System Of A Down have always been political and always used their voice and talent to shed light on the injustice they see around them in . After 15 years of absence from releasing new music they are now back. All four members of the band have Armenian roots and according to Wikipedia the band’s first official recording was a song that was featured on a collection album “called Hye Enk (“we’re Armenian” in English), an Armenian Genocide recognition compilation in 1997.”
War between Armenia and Azerbaijan has been brewing for decades and in recent days and weeks fighting has commenced again on a larger scale, so it is no wonder that the band chose this time in history to release new music in support of their people.
Furthermore the band will donate all royalties from the release to a US based fund supporting those suffering from the violence in Artsakh and Armenia.
“We realize that for many of you, there are more convenient ways you like listening to music, so please consider the opportunity to download these songs as an act of charity above all else. Think of the list price for the downloads as a minimum donation, and if you have the ability and can be more generous with your donation, every single member of System Of A Down will be even more grateful for your benevolence. Band royalties from this initiative will be donated to Armenia Fund, a US based charity organization instrumental in providing those in need in Artsakh and Armenia with supplies needed for their basic survival.”
As somewhat of an unusual thing for a band of this size they seem to have created an official Bandcamp page where the two newly released songs are available along with a statement from the band explaining why this is important:
“Because over 30 years ago in 1988, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh (which at the time was an Autonomous Oblast within the USSR), were tired of being treated as second class citizens and decided to declare their rightful independence from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic whose borders engulfed their own. This ultimately led to a war of self determination by Armenians in Karabakh against Azerbaijan that ended in a cease fire in 1994, with Armenians retaining control of their ancestral homelands and maintaining their independence to the present day. Our people have lived there for millennia, and for most families there, it’s the only home they and their forefathers and mothers have ever known. They just want to live in peace as they have for centuries.
“This is not the time to turn a blind eye.”
The current corrupt regimes of Aliyev in Azerbaijan and Erdogan in Turkey now want to not only claim these lands as their own, but are committing genocidal acts with impunity on humanity and wildlife to achieve their mission. They are banking on the world being too distracted with COVID, elections and civil unrest to call out their atrocities. They have the bankroll, the resources and have recruited massive public relations firms to spin the truth and conceal their barbaric objective of genocide. This is not the time to turn a blind eye.
There is an immediate need for global citizens to urge their respective governments to not only condemn the actions of these crooked dictators, but to also insist world leaders act with urgency to bring peace to the region and rightfully recognize Artsakh as the independent nation it is.”
If you recall statues of a naked Donald Trump popping up across cities in the US then you might have heard of the anonymous protest art collective Indecline. For the past few years the group has been collecting footage that now has turned into a 45 minute long documentary.
One unnamed representative for the group told Rolling Stone that “What was once set up to be a deep dive into the history of resistance art, soon became a ‘call to action.’”. Via Rolling Stone’s large platform the documentary can now exclusively be streamed in full.
Throughout the film we get a reminder of the stunningly creative, elaborate and always illegal protest art that Indecline has made like renting a room at Trump tower only to create a prison inside that room filled with rats and a Trump impersonator. Lending their voices to share their thoughts on protest art are some protest musicians such as Tom Morello, Moby, Fat Mike and Nadya Tolokonnikova among many more.
Damien Echols, who was wrongfully sent to death row as one of the West Memphis Three, speaks of how protest art literally helped save him from a state ordered execution.
Art and humour have long lived together as well. The film clearly shows how humour is necessary to get a message across. After all, humour is closely related to positivity – and kindness. One of the representatives of Indecline, when interviewed, has a cop in the background who is tied up on a chair. The Indecline representative quickly asks the cop if he is ok before continuing to answer the questions.
The film is directed by Colin Day who directed Saving Banksy. Banksy is another artist who’s work is documented in the film for his creative graffiti that has caught the attention (and inspired resistance) around the whole world.
When searching the internet for contemporary protest musicians I have my techniques and keywords to filter out the real deal from the posers. With all my requirements and strategies I likely never would have found the music of Portes. She is a Guatemalan-born protest musician and activist based out of Colorado, US.
Lucky for me, her PR company contacted me after seeing what the Shouts webpage is all about and so I interviewed Portes about her brilliant latest album, the electro-pop ‘National Anthems’. She also told me about her experience fostering a child, her activism and musical inspirations and her rather unusual day job – cybersecurity and computer networking.
Halldór Kristínarson: First off, for those who are not familiar with your music and your work, who is Portes?
Portes: Portes is a Colorado-based solo indie artist creating music in all genres. As the name implies, it comes from the French, des portes, meaning doors. Each style of music represents a door to explore. Thus far, the music is primarily electro-pop, dream pop, synth, R&B, and crosses with the more aggressive industrial music that sounds like Nine Inch Nails, but stretches to ambient and even worship music.
HK: How did you first get introduced to creating music and has it always been political and protest driven?
P: I’ve been creating music since I was in elementary school coming up with song lyrics and melodies. It hasn’t always been of a political or protest nature, but I recall an early song that I wrote in high school called, “Glory?” that dealt with the Vietnam War, so maybe I had some idea early on in life that I could write music of a deeper, more thought provoking nature.
HK: Can you tell us a bit about the creative process and production behind your album National Anthems? You speak of being new to the electronic music scene, yet it sounds natural. How did the sound you have on the album come into existence?
