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Exclusive Video Premiere: Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

By Profula – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Karankawa was an indigenous tribe that lived along the coast of the Gulf of México. Along with the Atakapa tribe these indigienous communities thrived for a few thousand years in the area before Spanish people, under the command of royalty and religion, invaded the land, bringing disease and terror.

Today, ancestors of these people live scattered around northern México as well as the greater Houston area. The city of Houston is the fourth most populous city in the US and now considered one of the most diverse cities in the country. According to the 2020 census Hispanic, Latino, African-American and Asian people make up around 70% of the population.

Where some people might see such diversity of ethnicity and cultures as a positive and enriching thing, others find it bothersome and prefer their life in a monotonous bubble. In the whole of the United States clashes have occurred because of race, gender and religious beliefs. In the melting pot that is Houston, one musical group in particular has been at the forefront of protests and marches against racism, against wars, for equality, against police brutality, support Palestine, et cetera. This is the musical genre soup that is Free Radicals.

The band members have throughout their 20 odd year career mostly released instrumental music and used their voices rather at before mentioned marches and protests. But throughout their career the band has collaborated with rappers, singers and spoken word artists who have lent their voices to various projects. In 2020 the band released the critically acclaimed ‘White Power Outage vol. 1’ which, in a very direct way addresses denazification in the US, or rather the lack thereof. Now, two years later, the band is back with vol. 2 and we could not be more excited to premiere one of the singles off of the new album and its corresponding music video.

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to converse with the band via email and I’m stoked to now share the Q and A with the Shouts audience.

Halldór Kristínarson: Can you tell me a bit about the new volume and in particular the song/video we are premiering, ‘Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz’?

Free Radicals: Seven years ago, Free Radicals released the instrumental version of Checkpoint on our breakdance music album Freedom of Movement.  We always knew we wanted to come back to the track and do a rap version, and now finally, the whole project has come together with four powerful and musical voices. We decided we could only do the topic justice if we included rappers from Houston, Palestine, and South Africa. Apparently, having English, Afrikaans, and Arabic lyrics on the same tune is not a normal thing to do, because when we registered the song on YouTube and on streaming services, we could choose to list only one language.

We first invited EQuality, who has been collaborating with Free Radicals since our 2004 album Aerial Bombardment with his insane spoken word piece We All Inhale. He had also joined us to take on Israeli apartheid on Every Wall on our 2012 album The Freedom Fence. He opens up  Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz for his fellow rappers with a bang. When we the got tracks from Prince Alfarra from the Gaza Strip, and Jitsvinger from South Africa, we were completely blown away. 

We knew that this song was going to be everything we had imagined for years, but the icing on the cake was the voice of one of our mentors, Lindi Yeni, a South African who taught dance in Houston for many years. Her theatrical experience kicked in and she improvised a skit between herself and a South African border checkpoint guard during apartheid. Lindi is a legendary figure in Houston, who helped arrange political asylum for South African performers during the apartheid years, and is seen here performing for Nelson Mandela.

To say that this was our dream team would be an understatement!

Exclusive Premiere:
Checkpoint/Dompass/Hajiz by Free Radicals

HK: Some protest musicians are subtle and poetic, hiding a bit their messages while others tackle issues very openly in their lyrics. What can you tell me about the evolution of your style of protest music, did you consciously reach this point or was it all a natural happening?

FR: Recently, on social media, someone commented about the album cover for White Power Outage Volume 2, saying “What is this? Some kind of subtle attempt to imply that businessmen, judges, police, and politicians are all white supremacists?” We responded, “We weren’t trying to be subtle!” 

We live in a country that has had no reckoning with our history of apartheid and genocide. In Germany, there are zero statues of Nazis that are still standing, they teach the Holocaust, racism, and genocide in school. The United States has only barely ever started the process of denazification. Here, in the South, every attempt to teach real US history in schools is attacked, statues of slave owners and Indian killers abound. There’s no subtlety, and we’re certainly not trying to be subtle when responding to it.

Our political messaging comes from the street protests that we perform at. Our marching band, the Free Rads Street Band, has marched with Palestinians protesting Israeli oppression, Muslims and other groups fighting against Muslim ban laws in India, janitors demanding a living wage, anti-war protests, anti-corporate greed protests, students demanding gun control, people for women’s rights, etc. 

Sometimes, journalists have mentioned that we were talking about border walls in 2012, years before Trump, and oil wars in 1998, years before the 2003 Iraq War, as if that was somehow prophetic. But there was nothing prophetic about it at all. There were protests against border walls in Texas and Palestine all the way back to the 90s, and of course, there were protests against the earlier Iraq war in 1990. Protests in the streets have been shouting about these issues for decades, and we just try to amplify those messages.

