Season 4: Ep. 1 Re-membering Ourselves Home through Breath and Voice with Taína Asili
We explore the work of Taína Asili, her album Resiliencia, and the many voices that inspired her work in this album. As we explore notions of belonging, we explore Puerto Rican heritage, the alternative voice of punk culture, language of re-membering, and the work of dismantling frameworks of scarcity to find deeper forms of belonging to the land and each other. Exploring the work of Sophia Smart, Leah Penniman, Sonia Renae Taylor, and others, we look at the role of the arts and an expansive sense of self in reclaiming our "own divine enoughness" (Renae Taylor). Taína Asili is a Puerto Rican activist/musician who weaves a fusion of musical styles and roles the explore liberation themes from her work in racial, gender, and climate justice movements. Her newest album, Resiliencia and the accompanying documentary series is a profound exploration of the stories of women of color from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico about their stories of resilience.
Taína Asili is a New York-based Puerto Rican singer, filmmaker and activist carrying on the tradition of her ancestors, fusing past and present struggles into one soulful and defiant voice. Taína Asili confidently weaves a fusion of salsa, rock, reggae, cumbia, reggaeton, and hip hop – with multilingual songs that beat with the heart of social change. From Carnegie Hall to the ~[Women’s March on Washington](http://tainaasili.com/2017/01/27/womens-march-disruptj20/)~ Asili’s music spans continents, exudes strength of Spirit, and inspires audiences.
Asili’s newest album *~[Resiliencia](https://tainaasili.bandcamp.com/album/resiliencia)~* is inspired by interviews she conducted with women of color from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico about their stories of resilience. The accompanying documentary videos were selected at renowned film festivals and won “Best Documentary Short” at the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival* and “Best Documentary” At *The* *International Puerto Rican Heritage Film Festival* in New York.
Taína is dedicated to using her art for personal and social transformation. Liberation themes are based in her activism in racial, gender, and climate justice movements. She is founding board member and chair of the renowned food justice institute ~[Soul Fire Farm](http://soulfirefarm.com/)~. She co-founded the New York State Prisoner Justice Network, and worked with Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration. She has received numerous awards for her artivist work in areas of activism, LGBT advocacy, and human rights.
(1) Taina notes that in a context of difference met with curiosity and threat, that “music became my survival mechanism, music became my way of finding a sense of love and belonging.” When have expressive arts acted in your life as a means of survival, a place to find love and belonging?
Punk rock joins voices at the margins to question often hidden social constructs and normative power. How do we open space to interrupt the “usual” and question “what if and why”? What role do the arts play? How is this act vital to peacebuilding?
Taina notes that following her childhood she has sought to reclaim pieces of her Puerto Rican heritage. What pieces of your heritage did you reject as a youth, to return to them in adulthood?
What does it mean to belong to ancestors? How does living into the heritage and embrace of ancestors change our sense of belonging and being?
What does it mean to compost grief into hope? How might the metaphor of “composting” be powerful and helpful in peacebuilding work
Taina draws her story of infinite hope from a reflection on the same hope that was held by ancestors in the face of slavery, racism, and oppression. How might our historical imaginations of hope offer us power and resilience for uncertain futures?
How might the breath be a simultaneous act of resistance and self-love?
What does it mean to re-member ourselves home?
Contrast notions of colonial dependency with collective interdependence within frameworks for belonging. What differentiates dependency from interdependence?
What does the language of food apartheid mean? What does it mean to find belonging with our place, and the soil of our nourishment?
Sonya Renee Taylor notes that there is a level of “not enough” or “too much” sewn into our notions of bodily difference. What does it mean to embrace our own “divine enoughness absent any need for comparison”?
What does it mean to hold ourselves accountable to the work that we do?
How might we interrupt frameworks of scarcity to build new realities of generosity? How are notions of scarcity intertwined with in-group/out-group difference and the absence of communal belonging?
2:16 Formation in Binghamton
5:12 Music as Survival Mechanism
7:17 Punk Rock
8:30 Punk Rock Pedagogies
9:20 Return to Heritage
11:30 Belonging to Ancestors
15:18 Metaphors of Trees
16:54 Future / Infinite Hope
20:04 Breathing as Resistance
20:53 Puerto Rican Bomba
25:28 Yasmin Hernandez
27:34 Dependency and Interdependence
31:39 Interdependence of Care
32:53 Leah Penniman
35:53 Food Apartheid
36:57 Soul Fire Farm
39:08 Sophia Smart
41:27 Body is not an Apology
42:53 Sophia Smart
44:14 Three Teachings
46:55 Held Accountable
50:31 Future Work
Taína Asili's website: https://tainaasili.com/
Yasmin Hernandez Artist Statement: https://www.yasminhernandezart.com/artist-statement
Barbara Ransby Website: https://barbararansby.com/
Soul Fire Farm Website: https://www.soulfirefarm.org/
All Things Considered (2019). Puerto Rico's Historic Ceiba Tree Blooms After Hurricane Devastation. https://www.npr.org/2019/03/10/702077183/puerto-rico-s-historic-ceiba-tree-blooms-after-hurricane-devastation
Esteva, G., & Suri Prakash, M. (1998). Grassroots post-modernism: Remaking the soil of cultures. New York, NY: Zed Books.
