As it often happens, the current protests in Thailand started out as student events. This generation has had to partially grow up in times started by the 2014 coup d’état in Thailand. Now more people are joining the protests demanding the resignation of General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government and an economic reform of the monarchy.
Some members of the rap collective have been arrested for their activism as we’ve covered before here on Shouts. That does not seem to slow them down though. They blast through the new song with seemingly no concern for their own safety. Artists have been jailed around the world for using their voices in this way.
According to this band’s public description they are a “darkpop hip-hop musical duo from Kansas City, Missouri pulling elements from sci-fi to tell an interdimensional story.” But these two musicians are so much more than that. They fuse different styles of music together, they cover important things happening in their country and they believe that using their voice in such a way is simply their responsibility as artists.
The Black Creatures just released their debut album Wild Echoes.
Halldór Kristínarson: First of all, thank you for participating. Secondly, you recently released your debut album, Wild Echoes. How did this collaboration between the two of you come to be? And can you tell me about the process of getting this album done during these strange virus times?
The Black Creatures: We ended up becoming bandmates after high school. Despite having some of the same interests, we were just never high school friends. So technically we met through Facebook. Through circumstances, we got on the topic of music making, knocked out a couple songs in a week, and realized there was something that felt really good about the music we were making. It was a healthy outlet for some big growing pains we were trying to work through.
We had a much smaller release locally a little less than a year ago for these songs. We put out the album and asked a housemate to help design a little booklet that went with it. Then we saved up enough money to print and press the CDs and then invited like 10 people privately on Facebook. Around this time a local record label took an interest in our performances and the album and they’ve really been a tremendous help with letting people know who we are and what we do.
We had a whole tour planned and then everyone kind of decided at once that the Coronavirus was actually serious. Which, it still is over here. Anyway with how everything worked out, we finally had enough downtime to get the album mastered, registered… legit. It’s really cool how people are receiving our music. It feels gratifying. We put a lot into what we do.
HK: You made a video to a single off of your latest album, called Wretched (It Goes). I understand the song is about the prison system in the US? How do you personally experience this system on a day to day basis (it seems like it stretches its Wretched tentacles to all parts of the US society)?
TBC: Well, to answer how the prison industrial complex affects us everyday, we have to start with good old American values. The US was originally a big land grab for British colonialism, which was totally based on capital. The settlers got bold and kicked British capitalists out of their harbors and so forth, but they remained unfair to the Indigenous land ambassadors who taught them much of all they knew about the land and kidnapped Africans to do the dirtiest of work.
After people decided that was barbaric, they turned to institutions to maintain the same social castes, giving preference to the methods that gained the most capital. Here, the private prison industry was born. They had to maintain the social castes by any means necessary, right? So they found ways to segregate society into factions of “normal” and “other.” It’s super obvious when you examine the relationship between Black America and the legal system, but we see this with the disabled, the LGBTQ community, poor people, undocumented folks… any community that is seen as invaluable to the status quo.
Kansas City police are also notoriously violent, and there’s some smaller towns just outside of city limits where the cops are really on some deranged, old money racism shit.
And, waking up every day, fear in the back of your mind, knowing your life can change at a moment’s notice is what weighs heavy on us.
HK: It seems like you are not afraid to cover heavy or political topics in your songs. Has your art always been political or even used in protest?
TBC: Not entirely sure what this even means. Every piece of art is made within the context and framing of its artist’s perspective, and every person (artist or otherwise) is affected by politics. So, isn’t all art political? People have totally gone so far as to call our music political, but we’re really not doing anything that different from other songwriters. We are just putting our own experiences and feelings into what we do. Even Taylor Swift kind of does that.
HK: Can you describe the protest or socially conscious music scene in your home city, Kansas City? On a more national level, do you feel musicians (or other artists) are using their voices enough, for change?
TBC: It’s like Angela Davis says, “the personal is the political,” like a lot of people have made music about radical transformation forever. So if you just started talking about racism as a white person, yeah we probably noticed, but it’s hard to say people are not using their voices enough.
HK: Your music fuses many genres. Can you tell me a bit about your creative process and how it came to be that your work mixes all these worlds together?
TBC: We hold the perspective that genres are just a creator’s way of challenging their craft. Ya know, if you want to say you’re an R&B artist you try to utilize all the elements that are believed to be within the realm of other R&B music. So, we take the idea of challenging ourselves and flip it inside out. We want to use recognizable elements from many genres and while that makes something entirely new, it also produces work that’s incredibly familiar. That said, those results come from many different approaches. Sometimes we start with a beat, a melody, a lyric or lyrics, while other times we individually have two halves of a whole song, an instrumental and lyrics, that we bring together to form a whole.
HK: How has this weird year affected your work? Have you gotten into the online concert thing?
