This past week, I had the exciting opportunity to interview a powerful and inspiring artist. Her name is Taina Asili, and she is one of the baddest bitches I know. She is poet, a mother, and a social justice activist. Her band, Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde, just released a brand new album, Fruit of Hope, and from the few songs I was able to listen to, it is fantastic.
The first album, War Cry, is extremely inspiring and beautiful. While using multiple languages, the music takes you on a journey of self-reflection and social change. What I truly connected with was Taina’s strong spiritual focus, especially to her Puerto Rican ancestors, which is something that we share. These are not your average spiritual songs. These songs are exuding with passion, hope for the future, and a reflection on the past.
Taina is a beautiful person, and I was so happy that she took the time to answer my questions. Check out the interview, and of course check out the band! Their website is http://www.tainaasili.com, and there are some album release parties to look forward to! There is a NYC album release party on August 15th (Camaradas el Barrio, 2241 1st Avenue) and a Binghamton album release party on September 20th (Cyber Cafe West, 176 Main Street).
Have a listen, and dance to the music of the revolution!
1. Taina, for our readers, could you give a short background about your music, and a little bit about yourself?
I was raised in a very musical Puerto Rican family, with Afro-Latin and jazz sounds penetrating our ears, voices and bodies from as far back as I can remember. I began training as a singer in classical voice at 14 yrs old. But it was punk that first pulled at my heart as a performing artist, and at the age of 16 I began touring the country singing songs of resistance in a band called Antiproduct. This is where my political artistic awakening really developed, singing songs about reclamation of the body, surviving sexual assault, and tearing town borders. I moved to Philadelphia after college and began exploring my poetic voice more deeply, performing spoken word alongside amazing poets like Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker. I also become deeply involved in the movement to free political prisoners, which has led me to the prisoner justice work I am currently involved in. In 2006, I fell in love with Gaetano Vaccaro, an extremely talented guitarist and songwriter, and together we formed what is now Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde, a fusion of my classical vocal training, Afro-Latin musical roots, punk rebellion and poetic voice.
2. Your words and music have always been so powerful. Where do you find the inspiration for your songs?
I believe music is a powerful vessel to transmit messages and speak truth to power. My songs are very much inspired by historical and contemporary movements for justice, as well as my own life experiences, and the intersections between these. For example, I currently work with the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, a network of organizations doing prisoner justice work around New York State. My involvement in the network stems from work my to free US political prisoners, but is also fueled by my personal experience as a family member of two formerly incarcerated people. On Fruit of Hope, my new album, I wrote a song called “Freedom”, which seeks to challenge mass incarceration, and is also very much inspired by the work of Michelle Alexander, who recently released a book entitled The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
Sometimes, however, the music inspires the word. The title track of our album Fruit of Hope is the perfect example of this. We wrote the music during a trip to Puerto Rico, inspired by the wind, the ocean, the rain, the trees. After marinating with the sounds, I realized the music was calling for words I had written in a poem a year earlier. Sometimes the music we create awakens me to new truths, new ideas I had not realized before, and the music becomes my teacher.
3. Your new album, Fruit of Hope, is coming out soon, which I’m so excited for! I am still in love with your first album, War Cry, from 2010. What can we expect from your new album?
On our new album, we focused even more on incorporating high-energy Afro-Latin-reggae-rock fusion dance songs, made even more potent by a new horn section. Now on our 8th year performing together, I think the album represents our growth and maturity both musically and lyrically. We also have some amazing guest artists who recorded on the album including: internationally renowned poets Naima Penniman, from Brooklyn, and Michael Reyes, from Chicago; Melbourne, Australia based Brazilian vocalist Eliane Pinheiro; and Northern Indian Classical tabla percussionist Devesh Chandra.
4. Your music is very focused on social justice and equality. What wise words of wisdom do you have for our feminist readers at Bitchtopia?
An important piece of wisdom about social change I learned from my elders is that it is not how much we do that counts, but rather being consistent with what we do. The problems of injustice in this world can feel overwhelming and sometimes it can feel like our only choices are to do everything or nothing. When I was younger I would get involved in so many different things, and wear so many different hats, that I would become overwhelmed and burn out quickly. The road to justice is long. Now I understand that my gift is writing and performing music, and this is where I concentrate most of my personal and world transformation work. I say, find that special piece you can offer to contribute to healing in this world and work hard with it. Let us find hope in our collective struggle.