Penniman, L. (2018). Farming while black: Soul Fire Farm’s practical guide to liberation on the land. Chelsea Green Publishing.
Schwartz, J. A., & Robertson, S. (2018). Laughing all the way to the stage: Pedagogies of comedic dissidence in punk and hip-hop. In G. D. Smith, M. Dines, & T. Parkinson (Eds.), Punk pedagogies: Music, culture and learning (pp. 128-143). Taylor & Francis.
Smith, G. D. (2018). ‘There’s only one way of life and that’s your own’. In G. D. Smith, M. Dines, & T. Parkinson (Eds.), Punk pedagogies: Music, culture and learning (pp. 191-209). Taylor & Francis.
Taylor, S. R. (2018). The body is not an apology: The power of radical self-love. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Plant the Seed, Taína Asili and Leah Penniman
Resiliencia, Taína Asili and Yasmin Hernandez
Beauty Manifested, Taína Asili and Sophia Smart
AsiliPodcast - 8_6_23, 2.51 PM
Sun, Aug 06, 2023 5:13PM • 53:32
people, reclaiming, ancestors, body, belonging, leah, speaking, puerto rico, writes, bomba, artists, manifested, music, soulfire, talk, puerto rican, sense, story, explore, community
Taina Asili, Kevin Shorner-Johnson
Taina Asili 00:00
What I was sent here to do, which is to use my voice to contribute to justice and healing on this planet, you know, in whatever ways that I can that my voice is powerful and I believe in the power of this gift. I believe that through this voice not only am I speaking but so many before me, that reside within me are speaking through me.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 00:24
You are listening to season four of the music and peacebuilding podcast, a podcast season focused on multifaceted textures of belonging. Our podcast explores intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination through research and story. tidiness. Silly is a New York based Puerto Rican singer, filmmaker and activist carrying on the tradition of her ancestors, fusing past and present struggles into one soulful and defiant voice. Tying a silly confidently weaves a fusion of salsa, rock, reggae Kumbaya, reggaeton, and hip hop, with multilingual songs that beat with the heart of social change. from Carnegie Hall to the Women's March on Washington, a sillies music spans continents, exude strength of spirit, and inspires audiences. A City's newest album, resiliency is inspired by interviews she conducted with women of color from the US, Canada and Puerto Rico about their stories of resilience. The accompanying documentary videos were selected at renowned film festivals and won Best Documentary Short at the Urban Media makers Film Festival and Best Documentary at the International Puerto Rican heritage Film Festival in New York. Tiana is dedicated to using her art for personal and social transformation. Liberation themes are based in her activism in racial, gender and climate justice movements. She is a founding board member and chair of the renowned Food Justice Initiative Soulfire farm, she co founded the New York state prisoner Justice Network and worked with Capitol area against mass incarceration.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 02:16
I was wondering if you could talk about your formation as a person and a musician through your high school experience, which has this rich narrative about belonging and uncertainty of belonging? Yeah.
Taina Asili 02:29
Yeah, you know, I always have to start with my parents, even though my story is my story. Like they really root my story. So my parents are Puerto Rican, both of them. They were born and raised in New York City, they dipped into Puerto Rico a little bit, but primarily in New York City. And they,
Taina Asili 02:26
Yeah. Yeah, you know, I always have to start with my parents, even though my story is my story. Like they really root my story. So my parents are Puerto Rican, both of them. They were born and raised in New York City, they dipped into Puerto Rico a little bit, but primarily in New York City. And they, both through affirmative action programs ended up landing in upstate New York to go to what's now Binghamton University or SUNY Binghamton. So, you know, they decided to stay in the area my father ended up working for, for the university, SUNY Binghamton for almost 30 years. My mother worked in a similar capacity as an advisor helping young people to get access to financial aid. And so they were both like really important people in our community. And they were also founders of the Latin American Student Union at Binghamton University. So, I say this to say that they were people who really believed in the power of reclaiming our culture, reclaiming our heritage, celebrating who we are as Puerto Ricans. And yet they wanted to kind of give us a different life from the life that they grew up in and, you know, low income communities in New York City, they wanted us to have access to nature and, you know, certain things that we got access to in upstate New York. But one of the challenges of growing up in that area is that we were only a handful of people of color in the area. I grew up in Binghamton, outside of Binghamton area called Endwell. And so there was a lot of division around race, division around class. Like I said, many people had never met a person of color before. So when I went to high school, or really when I went to elementary school, you know, it was I was seen as really different. And some of that difference was met with curiosity. And some of that difference was met with fear. And so my life was sort of navigating like this school environment, and then coming home to this really warm, vibrant, celebratory Puerto Rican household.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 04:45
As Taina reflected on being honored at her high school. She named how she struggled, survived and flourished. Using the language of composting. Taina reflect on how she used music to quote "compost and regrow from pain." How might the arts act as compost, bringing nutrients of decay to birth soil for change, and hope?
