear and powerful. Now let’s continue to get justice for stolen lives and free these children from cages. The list of to do’s is long but I know that together we can make it happen. We ARE making it happen. Viva la Revolución!

Photo by Steven De Castro

HK: Do you feel musicians are using their voices in protest more now than before?

NN: I do. We’re in revolution. Musicians are inspired and feel compelled to contribute creatively and are also out in the streets protesting, making music, doing virtual live shows supporting the movement, etc…it’s beautiful, the solidarity. The world aligned globally for the first time when the covid-19 pandemic went into effect. We are still dealing with that. Then when George Floyd was murdered for all the world to see, it ignited everything you see going on now. Be careful which news sources you watch and read though. The media is also corrupt. This revolution is about years and years of systemic racism and oppression. It’s important to care about all struggles that are going on in the world, whether it’s close to you or not. It’s crucial to care about all children, not just your own. This is a unique and grand opportunity to evolve our world. Musicians have always played a part in that. Voices are being amplified as they should. Musicians reflect the times and are often ahead. I can’t speak for all musicians, because there’s a wide range of consciousness out there, but the musicians I know and love are fighting for justice, truth, and freedom.

Photo by Craig Thompson

HK: What other music projects can we expect from you coming up? How are your other business ventures going like your animal friendly shoe brand?

NN: I have several projects in the works right now that I’m really excited about. Voltage Contrlr & I got a nice body of work cooking. It’s a New York/Los Angeles collaboration. I love the sound we create together. This is gonna be a jewel for Hip Hop.

I got a project going on with Napoleon Da Legend. We are several songs in. He’s one of my favorite artists to work with and is also a great friend. You know it’s gonna be that strong boom bap.

There’s some cool collabs and singles coming out, and a few surprises. Ya Habibi Part 2 is a part of all that. Something to make you wanna dance. What’s a revolution without dancing?!

My vegan sneakers are in production permanently. The black and gold, and all black. It’s just the beginning of my endeavors in streetwear. I love working with and supporting independent clothing companies and I strive to have a few of my own fly designs out there. For me, that’s what being an artist is about. I like to connect anything I do to the path that I’m on. For example, the sneakers I designed are about “Walking in your purpose”.

My preference would be for revolutionary minded people to wear them. But anybody is welcome to. I’m working with a really kind family company who believed in my vision. I also create natural perfumes and beard oils. It’s all about layers for me. Whether it’s music, perfume, food…

I definitely gotta give my Afro Yaqui Music Collective fam a shout out. For one, that’s how we became acquainted because of our interviews with you in the past. Afro Yaqui is working on an album as we speak, and I’m on that. Also, we’re having a final event, which will be the premiere of our student’s jazz opera on June 30th from 7:30pm – 8:30 online.

It’s a multimedia work that combines jazz, hip hop, spoken word, dance, and visual art, animated and illustrated by students and guest artists. I worked together with Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez’s “Artivism: Intercultural Solidarity & Decolonizing Performance” course students. The piece reflects themes of police violence, migrant justice, systematic racism, climate change, and visions of a new world. The performance will premiere on the UW-Madison Arts on Campus Facebook Page and will be followed by a live Q&A session with the artists. It’s been incredible working with everyone and you will definitely want to see this piece, even if you miss the premier.

Thank you for having me Halldór! It’s truly a pleasure. I appreciate the love and support you show us all. Blessings upon blessings…

Visit Nejma’s webpage for further updates and info:

Cover photo by Roy Cox

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A Protest Music Interview: Crippled Black Phoenix

With a constantly shifting lineup of artists now split between Sweden and the U.K., Crippled Black Phoenix have long eluded an easy description. “Stoner prog,” “freak folk,” and “psych doom” approach the general flavor but fall short of encapsulating the dynamic and emotive range of sounds the band displays. There is an undeniable sense of largeness in their music, and to sit with it is to let that largeness wash over and inhabit you, with all its varied textures and impressions. Behind each album’s somberly visceral crescendos—replete with a confidently erratic admixture of industrial noise, delicate keys, and a host of strings and horns—is not just a story of deft, seeking musicianship, but, looking more deeply into the band’s repertoire, of a group of artists deeply concerned with the welfare of animals.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with the band’s ringleader, Justin Greaves, and vocalist and lyricist, Belinda Kordic. Shared below are their thoughtful responses about the intersection of music and animal activism.

Nathaniel Youmans: Can you describe how the injustices against animals, and the long work to be done to improve and ensure their welfare, figure into your music? How do your music and art provide an opportunity for you, personally, to enter into meaningful dialogues for oppressed beings?

Justin Greaves: Well, it’s simple: as a band we have a voice, so it would be wrong not to use it. Personally, I believe in animal welfare and an end to cruelty of all kinds. I didn’t go to college to learn my methods of spreading awareness, instead I learned a lot from bands and artists such as New Model Army, Crass, Subhumans, and Man Is the Bastard, amongst many. I just couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t use the band as a voice for the voiceless. We hate bullies of all kinds. CBP stands firmly against them. If what we post on social media or what we write songs about encourages a conversation, or even criticisms, about the mistreatment of animals, then we can sleep at night knowing we’re simply shining a light on a huge injustice in this world.