HK: How important is it for you to be able to use your art as a vessel for political activism?

FR: Our albums have always had political themes. Our first release, The Rising Tide Sinks all in 1998 was the beginning of a long collaboration between our musicians, social movements, and visual artist John Kitses. However, 99% of the shows that we’ve played have been just instrumental music, and we don’t make political speeches from the bandstand. We play at parties and clubs, weddings and funerals, street protests and break dance competitions. So, we’re used to just focusing on instrumental music most of the time, with politics only really coming in at the street protests, and when we release an album.

HK: How is the scene in Houston, when it comes to socially conscious music and art? Are there many artists who use their talents to raise awareness or promote a positive message of change?

FR: With the most diverse neighborhoods in the entire world, the Greater Houston area has all kinds of pockets of resistance and art. There are incredible LatinX, Black, Asian, indigenous, African, Muslim, and white musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, dancers, and comedians who wouldn’t even be capable of leaving off political themes from their arts, it’s too much a part of them.

Just to mention some of the Houston artists who have participated in the White Power Outage albums with us…  Swatara Olushola fought to expose the scandal of the Sugar Land 95. Obidike Kamau was the long time host of Self Determination on KPFT, and is an activist for reparations. Marlon ‘Marley’ Lizama teaches writing to incarcerated youth. Jason Jackson teaches music to refugees and kids in shelters with Nameless Sound. Zack Hamburg blogs about cars and climate change. Henry ‘Hennessy’ Alvarez is part of the local chapter of the Brown BeretsKarina NistalMichele ThibeauxEQuality, 200 Texas Poet Laureate Lupe MendezDeniz ‘deecolonize’ Lopez, and Nosaprise all make music about social justice. Brian Is Ze has an intersectional take on gender and health care issues. Akua Holt is the host of Pan African Journal on KPFT.

We didn’t just invite rappers, singers, comedians, and spoken word artists who we like listening to, we focused on connecting with artists who are also activists!

HK: What do you hope to achieve with your latest album?

FR: We hope that the album will be the soundtrack for dismantling white supremacy, corporate capitalism, the military industrial complex, and environmental destruction! Or, if we fail, we hope the album can be an elegy for the dream of a sustainable and equitable world.

HK: What is on the horizon for you?

FR: White Power Outage vol. 2 features 66+ voices of all ages, and right now, we are especially looking forward to our June 7 concert with living legend Harry Sheppard, our 94 year old mentor, band member, and friend.

HK: Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

FR: On the two volumes of White Power Outage you will hear the beautful voices of the kids from Peace Camp Houston chanting these:

Down Down with Deportation!
Up Up with Liberation!
No Hate! No Fear!
Immigrants Are Welcome Here!
¡Racista, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!
Freedom for All! No Cages, No Walls!


A Protest Music Interview: Mat Ward (Exclusive 3-Track Premiere)

According to some, electronic music used to be political but now it has ‘lost its edge‘. Mat Ward is fully aware of this and now does his utmost best to make his music sit just right, dangling the feet over the edge with the headphones blasting.

His latest album is self described as ‘a chill trap album about surveillance’ and it features titles such as ‘The Value of Metadata’, ‘Undersea Cable’ and ‘Holed Up In The Ecuadorian Embassy’.

The album subtly flows on, at one moment you almost forget yourself until you realise you have been swept away by the music and it has become an echoing, cool soundtrack in your brain. A bit like surveillance. You might know it is there, but it does more than you think while you loose your mind to other things.

Mat’s new album, due out in January, is a new concept and his current 9-5 profession: the media. For Mat is a journalist by day and a trap music maker by night. We have been listening to the unreleased album and it is stellar. It opens with much more of a bang in comparison to the more chill, previous album. Which fits well, for the media screams much louder than surveillance. Both concepts are large and complicated but Mat gives them structure and builds sonic landscapes that easily sweep you away.

We contacted Mat and asked him a few questions about his concept music. In addition we have a special 3-song preview off the upcoming album which Mat made exclusively for the Shouts project. Check out the new music below as well as the interview with Mat.

Photo from Mat Ward’s Bandcamp page

Has your music always been political?

“Yes, my music was political from the start, most probably because my two obsessions are music and politics.

I started making music at first for my favourite rapper, Provocalz, who I met here in Sydney when I interviewed him for my book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music and Country. That interview ended with us both being questioned by police.

I felt Provocalz was such a great poet that he should reach a far wider audience. But his music was not on any of the big music platforms because he always rapped over unlicensed music, as many underground rappers do. So I started making original music for him just in the hope that he could upload it onto the big platforms – Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and the rest – to reach the audience I felt he deserved. I made about 40 songs in his style – dark, emotional, piano-driven hip-hop – but after he’d laid down vocals on four of them, he got pissed off with the whole rap scene and gave up rapping. That was in 2016, but the four-track EP came out only this year. It’s my favourite thing I’ve done, music-wise.”