Taina Asili 05:12
I've recently went back to my town where I grew up, because my high school was honoring me as a graduate of distinction. And I was reflecting on that and reflecting on that as relationship as it relates to my career. So I'm gonna get there.
Taina Asili 05:29
But, as it turns out, music became my survival mechanism. music became my way of finding a sense of love and belonging, because, you know, I would sing, my, my parents were both musician, or my father was a musician. My mother was very creative. She was a dancer, and she loved to sing. But we joked with her that she wasn't always the best singer, but she loved to do it. You know, they raised me in like a musical and very culturally vibrant home. And so I had that tool of singing, to really connect me to myself and connect me to others. And of course, when I got on stage, when I was younger, doing plays, and musicals and things people would applaud, and I would feel a sense of, Oh, wow. So this is a moment where someone's actually celebrating me and my school community, and it felt really good. It didn't always last. So that was a challenge. You know, so my earlier years of sort of connecting with my voice and finding my voice, in, I started to lean into like musical theater and classical. I did classical voice, European classical voice all the way through, you know, graduating into college. But, you know, wasn't everything that I needed, particularly when I moved into high school.
Taina Asili 06:50
The racism, the sexism, the homophobia that I was having to encounter was so pervasive in amongst my peers, sometimes amongst some school staff, and just local community members, parents and whatnot, that I really needed to find an outlet, you know, and another place where I felt love and belonging.
Taina Asili 07:17
And so, what I found was punk rock, punk rock came to me, I think around, I don't know, 1516 years old. And it was this really awesome way to express the rage, the pain, the hurt that I had felt. And I also had found this really cool community of misfits, right all all of us that didn't fit in for whatever reason, finding a sense of love and belonging within each other. And as it turns out, I started to sing in a punk band, and that punk band ended up taking me all over the nation. So starting at like 1718, I was touring the US and it ended up getting really popular. So I started to that became exciting for two reasons. One again, that affirmation. That sense of my pain, someone else relates with my pain. Someone else feels a sense of empowerment with me sharing my story that was like those clicks happen there. But then also, just seeing the world outside of the small point of view of my small town in upstate New York, was just eye opening.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 08:30
Punk Rock may be finding belonging at the margins, when the normative center suppresses imaginations, Justices, and the fullest sense of self in punk rock pedagogies Gareth Dylan Smith writes to punk rock as an assertive search for a life well lived, that necessarily challenges norms, and pressures of hierarchy and domination.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 08:56
In that same book, shorts and Robertson note, punk satire and humor subvert hidden social constructs. Punk culture may teach us to look for and join voices at the margins of our tightly structured paragraphs interrupting flow with jarring line breaks that argue for what if, and why.
Taina Asili 09:20
I did that for eight years, and, and vendors, surely we moved to Philadelphia. And it was in Philly, where I started to really dive into my own songwriting process. I did spoken word for a while, and then that sort of bled into the transformation of what I do today. And some of that transformation happened when my parents passed away. So just kind of rethreading why they're so important to my story, because I had kind of put away that cultural heritage a little bit. You know, I had kind of found this other mechanism, but I also realized that that expression wasn't
Taina Asili 10:00
All that I needed any more either in this new phase of my life. So my parents passed away within a year and a half of each other. And it was this transformative moment where I wanted to just kind of reclaim all that they had given me. And all that I had received from my upbringing. And so it became this blend of rebellion. Through punk rock, I found my activism, my parents were also activists in their own way. So that activism, that rebellion, that cultural heritage, are Puerto Rican rhythms and flavors that are now woven into the music that I create today, as well as my classical training and other ways that I tapped into my voice throughout my journey. So going back to visiting my high school, I realized, you know, how much how much my upbringing there
Taina Asili 10:50
both hurt me and saved me, like just formed who I am, you know, and how music how big of a role music played. One of the blessings that I had was two things. One was some amazing music teachers, which is not always the case in public schools, right, I was really blessed to have a very rich and thriving arts program in my school, and also some amazing teachers that stood up for what was right and,
Taina Asili 11:21
and were able to see me, and let me know that I was seen.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 11:30
If there's a theme that I hear across many of the documentary videos that comes out, there's there's a theme about this notion of belonging to your ancestors, thinking back to ancestors and also thinking forward to future generations that that you seem to explore that artistically. And so your imagination as an artist, mother and advocate,
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 11:53
your infinite hope seems to offer energy and space for resistance to forces great and small. And I was just curious, if you were to curate a biography about how you came to that sense of infinite hope, as an artist, mother and advocate, how would you start that story?
Taina Asili 12:12
Well, I'm going to start it where I just finished it right now, which is that, you know, I had this moment in my life, where
Taina Asili 12:20
my parents not only had my parents passed away within a year Nauvoo each other, but I had become a single mom.
