::GET FAMILIAR:: MICHELLE THOMPSON & HENRY LEE

Friday, May 22, 2015
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::GET FAMILIAR:: MICHELLE THOMPSON & HENRY LEE
Interview by: Dereck Rodriguez
Over the past few months, we have seen countless stories of black and brown lives lost at the hand of vigilantes (both police officers and civilians.) From Travyon Martin to Freddie Gray, the nation watches and communities of color and those in solidarity fight over pockets of ignorance and insensitivity, to voice their concerns about their treatment by government officials and civilians. Helping to make those voices standout from the heartless and obtuse chatter are musicians who understand the cause and calls for justice.
Singer/songwriter/musician Michelle Thompson and composer Henry Lee have teamed up to create a piece called, "Black Lives Matter," that perfectly reflects the recent events and the overall cry for justice. Recently, TheSoulcialista's Dereck Rodriguez had an opportunity to speak with Michelle and Henry about their song, their roles as artists in social matters and the role we can ALL play to impact the #BlackLivesMatter discussion.

Dereck: Hey guys I just want to say Iove the song and ask what compelled you to write this piece?
Michelle Thompson:  Basically, we have been a duo for two years now. I graduated from Seminary in 2014 and I’ve been involved in activism, and a classmate of mine decided he wanted to do something called 7 last words; that comes out of the black church tradition, and 7 last words from 7 youth black man and women who been shot by the police or vigilantes. So they did the last 7 words of people like Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin and countless others. We were asked to present a song and usually when I go to events and share, I like to show original pieces so I can think about it and internalize it myself.  So, I came up with the lyrics while I was driving and I parked my car on the side and I had to move the car in 30 minutes so I decided to work on it and then I started strumming the guitar and I started to come up with the first lyrics and then I showed it to Henry and he started to work with his musical genius.

Dereck: Wow, Henry do you have anything to say?
Henry Lee: Michelle started the song and sang the first half to me and then I started to play these four chords and she was like it’s so pretty. So she decided to use that part for the refrain and I thought it was very nice for me to be involved in this. Unlike Michelle, I was not always involved in social justice and I’m aware of things but I’ve never been an activist. And through the song I was able to get more plugged in to what’s going on in a musical artsy perspective.


"...it’s important to say black lives matter because our society shows us that our lives don’t matter."

Dereck: So I wanted to ask why is it necessary to state black lives matter.  Why do you believe black lives don’t matter?  Is it just a symptom of American culture or does this serve a function within America to keep us in a subordinate position in society. When people are saying that all lives matter now. 

Michelle: All lives matter. I try to hear people through that. It's been a systemic issue for ages. This is not anything new that is happening.  And it’s important to say black lives matter because our society shows us that our lives don’t matter and the lives of countless minorities poor people, lgbt folk, both who have been oppressed in our society. It’s obvious some people's lives are disposable, some people's lives are not worthy of press and media, when they are getting shot down in the street.   I believe it's systemic, it has to do with white supremacy that is deeply embedded in our culture. It happens that some people think it's appropriation and we’ve heard all these kind of conversations where we made progress and progress to a certain degree but the truth of the matter is, most have been able to assimilate but not all have and it’s important it say it and to not let it become a device issue.


"People need to come together. This is not a segregated movement and it doesn’t have to be a segregated movement."

Dereck:  How do you feel art and music is necessary and essential to create a consciousness to change our world?
Henry: Wow these are some big topics you guys are talking about. I don’t know if I should say something because I don’t want to go in the wrong direction but I’ll tell how I feel from my perspective. Well obviously, I’m not black. You can tell that right from the video.  Oh there’s this Asian guy right there and I think that’s important, that’s interesting because in the US a lot of times we think of this black and white thing. It’s always a binary of black and white or black brown and white, but what about us Asian people, meaning people like me what do we feel
about it and what are we doing about it. Ok. I might be generalizing I don’t feel the Asian voice has been very loud. There’s been an absence of an Asian-American response to these social issues and that’s where I’m coming from. Something like this affirms that yes I also care and yes we can come together and through the video you cannot just only hear the song but see the image and maybe that’s what people are gonna think. I haven’t really got any comments about why are you Asian and involved in the black lives movement but I take this as a very positive thing. I think It shows that we’re here together.  People need to come together. This is not a segregated movement and it doesn’t have to be a segregated movement. It can be a movement obviously talking about a specific issue but its very integrated in the kind of people and the kind of ways people are using to get involved. 

Michelle:  I think in terms of the role of art or creative types. Like when we sent out the video to our network of friends and family, we wrote a blurb on the role of the artist. I’m really a big lover of Nina Simone and Harry Bellefonte and listening to elders that are past gone, I scourer YouTube for interviews with elders like Betty Carter and people who were living around during a time when it wasn’t segregated but were involved in social justice or in the movement around civil rights. The artist is integral in shifting culture and you used to hear Harry Bellefonte organizing artists to have these rallies and freedom song gatherings. It was an integrated audience and there were people like Frank Sinatra at these gatherings. The role of the artist can break down what’s going on. It's not like they’re just having some intellectual conversation. You’re really taping into people's spirits, their interior and it's tapping into their emotion. The role of the artist
is to broaden the conversation and I believe that we are congruent in this movement. I believe that this is a movement that will reflect like there is a video of Nina Simone of YouTube and she talks about the artist is supposed to reflect the times and as far as she is concerned that’s the role. I think being involved and being empathetic is important because we’re human beings and our goal is to reflect what our society is going through and how we play into that.  I’m not saying every artist has to be out in the streets going to rallies but it’s important to have these conversations. 


"I think it’s important to understand our common struggle, that we’re all fighting a similar fight.