P: It helped to write music with a producer who had the same political ideology and stance as me. There wasn’t a conflict in content or style between us. The best inspiration for me at the time of making National Anthems was to look at the music of Nine Inch Nails and that aggressive, in your face, angry vibe. It was the feeling I was feeling watching the Trump administration constantly lie to the American people and who continue to do it today, to the detriment of millions of people and the thousands who have needlessly lost their lives to COVID-19. We started with the song, “Pressure” and used that song as the base for the others. Really, the album came together effortlessly. In fact, I had “Sister” as a different type of song and I had the chorus lyrics and melody mapped out a year before I started National Anthems, so it was just a matter of turning it into this new style and revamping lyrics to address the theme of female empowerment and turn it against these high profile sexual aggressors, like Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein, and Larry Nassar. I’m glad you think it sounds natural. I appreciate that.
HK: Being originally born in Guatemala and later growing up in the United States how has that affected your music, lyrically and melodically?
P: I lived in Guatemala as a baby for about six months before being adopted. But, you ask a good question about how that experience has informed my music. Knowing I’m from a multicultural family grounds me in being open-minded and willing to experience other people and cultures, including their music.
HK: Have you been back to Guatemala? Do you follow what is going on there or in nearby countries? Or Guatemalans coming to the states these days?
P: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to return to Guatemala. It is something I want to do in the future, when it’s safe to do so. I do follow the news of what’s happening in Central America and issues around societal violence, cartels, and immigration. It saddens me greatly to know the people are being mistreated and displaced. It makes me realize just how blessed I am to have the opportunities I do by virtue of having been adopted and being raised in the U.S. I don’t know other Guatemalans, so I can’t speak to that issue.
HK: Some people believe that the arts and activism should be separated, that the arts should be a form of entertainment only. Other people put forth the same argument about journalism. What is your take on how artists, journalists and other people with a voice should use that power?
P: I personally know where I stand on the intersection of arts and activism. But, I won’t dictate how others should use their creative platform to promote their activism. I can only encourage others to find their passion in politics for speaking truth in a time of when untruths are the norm. Some do it to music, like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, CSNY, REM, among others. I would love for “National Anthems” to have that same gravitas as other protest albums and artists. I have something vital to say and that should manifest into something, so I do it with my music. I’m also grateful to media outlets like Shouts Music Blog who share my art and activism with its audience. So, thank you for that! Journalists have an obligation to investigate, verify, and validate facts, so it’s about truth more so than activism. However, there are journalists like Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! who are more involved in activism.
HK: Who are some of your influences, whether them being musicians, activists or anyone else?
P: Some of my music influences are Sia, Nine Inch Nails, Iron & Wine, and Thievery Corporation to name a few. In addition, I appreciate the informative documentaries by Michael Moore. I recently watched Planet of the Humans, which was eye-opening about our dependence on fossil fuels and problems surrounding renewable energy. I was a QA Engineer for a photovoltaic manufacturer.
HK: Besides the music, you are working on a computer networking and cybersecurity degree. What drew you to that field?
P: I haven’t made music and songwriting my full time career yet, though I’d love to be at a publishing house, until then my actual career is in technology. I’ve been a technical writer, IT project manager, and customer experience consultant. However, in my previous roles, I was hitting a wall in advancement since I didn’t have a background in computer networking, so I went back to school after earning a master’s degree. Turns out I’m pretty good at cybersecurity and have a 4.0 GPA and am seeking a role in my field.
HK: What about your extracurricular activities, do you partake in activism outside of the music you make?
HK: The act of taking in a child into foster care and eventually adoption, how has that changed your view of the environment around you? I can only imagine it has also affected your music?
P: It changes everything! You still have to take care of yourself first. That’s what good mental health counseling has taught me. Self-care and self-love is a necessity. He’s incredibly empathetic. He cares about the littlest bug and other people. It’s important that he knows that this planet is finite and we have to take care of Earth by cleaning our messes, recycling, reusing, and reducing our waste. He’s also so sweet, so I actually had him sing on my last single, “Human”, which is a song about global warming, climate change, and social injustice. Although “National Anthems” isn’t really for kids, he heard enough of it that we’ve talked about some of the themes and I want to empower him to have his own voice and stand bravely against injustice and uphold the values of our nation, like liberty and freedom of speech.
HK: What do you hope to achieve with your music?
P: First, I want people to hear what I have to say because I do value the truth and this album was carefully and thoughtfully put out to have an effect that motivates people into action. Second, I hope people find their own stance about the content. Maybe there’s a person who can relate to my experience of sexual assault or who want to protest against gun violence at schools. My son shouldn’t have to do lockouts and lockdowns, but that’s what we’re dealing with now. Lastly, I hope people like the music. I think it’s badass.
HK: What is on the horizon for you?
P: Once I can get back into the studio, I need to do vocals for “Sanctified”, which is a delicate, breathy worship song in the same style as “Human”. Finished songs in queue for release are, “Rocket Crown”, a female empowerment song that blends classical music and hip hop. “I’m on Fire” is an electro-pop love song. “Good Girl” is a fun, catchy EDM song. I can’t be serious all the time. I need some levity too.
HK: Thank you very much for participating and for making your music. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
P: Listeners can find the music on various streaming services, except Spotify. Other than that, saddle up! We’re going on a long ride with Donald Trump, so it’s going to be bumpy, but Portes is here for you in those moments when you feel like screaming from that rooftop, I’ll scream with you. It’ll be very therapeutic. I promise!