Taina Asili 12:28
At that time, my son was very young. And shortly after they passed away, I lost within a period of five years, almost all of my elders in my family, my grandparents, uncles, and here, I was feeling very alone with my young son, and trying to access
Taina Asili 12:52
something that could help me keep moving forward, you know, and I would wake up in the morning, and I had an altar that I had built. And I would just wake up in the morning, and at first I used to kind of pray for, you know,
Taina Asili 13:09
I don't know, I would pray for things and then eventually became, like, really tapping, it was my time that I tapped into speaking to my ancestors, and really feeling them feeling their presence with me realizing that they weren't, you know, it's one thing we think up sometimes about ancestors like really far back, but when you know them when you know, their personality you hear in your, in your head, how they talk, how they, how they maneuver, what they might want from you, it really just offered me this opportunity to really listen, you know, and I just remember thinking, you know, I'm ready to receive whatever you're, you're sending me like, I'm ready, I'm open. And so many profound blessings came into my life through that time of pain.
Taina Asili 14:00
My my partner in love and music, Gaetano, who, we've now composed so much music together and traveled the world together and made another child together, and, you know, has just been a huge blessing in my life.
Taina Asili 14:16
But also, you know, musically through that pain, I created my first album, war cry, and war cry I had written. I mean, literally during on the day of my father's funeral, I was writing war cry.
Taina Asili 14:33
I had written it during my time at Goddard college when I was studying transformative language arts as part of my master's degree. And
Taina Asili 14:43
I was studying dodges. So thinking about the ways that we use the language arts to honor ancestor, so each song on that album is a dirge. And so war cry was really about just processing that grief and trying
Taina Asili 15:00
To find my way of transforming it, composting it into hope. And so, you know, it was sort of happening in real time, right? Like, as I'm dealing with this pain, all these blessings, all this, like I was receiving, I was receiving so much
Taina Asili 15:18
fruit of Hope came after that. And that was really rooted in my children, you know, that was rooted fruit of hope that the song The title track of that album, is about my son and daughter is in and my ancestors, but really about them in the metaphors of these trees, the saber, which is this tree from Puerto Rico, that is this beautiful, strong, thick tree. That's that was the metaphor for my son, and the flembo yarn, which is this beautiful, flowery tree canopy like tree. That is the metaphor for my daughter.
Taina Asili 15:55
And so it was really thinking about, you know, the fact that
Taina Asili 16:01
I needed to,
Taina Asili 16:04
that what I was doing today wasn't really for myself, it was for them and the next generations to come. And my head, my ancestors, even though they had lived for a shorter period of time than I would have liked them to, had already planted so many powerful seeds within me to be able to pass on, and then we're continuing to share their knowledge and their wisdom and pass it on.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 16:28
And NPR story explored the resilience of the famous Laci Eva tree of via case, despite colonial legacies of Spanish Conquest, Navy bombing runs and the destruction of Hurricane Maria, this ancient ceiba tree returned to blooming delicate pink flowers amidst the sprawling strength of its roots, a living metaphor of resilience.
Taina Asili 16:54
You know, my son, we have a lot of deep conversations, he's now 20. And we have a lot of deep conversations about
Taina Asili 17:07
you know, some of the fears that, that he's that he's dealing with growing up as a young black man, growing up as a young black man in a world where our climate is under threat in such a severe way. Unlike many young people, he's dealing with many of those anxieties and concerns, legitimate concerns, you know, and he, he has asked me, you know, Mom, how do we,
Taina Asili 17:33
you know, what are we going to do? Like, what's the plan? Like, how do we, you know, how do we fix this? How do you know, like, how do you know what to do? And, you know, and the part that is difficult to hold, and I think it's difficult for all of us is that we don't have all the answers, right? We can't always see that, you know, we're, let's say we're at at letter C, right? We can't see X, or Y or Z, just yet, you know.
Taina Asili 18:05
And, and part of that infinite hope is trusting that by moving in the right direction, the answers will be uncovered, step by step. Right. And and how do I know that? Well, I know when I think back and again, to speak to the question that you asked about my ancestors. One of the things that I know is that my there was a time when my ancestors, our ancestors, my son, and I were enslaved, were
Taina Asili 18:36
were threatened by attempted genocide were colonized. And there was a time when
Taina Asili 18:44
I'm sure that my ancestors couldn't imagine the day that we're living in today. Right the day that the what we have access to today that the place that we are in today,
Taina Asili 18:58
they couldn't imagine me they couldn't imagine my son, right. But somehow, in some way they envisioned by a just surviving and for some, really resisting that. One day,
Taina Asili 19:14
the experience that they were living in would no longer be the case that we would, we would find liberation, we would find freedom, and they might not have seen all the steps to the point that we're living in today. But they they knew they held on to that infinite hope. And thus we are here, right? And so in my song and going back to that album, war cry, there's a song that I have called the rebellion, where it's like, my existence is rebellion. So the very fact each breath that I take and each breath that my son and daughter take is that infinite hope in its full fleshed out form. We are
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 20:04
I love that interview with Martha Redbone. And you're talking about existence as a form of resilience resistance, and then you turn it around to just breathing is an act of resistance. Yeah. There's a beautiful moment there and the interview. Yeah.