Why did you choose surveillance as the concept for ‘Five Eyes’? Why is it an issue you care about?

“Well, the funny thing about that album is it was the best of all the leftover songs that I’d done for Provocalz. I didn’t want anyone else to rap on them as I’d made them for him, so it’s just an instrumental album, but it needed a theme. I always prefer music with a message, even if it’s only in the song titles. Provocalz had actually used one of the songs for “Behind Enemy Lines” on the EP, in which he raps about Aboriginal kids being abused in jail. I really liked the intricate bassline I’d come up with on that one, so I thought it stood up as an interesting instrumental on its own, without any rapping.

On the Five Eyes album, that song became “Holed Up In The Ecuadorian Embassy“, to highlight another Australian injustice, that of Australian citizen Julian Assange being abandoned by his government and incarcerated. That’s the link between the EP and the album. I’d read a lot of books both by Assange and about Assange, a lot of which touch on surveillance, so a lot of the rest of the song titles came from the information in those books.”

Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming album and the new concept?

“Yep, I’m actually a journalist – that’s my day job. I started a music fanzine in my teens, did my school work experience on my local paper, earned a postgraduate in journalism, became a reporter and features writer on national newspapers, then became a subeditor and I’m now an online editor.

I think everyone should think critically about the job they do – especially journalists, who are supposed to be critical thinkers. Anyone who looks at journalism critically can see there’s a lot to be criticised. If you’re interested in seeking out the truth, as all journalists should be, you’ll consume the news from as many different sources as possible and you’ll quickly see there’s a huge difference in the way the news is reported by the corporate media and non-corporate media. (If any readers are not familiar with those terms, by corporate media I mean mass media or mainstream media run by corporations, and by non-corporate media I mean not-for-profit media, usually run by political activists.) All news is biased. If you’re only reading the corporate media – or only reading the non-corporate media – you’re missing half the story.

It’s for this reason that, 10 years ago, I started doing voluntary work for the non-corporate media. This kind of pro bono work is common in other professions, but unknown in journalism and even seen as heresy. For the past few years I’ve been writing a monthly political music column for the non-corporate media that always gets thousands of views and has been shared by the likes of Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, Ministry’s Al Jourgensen and drag star Ru Paul. I think that’s how you found me. There’s a huge hunger out there for music with a message, as you’ve no doubt seen with this great blog of yours.

So, in an age when the president of the United States dismisses any news report he dislikes as “fake news”, this new album of mine, Filter Bubble, takes a look at the criticisms that can legitimately be levelled at the corporate media. Although nowhere near as sensational as Donald Trump’s tweets, these quiet truths are often just as disturbing.

Below, you can stream and download a three-track sampler of the album for free, which I put together for this blog. You can click through to Soundcloud for more details on what each song means. Stylistically, this album’s a cross between future bass and jungle – call it “future jungle” or “future drum n bass” – which I don’t think has been done before.

If you follow my artist page on Spotify, you’ll be notified when the full album’s released on January 24, 2020. Thank you.”

Shouts Exclusive Listen

Check out ‘Five Eyes‘ out on Bandcamp as well as Mat’s social media.

Exclusive Premiere: Darkest Before The Dawn by Josh Gray

A few months back Shouts premiered a rough (but beautiful) demo of a new single from Josh Gray’s upcoming album. The song, Darkest Before The Dawn, is a captivating protest anthem that is ensured to survive generations to come.

Now it is time to premiere the final version of the song, exclusively on Shouts.

Josh has a way with words and his lyrics flow with such ease that the poetry packs a great deal of information into each sentence. The song touches upon many pending issues that Josh has witnessed failing for a long time in his home country of United States of America.

“Can we care about our neighbors
Instead of asking for their papers
And think about what we do to this world?

‘Cause human life’s more precious
Than a blood diamond necklace
Or any flag that’s ever been unfurled”

Josh goes on pointing out that hippocrisy of calling the USA the land of the free for it is quite clear that millions of people living in that country right now are everything but free. Slavery still exists and flourishes today through the incredibly corrupt private prison system. Which, as Josh points out, is very much directed at people of color.

Every orientation and gender deserves equality
You ain’t savin’ souls trying to control
The lives of those you’ve never seen

Let’s stop arrestin’
For minor possession
If this is the land of the free
Ban private prisons
That enslave millions
Because they don’t look like me

We hit Josh up on Skype for a short interview and asked him about the song, the album and the upcoming tour. Check out both the video interview below and the Shouts premiere of ‘Darkest Before The Dawn’ below and follow Josh’s music and touring news by visiting his homepage.


Shouts Exclusive Listen