TBC: Right before Covid was taken a little bit seriously here in the States we actually had a whole tour ready to go. That ultimately got cancelled. Following that, performing was basically something that couldn’t happen up til recently; we’ve done a few outdoor events as a handful of pop-up, outdoor, quarantined venues had been created. We had done a few online performances! However, while other artists have had the resources and environment necessary to manage them, those are not the circumstances we have.
HK: I noticed you are very active on YouTube, covering literally all sorts of topics in your chat videos. Can you tell me a bit more about the idea of that project?
TBC: There were really a lot of reasons we wanted to get into making youtube videos, and honestly one of them was to really hone in on some self-disciplines. With the Thirsty Thursdays we would alternate on tackling weekly topics in a variety of formats; story-telling, comedy, more music, etc. The 1 Hour Song Challenge, much like the name suggests, challenged us to make a song in just an hour. That forced us to commit to ideas that we would otherwise never imagine holding on to under normal circumstances. We personally really like making things, and so aside from pursuing some discipline, we used youtube as a playground for creative exercise.
HK: Can you name some of your influences, old or new?
TBC: The Gorillaz, Erykah Badu, Prince, The Weeknd, Kenji Yamamota, Kehlani, SWV, Kendrick Lamar, Tech N9ne, noname, mcchris, Toro y Moi, Geoff Barrows, Ben Salisbury, Hans Zimmer
HK: What is on the horizon for you?
TBC: We’ve got a music video coming out later in October so keep an eye out for that 😉
HK: Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
TBC: If this discomfort is new to you it’s time to examine that too. Step out of what is comfortable and into what is right.
The Manusmriti, a sort of a bible for Hindu people, divides the Indian people into categories based on their work and their social duties. This scripture is at least 3,000 years old but today, still, people in India have to endure this ancient system that now has a new term: caste.
Although discrimination on the basis of caste was legally banned in 1948 the problem continues in India today. But some people try to fight this old system and use their voice in a positive way. One of them is Madara, a rapper from an upper caste family who has witnessed how this outdated social system affects all aspects of the world he lives in.
Halldór Kristínarson: Your song Jaat Kya Hai focuses on the caste system in India. How have you personally seen this system affect people?
Madara: I come from an upper caste Hindu Family and of course I’ve seen discrimination in my family in about every other conversation. It’s almost a trend to call them names, use curse words to assassinate their character and suppress their voice. My grandfather and my uncles have been the biggest example whom I have seen treating lower caste people badly or bad-mouthing about them for no reason.
HK: What other issues motivate you to make music and pen down some lyrics?
M: Every issue I’ve personally experienced or read and which conflicts with my personal ethics or because of which I have seen people around me suffering. Like child marriage, colorism, racism, dowry, farmers suicide, education system, unemployment, prostitutes, etc.
HK: Has your music always been politically driven or made in protest?
M: No. I didn’t start my rap with protest lyrics. I’ve written many tracks on different topics as I don’t believe in sticking to a certain type of rap, rather I like to call myself a conscious rapper who writes on contemporary topics. It’s just that I’ve released only the political ones for now.
HK: Have you received any backlash or threats for the music you make?
M: Yeah a lot, I keep getting death threats every now and then but I’m habitual now. Everybody dies but not everybody lives.
HK: How is the protest music scene where you live? Are there many musicians and artists using their voices for good?
M: Protest scene here is not how we would like to imagine it to be honest. As per Law we do have freedom of speech in our constitution but reality is quite different. Most of the artists who want to speak up against the system, don’t, as they are afraid of the consequences.
HK: One of my favorite rap songs of 2019 was the banging Tukde Tukde Gang. Can you explain a bit what that song is about?
M: That song explains the faulty education system of India. If our ministers are holding fake degrees and not accepting it, how will they teach us? I was doing my research on social evils in India and I found out that the root cause of everything is education in which the government is investing very little and when someone raises their voice against it they’re called “Tukde Tukde Gang” but in reality it is the government who should be called that for using religion politics to break people.*
HK: Who are some of the artists that have inspired you? Specifically regarding your lyrics, are there any people who have made an impact on your work?
M: There are many, I love reading and hence in the field of writing I would like to mention Harishankar Parsai, Javed Akhtar, Kamleshwar, Piyush Mishra, Rahat Indori, Munnawar Rana, Paash etc.
HK: How have you been coping with this strange year of 2020? Are there any online live performances schedules for your global fans?
M: It’s been one terrible year all around. There are no online live performances as of now. I’ll start performing in 2022. I’m just surviving on my savings for now, using them to make my tracks.
HK: Thank you very much for participating. Is there anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
M: Never stop questioning!
* “Tukde Tukde Gang is a pejorative political catchphrase used in India by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sympathisers accusing their critics for allegedly supporting sedition and secessionism.” Taken from Wikipedia