Taina Asili 20:21
And so much of singing is breath, you know, and it's like, it's really, so much of see, all of singing is really just like, you know, when I talk about tapping into my voice, it's also about tapping into the breath. It's just like, really being empowered in this breath. And it's, it's one of the things that I love the most about being able to sing. And it's so there's like a literal act of rebellion happening by just singing by just breathing. Yeah.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 20:54
I want to ask you about Lia, Sophia, smart. And I guess mean Hernandez in a second. But maybe before I get there, could I ask about Puerto Rican bomba? Because you seem to identify that and maybe that's a part of you reclaiming that Puerto Rican heritage. Yeah. But that bomba genre is such a is another beautiful expression of maybe infinite hope and resistance against all odds. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Can you talk about what this what this particular genre has meant for you? It's a genre that I've fallen in love with over the years. So I'm really interested to hear that from you. Well, so So bomba is a is a Puerto Rican folkloric art form that descends primarily from our African ancestors, really, from our African ancestors with some influence from orthogonal ancestors, but it is a way that we used the arts to reclaim our humanity in the face of inhumanity.
Taina Asili 21:52
Taina Asili 21:56
dance drum voice, other percussive instruments, and it's its roots come from various parts of our African heritage in some of it even in the language. So there's a lot of stories that are held experiences that are held in bomba
Taina Asili 22:17
and it's been passed down from generation to generation to generation lasting centuries and today which into today which is still like a miracle to me that that's possible. So how I found bomba was that my mother practice bomba and she had actually gone to my parents had gone to Puerto Rico to study bomba with a Mamba master teacher there and then come back and they started a group called Kim bomba so I had grown up with that and I have very distinct memories of my mom teaching me dance steps and you know dressing me and my in bomba outfits with my Bombus skirt and wrapping my hair and you know, just really again dis instilling in me that cultural pride and then you know, like many young people do we don't appreciate what our parents are offering us and giving us until later on in life and so I kind of though I held on to a pride of that wasn't something that I really practiced or really tapped into until the pandemic was really where I really dove back into bomba and I am still you know, as a baby in this art form very you know, I am certainly you know, a student so, you know, I'm a professional artists I always like to distinct you know, just to distinguish like, I am this little baby student in bomba but um, during the pandemic, my daughter and I started taking online bombed by classes, and I have continued to take bomba classes and with a group in Chicago called last Colita bomba Corazon. And it is such an honor and a privilege to be able to study with this woman even Ece, who just gives us all this powerful knowledge and history and really helps us to do what what you know what it was intended for, to remember to re member who we are as Africans as
Taina Asili 24:24
to be as humans and to really tap into this this beautiful ancestral gift that we've been given.
Taina Asili 24:31
So yeah, it's it's something that I carry with me even though it's not something I specifically fold into my music. The essence the teaching of it is certainly in their
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 24:44
language of re hyphen memory can signify a kind of embodied remembering, where we loosen our shoes to member ourselves to soils of ecology, connectedness and heritage.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 25:00
Penniman shares the story of one youth at Soulfire farm, whose feet re membered generational belonging, she writes, When he removed his shoes on the tour and let the mud reach his feet, the memory of his grandmother and the memory of the land literally traveled from the earth, through his souls and to his heart. He arrived home.
Taina Asili 25:27
One that I'll highlight in particular is yes, Munich none this who
Taina Asili 25:33
spoke to me about, we spoke a lot and still do speak a lot about the metaphor of bioluminescence. She's a painter, and a writer. And her
Taina Asili 25:46
journey has always been about exploring LIGHT in darkness, and there was such a literal moment. And in Puerto Rico at that time, right when I was there, where the electricity was not accessible. For many or most at that time, water was inaccessible food was inaccessible or difficult to come by medications. It was a very dire and difficult time. And she speaks about the ways that well, first, she always says, No, people would say that we don't have power. But we do have power. We might not have electricity or have light, but we have power. And she spoke about this bioluminescence, this this inner light that we could only see or they could only see when all the resources and tools had been taken away from them, or so they had been taught was that moment where they could see all of the resources and tools and wisdom that they have residing within them.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 26:44
In her paintings and mixed media renderings of bioluminescence historical figures emerge from dark canvases and floating dialogues of decolonial Reclamations of heritage. Hernandez writes. Reflecting on repatriation, I channeled the deep sea bioluminescence of the Puerto Rico trench with reverse painting, charcoal, crossers, and reverse in colors of light producing, emitting organisms sustainable and symbiotic.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 27:18
They're almost an earthly transparency, their darkness and simultaneous light mirrors the imposed invisibility and unblocking of our own bodies, under colonialism.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 27:34
I was interested in the video that you you did with her, she seems to talk about the difference between colonial dependency and interdependence. I think she has a story of people coming down the road after Hurricane Maria to start chopping up trees, and coming to a realization that we need to throw off our senses of colonial dependence because they are constraining senses of imagination and the fullness of creativity. Maybe I was wondering, like, could you talk more depth about what you learned from producing that piece of art and listening to the story of Yasmine? Yeah, and what she's communicating? Yeah. So yes, mean spoke a lot about decolonize as something holistic, you know, I think sometimes we think of it as something always in relationship to a government structure, right, for example. But what she was really sharing was this real, holistic understanding of of decolonization. decolonizing how we think, the decolonizing the ways that we interact with one another, and really thinking about,
Taina Asili 28:52
about our existence as inter Tibet interdependent, as you said, right, that we all
Taina Asili 28:57
we all need one another, what happens to one that affects us all right. She was saying that people are going to look to what's happening in Puerto Rico and people are going to learn from us. And it wasn't too long after hurricanes in my Marya happened, that the pandemic happened. And even before that, the earthquakes there was so we were I was in Puerto Rico with Yasmine actually when the earthquakes in the southern part of Puerto Rico began. And again, they had already set up all these ways to these resources to support one another. But moreover, when the pandemic happened, I was really thinking about what political and all that I had learned from the ways that they had organized to support one another during the times of the hurricanes and also during the times of the earthquakes, the ways that they would share resources, food, you know, really organized to
Taina Asili 30:00
To make sure that the elders and people who were most vulnerable at risk were taking care of, you know, people sharing, you know, repairing each other's homes, making sure that folks had access to food. Delsea spoke about being the communications director, they'll see as one of the other people I interviewed in the documentary of Louisa, so she would talk about, you know, just simply having access to a radio and making sure that everyone stayed informed about what was happening. So there was, you know, examples like this, and so many more that happened in Puerto Rico, that, and so much organizing, you know, and resistance, that resistance movements that really grew even deeper and stronger during that time period.