NY: I’d like to talk about the song “Nebulas.” It sounds, ostensibly, more on the upbeat end of your vast musical spectrum. A close reading of the lyrics, however, reveals the anguish and helplessness that come from knowing how many animals are abused and mistreated every day, as well as the seemingly insurmountable limitations of our ability as individuals to relieve the suffering of the marginalized and abused. This is a beautiful song, and the tensions between its sonic and lyrical qualities makes it a highly effective charge to pay more attention to the welfare of animals. Are the themes in this song steady and present through your music? How does animal welfare inform your writing process and collaboration efforts as musicians and citizens?

JG: The oppression of animals is always a theme we will return to as a band. It’s always been there, but now with Belinda being more of a lyricist for the past few years, she can put this theme into words better than anyone. It is one reason we work well together. As the writer of the music, I’m basically influenced by the human condition and injustices we commit and also endure as a species.

Belinda Kordic: I had had this “letter asking for forgiveness” in me for quite some time. I was struggling quite badly with this guilt trip of not being able to end the suffering, torment, and abuse of animals. I just needed to put it into words or else I would have crumbled. I have, and still am, struggling mentally with this. Flashing images of abused, neglected, and caged animals is a daily battle, and it truly hurts me to the core. Maybe I can save a few, but what about the rest? And therein lies the frustration and heartbreaking guilt. It eats at you. I guess I just wanted them to know they are never forgotten.

NY: Acknowledging that Crippled Black Phoenix is an enigmatic project with many rotating members and collaborators, where are you based right now? What is happening in those areas, beyond COVID-19 troubles, particularly in the realm of ecological crisis, animal suffering, and political strife? How does your current environment influence your songwriting and civic engagement?

JG: I guess we’re based partly in the UK and partly in Sweden, so we have very different social concerns within the band. Of course, the animal welfare subject is a worldwide issue which rings true with all of us, but here in the UK the ecological disaster is somewhat more extreme than Sweden. The UK is on a journey downwards into a dark place, politically and ecologically. The two are tied together now because our country is run by super-capitalists who have no problem raping our resources and indulging in over-development in order to gain wealth. I can’t make a difference just by writing music, but I can make myself be heard and hopefully encourage others to think more for themselves and to see more than just what the mainstream media feeds us. I guess we all can do as much as we can with the resource and abilities we have at hand.

Justin Greaves

NY: From Eurasian lynx to European bison, wolves, and bears, the UK has lost nearly all of its large wildlife. Species like pine martens—there as well as in my home state of Washington—are under threat, and sea eagles are making a promising, if slow and tenuous, recovery from the brink of extirpation. Please weigh in with your thoughts on the UK’s extinct, threatened, and endangered species, as well as efforts to protect and conserve them and their habitats.

JG: You look at Scotland, for instance, and the authorities there are starting to make a positive difference in the conservation of animals such as pine martens, otters, and various birds of prey, and also beginning talks of reintroduction of large predatory animals like wolves. Unfortunately, we still have the leftover class-system, where the farming class and the upper class get away with illegal blood sports like fox hunts, deer hunts, badger culling, mink farming, grouse shooting, pheasant shooting… The list goes on, and shows no signs of stopping. These people are stuck in a time long gone, but, crazy as it may sound, the hunting community here is largely made up of politicians, lords and ladies, wealthy land owners, corporate bosses, and the justice system’s hierarchy of judges and police commissioners. So, it is a long, tough fight to help our wildlife here in the UK. As long as there is the attitude of using animals for disgusting entertainment and eating habits, we will always have threatened species. The farming industry—dairy and meat—has a big impact on the environment, and consequentially the wildlife. There are a few very righteous people and organisations who make a small difference, but there are just not enough… Yet.

NY: Are there any particular organizations you support or want to draw attention to? How can fans share in your passion for animal activism?

JG: I support the Hunt Saboteur Association, Hounds Off, Animal Equality UK, Pennypaws Romania to UK Rescue, Arm the Animals, Sea Shepard, Cat’s Protection League, Animal Rescue Crew, Keep The Ban, International Anti-Fascist Movement, Stop Funding Hate, Sabcat, Bodhi Dog Rescue and Shelter, Pudz Animal Sanctuary, Animal Aid, The Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation… Anyone can make a difference by supporting these great causes, not only by donating, but by buying products which support them and also by simply sharing their pages and posts on social media.

BK: You can never sign enough petitions. It could make a difference. Support your local animal shelter in any way, big or small. And maybe don’t shy away from posting about animal abuse. I know a lot of people do not want to see it, but it is important to be reminded about it. There is a lot of this “if you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist” mentality. But it is happening and this is the sad truth. Social media can be shite, but at the same time it is a strong tool for educating people and getting the truth out there. Also, simply being vocal about being vegan can encourage conversation. For example, my workmates know I’m vegan and they have become more curious about the lifestyle. Some of them had absolutely no idea about the mistreatment of male chicks in the factory-farming industry. They were frankly quite shocked and surprised when I told them about it. Some of my workmates have now even adapted to a more plant-based diet. Small steps in a positive direction…

NY: My best friend is a chubby cat named Squirrel who acts like a dog and flops around like an elephant seal. She dozes in sunspots, chews her claws and spits them out on my bed, and lives a pretty cushy life. Would you like to tell me about the furry, scaled, or feathered friends in your lives?