Dereck:  So do you guys have any last words
Michelle: Well, I have a diverse group of friends.  Not just to say I have white friends but I have a lot of friends in the Asian community where I live. I think it’s important to understand our common struggle, that we’re all fighting a similar fight. There is just an economic component where in some Asian communities have been able to set into economic stability and therefore have not had to be in close proximity to some of these struggles blacks. I believe there is a lot of commonality and we need solidarity. Black people need to organize and have an ethic of love and compassion for one another and love all each other. We’re beat down so much and solidarity with other communities of color and to have white allies (not to usurp the conversation but to listen and support) is important.

Dereck: Henry do you have any last words. 
Henry: What you guys are talking about is right up my alley.  When I went to UC Berkley I doubled majored in political economy and music. But eventually, I became more of a believer in music than the political economy. That’s just me but when you guys were talking about the macro and those institutional systematic things and that’s tough. Its tough, but the music can come together on the micro level and I believe people can come together and through that we can break down discrimination and have harmony and maybe that’s what way we can have his evolution.  One from the bottom up instead of the top down. 

Dereck: Wow well It was wonderful talking to you both and we’re on the lookout for great music.
Follow Michelle and Henry on Facebook to get even more familiar!

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::HEADPHONE JUNKIE:: HIATUS KAIYOTE "CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON"

Friday, May 8, 2015
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::HEADPHONE JUNKIE:: HIATUS KAIYOTE "CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON"
by Andrew Rodriguez




In a time where music is saturated with the tuning of corporate tyrants, willing to compromise creativity for capital, it’s difficult to find good music. Where we sacrifice content for sonic appeal, Hiatus Kaiyote marries the two in dynamic ways. Future Soul, the genre the band ascribes to, is a blend of vibrant dancing elements of percussion and melodic riffs. Australia’s own, this neo-soul band adds to the increasing movement of music that is without compromise appeal. Contemporaries such as Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Snarky Puppy, this group follows the tradition of creating music that is organic and true. Kaiyote’s sophomore album, "Choose YourWeapon" is a giant among its peers.


Riff with melodic tension, "Choose your Weapon" traverses the dynamics of love. Displaying an arsenal of polyrhythmic structures, atmospheric melodies, and powerful lyrics, the neo-soul quintet presents an innovative album.  Their weapon of choice is a sound that is ethereal with lyrics to match.  Each song taps into the soulful apparition of greats like Stevie Wonder, Cortex, and George Clinton. "Weapon" strays on the sonically abstract realm of soul music. Not afraid of challenging the conventions of soul, "Weapon" demands the listener to expand their palate of music. Utilizing traditional sounds from Soul, Psychedelic Funk, Electric Jazz and Afrofuturism; this album is borderline genre-less.  

The album opens up like a Sega Dreamcast with vibrant synths, melodic strings, a syncopated tune, giving it a rustic yet futuristic sound, as a robotic voice croons “Choose Your Weapon.”  As is common with  neo soul, Hiatus Kaiyote, displays a storm of melodies soothing to the ear. Songs such as “Shaolin Monk Motherfuck” surprise the listener with sudden transitions into groovy percussion lines and melodies, miles away from the original rhythm and sound, to then expand on the initial groove of the song. Each song seems to be reaching, searching for new ways to engage listeners. Deep within each song there is a dialogue concerning the divine nature of love and death. Abstract as the concept of love is, Kiayote creates a compelling narrative of love and non-traditional love like, boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy loses girl, then rinse, wash, repeat.

The love highlighted in this album's narrative is one that exists on a deeper level, like the love of human with nature, the love of learning to a student, the love of melodies to the ear. Nothing lies untouched by the far-reaching hand of love and the possibility it creates. The image of the phoenix is present throughout the album to show that life and love carry on to expand and grow. It is through love that one can evolve and assume their divine nature of being. It is that same love that is on display in all of Hiatus Kaiyote’s tracks. The imagery of the phoenix and its resilience is present as Nai sings “The phoenix she dies her wings burning/ she sinks from the sky to the earth returning but she will rise through ashes singing with new wisdom she flies." Death, in a sense, is a ritual for the phoenix.

It is not something to be feared, but something that must be in order to the cycle to be complete.  In these lyrics, the ceremony of death is not an end but a transition to new wisdom, new life. Life is progression, an entity that only through love can we reach higher consciousness. This natural process of life, death, serves as catalyst for evolution. The song “Jekyll” explores this with lyrics such as “We are all born to die/ Lease this here now sweet piece of mind awake this light/ always in flight.” This fact of life offers new perspective on what love truly is. Nai throughout the album describes love as a transformative energy that elevates the body, mind, and spirit. The album insights conversation on what we are truly engaging in as humans. 

Transcendence is a central theme within "Choose Your Weapon." Clocking in at 70 minutes the album pulls no punches when it comes to creativity. Dancing with ideas both lyrics and music immerse the listener in an enigmatic world. One listen doesn’t allow a complete appreciation of the gravity each song contains. Each song is weighty, layered, diverging from soulful grooves to impressive polyrhythmic sections such as “Atari.” Seamless transitions make for an elaborate perspective on the intention behind the lyrics. There is an intensity present that waxes and wanes to accompany the content of the lyrics. “Breathing Underwater” demonstrates the playful nature of the conversation between the music and the lyrics. The rhythm is pulsating along with the lyrics accompanying the idea of breathing underwater.

Kaiyote has mastered the art of passion in song. Each track demonstrates their willingness to strive toward the infinite possibilities of intimacy music offers. Kaiyote sifts through the chaos and makes good use of those possibilities, so good, listeners eagerly travel with them.

"Choose Your Weapon" is available now on iTunes and Amazon.










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