Taina Asili 30:52
So, going back to Yes, mean,
Taina Asili 30:55
you know, yes, mean really helped me to see
Taina Asili 31:01
that right, just thinking about
Taina Asili 31:04
this work that we have to do is not something that's just external, but internal, as well, right? And really, micro as well as macro, how do we interact with our neighbors? How do we interact with each other? How do we interact with ourselves, as well as the work that the larger more macro work that we're doing?
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 31:25
Taina sillies time in Puerto Rico, listening to Yasmine and others offered questions about notions of mutual interdependent care, routes, a sense of belonging to a web of relations.
Taina Asili 31:39
And I thought about that a lot during the pandemic, you know, when it was so easy to just stay isolated and alone in your house, you know, be protected, and not really thinking about, okay, but what about those workers on the front lines that continue to go to work, you know, to keep everyone safe to keep everyone going, you know, what about them? You know, do those lives matter? What about those who, who can't? Who have no one to look after them? What about our elders? What about, you know, people with disabilities who might not be able to access certain things? You know, how do we create that mutual aid that support to care for one another. And so, you know, that was something that I thought about a lot. And during the pandemic, I acted on a lot, whether it was, you know, at the very beginning when masks were difficult to come by sewing as many masks as we could to, to support and protect all of our health care workers in my community, that many of whom were our friends of mine, making sure that they had access to what they need, making sure that our you know, that that elders and other folks in our community were, you know, checking on them making sure that they were cared for.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 32:53
So then, if we want to go to interdependence, it seems logical to go to Leah Penniman
Taina Asili 32:59
doing a lot of work about belonging to the land and belonging to Lancet ancestors at the same time. And I was really interested in her dialogue about a false narrative of scarcity. Yeah. So would you talk about what you learned about listening to Leah's journey and kind of claim and realizing that through your artistic project? Yeah. You know, Leah, I've known for a long time. She, as I said, she's one of my best friends. I'm one of the founding board members of Soulfire farm. So I've seen, I've witnessed her journey throughout this time period, and I've had intimate access to see it from the board point of view. I am one of the members of the collective that stewards the land, you know, all these things. But there was something about just sitting with Leah, and understanding what it took to believe that all the tools and resources and wisdom were the that it was an abundance and available to her to be able to manifest this vision was something really transformative for me at that time in my career, you know, as as an artist that does work, focus on social justice, you know, we don't often have the same types of support, or carved out paths that other artists might have, right. In fact, many doors are often close to us, because our content is something that people aren't really interested in uplifting or supporting.
Taina Asili 34:35
That's shifted a bit in your in recent years, but it was certainly more deeply true at that time, that I had this conversation with Leah, and it was really, it's a real risk to take this step that I take as an artist to really be outspoken and speak about racial gender and climate justice and dedicate my art to that
Taina Asili 35:00
So what I learned from Leah was to trust in the abundance and the resources and the wisdom that I need to be able to manifest my own vision as an artist.
Taina Asili 35:12
And, you know, it's, it's constantly. It's constantly tested all the time, right? Like constantly I'm like, am I going to make it to that? Again, it's connected to that infinite hope to right but like am I going to sometimes the path forward isn't super clear. But by kind of trusting that that abundance and the resources, when I know that I'm on that right path, that that path is in alignment with my core values, with with my heart with my spirit, when I know that I'm in alignment, what I need will be given to me and, and I found that to be true so far.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 35:53
Estiva and Prakash explore the language of comida. To note that when we are interconnected with our food, ancestors and elders, our global mindsets of consumption, and, quote, economic scarcity are staved off
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 36:10
using language of food apartheid. Lia pediments book farming while black critiques racialized and class systems of inequitable nourishment.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 36:21
As she plants her feet in the soil of Soulfire farm, Leah describes being home, she writes,
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 36:30
I believe that the thing that makes you come alive is integral to your destiny, and will manifest if you put your prayers up, and your hands to work. Do not be intimidated by the entirety of the journey. Just take one step in the direction of your dream and let your ancestors help you with the rest. The land is calling you home, and we'll help you get back to her.