JG: We have six cats now, after our beloved Nell and Tigger left this world recently. Now we have four moggies named Frank, Vitaly, Pastor, and Rubens. And two Bengals called Bear and Fangs. They’re our family! Like kids, y’know? They’re all nuts, and very special, all rescued as kittens or kittens of rescue cats. Some have also featured on CBP album covers and on our social media from time to time. I’ve always had rescue animals, also rabbits, chinchillas, small rodents, etc… It’s a long list!

BK: They are my children! May not be biological (duh) but I love them like my own blood. Life without them would not be a life worth living. When Justin calls me on Skype he gets a quick hello then “Let me speak to the kids!!!” They make me a better person. And God do they make me laugh.

NY: A question about album artwork. “The Great Escape,” “A Love of Shared Disasters,” “Horrific Honorifics,” and “Bronze” all feature animals on the album covers. Can you give some background on the album artwork choices and how they converse with the lyrical content of your music?

JG: The album artwork is, for me, as important as the music, lyrics, song titles, and themes. Everything ties in to whatever the general feeling is at the time of each album or recording. Animals always feature because they’re always our companions, and, visually, animals can convey emotions better than anything, like the bird being released from a cage on the “A Love of Shared Disasters” cover. That was all about freeing myself from a scene I didn’t want to be part of anymore and felt trapped by. That album freed me in a lot of ways.

“Bronze” is about being both strong and fragile at the same time: a bear statue representing strength that is also crumbling away ties in with the title. Bronze is a material that is both strong and malleable, used for things of beauty as well as weapons of death. All the way to “Great Escape,” the artwork reflects emotions or mental states. For “Great Escape,” the horse is yearning to leave this place for somewhere better. It is about being tired of injustice and wanting to help the helpless, such as animals, escape from cruelty and oppression. And for our end, it is about escaping from the feeling of helplessness we all have when we can’t save every animal or help every person. “Great Escape” is also about disregarding the trappings of social standard living. It is okay to have an alternative way of life; we don’t have to conform to survive. Think for yourselves and don’t blindly follow the herd.

NY: Is there anything else you’d like to comment on about animal rights and environmental activism?

JG: Join your local Hunt Saboteur organization. They need more Sabs! Don’t be afraid of standing up to bullies, and don’t shy away from voicing your feeling or opinion. However small, it does make a difference, so if you think it, do it. Also, be mindful of where you buy food and products. Some companies actively help and support animal welfare, and, of course, some use animal testing or other animal produce. So it is a case of knowing the truth in the production of such things and being prepared to not support animal usage, whilst being open-minded in finding good companies that have no connection to animal abuses.

BK: I have such huge admiration and respect for the animal rights activists out there who enter slaughterhouses to rescue animals, document the cruelty, and stop transports on the way to death camps. I just couldn’t handle it. I think I would end up in a mental hospital or end up jumping off a bridge. Witnessing the distress of these sentient beings would be enough to tip me over the edge for good. I wish I was stronger.

Belinda Kordic

NY: Tell me about a particularly powerful encounter with an animal you’ve had. Wild or domestic. Floor’s yours.

JG: The most powerful encounters are the ones like helping my cats give birth, and, sadly, losing loved ones. But apart from that, a good short story would be when I visited an animal sanctuary where they rescue big cats and other predator animals. You drive through large enclosures. It was a super-hot day and my car overheated between the lions and the wolves… Even though it wasn’t technically in the wild, they were still wild animals capable of eating me, watching me put water in the engine from not so far away. I also saw an unidentified huge sea creature in the bay of Venice. That memory has stuck with me all my life! Still no idea what it was.

BK: I had just met Justin and one day I was lying in the bedroom in the fetal position (very dramatic) crying and feeling sorry for myself. Sweet Nell, whom I hardly knew at the time, was sleeping on top of a cupboard. All of a sudden, I feel a cat licking my tears away and then she settled right by me. My heart almost burst. That is a moment I will never forget.

NY: Hypothetical one, here: if your personality/soul/spirit essence could be described as a fusion of three different animals, what would it be? I’ll start: heron-whale-lynx.

JG: Panther-Shark-Wolf… and Otter. 🙂

BK: Cat-Capuchin monkey-Mama Bear

NY: Finally, what is on the horizon this year for Crippled Black Phoenix?

JG: We have a new recording coming out in a few months. It’s a mini-album with some really great “guests” doing some vocals. I’m not allowed to say any more as I write this because we are still waiting on the official release statement. I wish I could tell all now because I’m super excited to get this one out! We’ll most likely record a new full length album around September, and then we’ll hopefully be touring again early next year. We have big milestones planned out all the way into 2022, and they might include a trip over the pond to the US. We’re working on something special.

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