Tag Archives: hiphop

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:
nejmanefertiti.com

Cover photo by Roy Cox

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HipHop vs Capitalism: Fresh Mixtape Out From Rhymethink

The crew behind Rhymethink music collective, based out of “the stolen lands of occupied Turtle Island”, just released a mix tape featuring artists such as Tachichi, Lee Reed, Ghettosocks, Mother Tareka, Test Their Logik, Unknown Mizery, Aquakultre, Praxis Life, NiLLa Music, Ceeb Dread and more. The tape is a collaboration with Mayworks festival and Sipsit.

See also: A Protest Music Interview: Lee Reed

Corruption And Betrayal In Puerto Rico: New EP From Yuca Brava (Interview)

Shouts regulars and all around hard working activists/musicians Yuca Brava are releasing a new EP today, Friday the 14th. Previously we have interviewed Felix Castro, the vocalist of the band, about their music and activism.

This time I spoke with Carlos Anglada, the producer, drummer and the other half of the band. Carlos told me about the new album and how it covers the betrayal by the Puerto Rican government of their people.

Halldór: What is going on today in your surroundings?

Carlos Anglada: On January 6 & 7 of this year (2020) Puerto Rico was struck by two earthquakes. The tremors destroyed hundreds of homes, leaving thousands of people in the Southwestern region of the Island homeless. The quakes also damaged close to 300 public schools, which have been declared as unusable.

As it turns out, a geological fault (the Punta Montalva Fault) slashes across the entire Sounthwestern part of the Island. After the fault became active, there have been close to 3,000 additional aftershocks or replicas to date. People in the region live in an unrelenting state of anxiety. Refugee camps have people living in tents, not unlike the refugee war camps we have seen elsewhere. We have begun losing people who have chosen to take their own lives, unable to find any hope in their dire situation.

Adding insult to injury, on January 18th, an independent journalist caught the authorities attempting to empty a warehouse holding a substantial number of supplies that had not been distributed since Hurricane Maria and that could have been used to serve the refugees from the earthquakes. Further investigation revealed that close to a dozen other such facilities were located all across the island, all of them holding potable water, baby formula, cots, portable showers, etc. In addition, when you see politicians holding out on emergency supplies so that they can repackage them with campaign flyers, you know you have seen the height of callousness.

In summary, we’re currently dealing with the fallout of yet another round of gross negligence and mismanagement of a natural event by our so-called “government”. In the meantime the Fiscal Oversight Board (Junta de Control Fiscal – Ley “Promesa”) is pressuring the government to agree to a plan to repay our debt which would deepen our already grave financial situation by extending stronger repay guarantees to stockholders based on inflated growth forecasts.

Halldór: What is this EP about?

Carlos: We touch on a number of issues: the hollowing out of the Island to make room for the wealthy elite (“Bitcoin Messiah”), state and social violence against women (“Cobardes & Escarlatas”), and the constant lying and deceit carried out by our “government” (“Huele a Traidores” & “Status Quo”). However, the overarching theme is the utter and complete betrayal of the people of PR by the current administration.

Halldór: What is driving you or motivating you, today, to pen down some lyrics or create some beats and riffs?

Carlos: Neoliberal and austerity policies have real victims who experience real pain and suffering. Sometimes we fall in love with our own buzzwords and jargon and language and forget that we need to make this oppression real and visible to the people who we know need convincing to see the whole picture. In that sense, we are continually trying to make our perspective understandable and relatable.

Halldór: How is this EP different from your previous projects? In regards to both the recording and the creative process?

Carlos: The Micro Sessions is kind of an experiment in remote collaboration. Felix (vocals) lives in Phoenix, AZ and I live in PR. When Felix was still living here on the Island, we would write apart and once we had good working demos worked out, we would head to the studio and work there together.

Felix had to leave the Island after Hurricane Maria, since his employer was closing up shop locally. Moving to AZ was a huge change for him, and the adjustment period was hard on him and his family. We wanted to keep making music, since it’s quite cathartic for us, but Felix had not yet found how to record, so we had chosen to use the scratch vocals straight from his cellphone in the final tracks.

Our platform is your platform. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?

Carlos: We’re still a colony. That needs fixing. Urgently.