Taina Asili 36:58
It's been so beautiful and incredible to watch. Even from that point that I did that interview and that documentary, to watch Soulfire farm just really grow even more, you know, spread like mycelium across the nation across the world,
Taina Asili 37:17
really supporting new farmers bipoc farmers throughout the nation, to be able to have access to land to be able to have access to the knowledge to be able to grow food to be able to care for our health, our bodies, our children, our families, our communities. It's just really tremendous. And Soulfire farm was it was an essential component of our communities, access to resources for those communities who are most vulnerable to food apartheid, you know, that only worsened during the pandemic and Soulfire farm became an important resource and tool for those communities to have access to food. So, you know, continue to see and witness what Leah's vision has manifested into and I say, Leah's vision but I really, like I'm hearing, I'm hearing her in my heart and in my voice, like, this was the seed that Leah planted, but so many people, I mean, we have so many people at Soulfire farm who have manifested this and so many farmers and CO directors and board members, you know, so many staff that have manifested this with her with us. So it really
Taina Asili 38:34
glaces collective community story, boom.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 38:39
Yeah, I think I can hear the risk. Yeah, in her story when she left public school teaching, right. And what I understood is that she was just feeling drained by the institutional system of schooling and didn't know if she could step outside of it and do something even better. And it's really great to hear the collective story that comes out of that risk.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 39:07
I think my last question before I go to a close your questions about Sofia smart, she's talking also about ancestral power, but about the harm of body shaming and patriarchal and societal structures that tell us how we have to be.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 39:23
I love some records about having a right to exist just as you are in the vulnerability of navigating personal truth. Tell us more about what you learned and explore from that piece of art. Yeah, and that story. So Sophia
Taina Asili 39:38
was a local activist in our community. She since moved to a new community, but she's still a part of my community and my heart. She shared with me, her story of reclaiming, maintaining and reclaiming the love of her body.
Taina Asili 39:58
And that was some
Taina Asili 40:00
One thing that was so important to me because it's something that I've also had to do, you know, throughout my life, and I'm sure many people can relate to this. And I had actually explored that in my earlier years of art as in my punk band, I had explored that artistically. But through Sofia's interview, I was able to explore that and, and it really planted a seed within myself to reclaim that for myself. So the song that was born from that conversation was called Beauty manifested.
Taina Asili 40:34
And if you listen to the song, and many of the songs in residency, there's actual quotes that are woven in into the lyrics, which I think one of them, one of the ones you just read was, there's a piece of that woven into lyrics. So that song beauty manifested. Beauty manifested, is really like a mantra for me, because it's something that, you know, I'm constantly having to combat being told that my body is not enough, right that that my body is, is not enough, it is not valued, you know, and we have a hierarchy in our world of in our, in our country, in our communities in a world of what bodies are valued, and what bodies are not valued. There's a hierarchy. And Sonya, Renee Taylor speaks about that really powerfully in the body is not an apology.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 41:27
Taking tie in as recommendation, I was deeply moved by Sonia Rene Taylor's book, the body is not an apology, she writes, living in a female body, a black body, an aging body, a fat body, a body with mental illness is to awaken daily to a planet that expects a certain set of apologies to already live on our tongues.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 41:53
There is a level of not enough or too much sewn into these strands of difference.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 42:02
The notion that some bodies take up too much space comes from a framework of scarcity that allows some bodies to inhabit entire skyscrapers, while others are removed from the edges of sidewalks.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 42:16
Transformation and a sense of being at home comes from within, she writes, I want you to know that this system is destructible. And the fastest way to obliterate its control over us is to do the scary work of tearing down those pillars of hierarchy inside ourselves.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 42:38
At the same time, we must trust that what will be left standing is our own divine enoughness. Absent of any need for comparison.
Taina Asili 42:51
Sofia had some shame, but there was about her body. But also there was a sense of, I think, in her teenage years she'd like shifted that which was just so powerful to me and helping other people in her family to it really setting that boundary, like I'm no longer going to participate in the shaming of ourselves and of our bodies. And that really resonated with me too. My mom really struggled with shame of her body, and me pushing back against that, but also internalizing that. And you know, again, it's not really my mom's fault, it's our world's fault. But
Taina Asili 43:31
that had been passed on from generation to generation to generation to devalue to to participate in denigrating our bodies, ourselves. And so, Sophia song continues to be being manifested continues to be that mantra that that reminder of, really, at its core is self love. And it's important for me to continue to sing that to myself, because it's something that constantly still even as this like, you know,
Taina Asili 44:03
feminist activist, I still have to it's a practice, you know, it's a practice and I'm always working on deepening that practice, Sofia's work was a gift.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 44:15
To close, I thought it was only fair if I asked you the question that you ask all of your podcast guests. So So tell me three teachings you've learned as an artist because I I love the responses, but I feel like it's unfair that nobody's asked.
Taina Asili 44:30
It's so true. And you know what, every time I asked my podcast guests that question, they go, I usually edit it out. They're like, Oh, I don't know. I don't know what to say.
Taina Asili 44:42
So, you know, I'm feeling that but I I'm actually going to dip into thinking about some of the offerings that they've given me that have resonated with me. One of the things that's almost always a part of their answers and I would say rings really true for me is
Taina Asili 45:00
That leaning into the support of other artists, other radical artists. And so, you know, one of the things that that I've learned, you know, I mentioned before that this path that I do of performing, speaking, workshopping on music and social change isn't one that's that was carved out for me perfectly right? There are some people who paved the way a little bit. But you know, there's also lots of people who, who muddle that path that they've carved, you know, that I have to continue to push forward on. But I'm not alone. You know, there are so many other artists like me who are doing this work and when we lean into each other for support for exchanging resources and knowledge and wisdom, that's really where I've been able to find my most
Taina Asili 45:56
where I've really been able to succeed and been able to move forward. So one person that comes to mind that is really that I always have to shout out that who I love so much admire so much. Is Toshi Reagon Toshi Reagon is singer, musician,
Taina Asili 46:13
songwriter who has really been a huge influence in my life and has offered me so many opportunities and continues to be a teacher for me. Another dear friend, Evan Greer, who is She's a punk folk musician out of Boston, we do a lot of I call her my co conspirator sister because we do a lot of exchanging, you know, she'll help me with publicity. And I'll help her with producing and we'll share exchange, you know, resources and contacts and, and lots of shows that we've done together over the years. So there's that that's a big piece.
Taina Asili 46:54
Recently, I'm really exploring what it means to be accountable to myself,
Taina Asili 47:04
my community, and the movements that I'm a part of, for social justice for climate justice, what does it mean to be accountable to them in my art,
Taina Asili 47:17
and I've had the blessing to be able to work with some amazing nonprofits and social justice groups like 1 Billion Rising, which is a national organization that works to end gender based violence, co founded by V or formerly known as Eve Ensler. I've had the opportunity more recently to work with the social justice portal project out of the University of Illinois at Chicago, working with Dr. Barbara, Rennes, B and so many others, that are part of this collaborative think tank of artists, activists and academics, to grapple with some of these important issues. And I worked with them to create some music and videos for them, are with them. And you know, Barbara, Dr. Barber, NSB, really was the one who really got me thinking about that piece of accountability and how artists can be accountable. And so, you know, working and listening, right, working with being a part of these movements, and then also just listening. So a lot of my work has been interviewing people recently, you know, whether it was interviewing those people in our students, yeah, or interviewing people in those organizations that I just mentioned. Sometimes it's just interviewing elders in my community, you know about a topic. So recently, I, we, just this past weekend, we celebrated the 80th birthday of my dear friend, Naomi Jaffe, who is a longtime elder activist in our community, anti racist activist, and I've often interviewed her just calling her up Can we talk about abolition, you know, what does it mean to you? What what what are the themes that I should be sharing that are going to help to support our movements? What ways can I share this song that's going to help to support our movements? So things like that, you know, and then also accountability myself deep listening within myself, you know, and that's look like meditation that's look like self reflection, writing vocalizing even without lyrics, I do a lot of that just vocalizing listening to my voice and listening to the space and the sounds and what needs to be in there. I know I'm giving you a long answer but
Taina Asili 49:28
the truth. So too, that's been a big piece
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 49:33
tying and reflected on the power of embodied and rooted voice,
Taina Asili 49:39
really believing in
Taina Asili 49:42
what I feel I was sent here to do you know, what I was sent here to do, which is to use my voice to contribute to justice and healing on this planet, you know, in whatever ways that I can that my voice is powerful and I believe that
Taina Asili 50:00
The power of my, of this gift. I believe that through this voice, not only in my speaking but so many, so many before me, that reside within me are speaking through me. And so you know, just really trusting in this gift and trusting that what I need to,
Taina Asili 50:23
to share it will come like today
Taina Asili 50:31
Thank you. Is there anything that I didn't ask you that I that you wish I would have asked you. I usually you asked me so I can't believe how far we've gone and how many places in corners, we've turned on this in this interview?
Taina Asili 50:44
You know, moving forward, you know, just thinking about the work that I'm doing ahead. Sometimes I like to talk about that, you know, I am really excited to be working on a new project. I'm not going to name the project quite yet publicly. But I do have a new
Taina Asili 51:02
one hour long presentation that is a performance that I'm putting together that's going to incorporate dance and projection, art and all kinds of, of new elements, new
Taina Asili 51:17
artistic elements. So I'm really excited about that. I see that on the horizon. And that's going to have a strong theme of climate justice in it. So I hope to be able to take a deep dive there and share that with the world. So look out for it.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 51:36
May we find our sense of enoughness re memering feet to soil held by ancestors interrupting scarcity with repatriations of breath
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 51:50
composting what is to infinite hope where every body is home
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 52:04
Special thanks to tying a silly for her time and thoughts. I highly recommend her podcast her album resilience sia and the accompanying video series that can be found on YouTube. Her website is Tiana a silly.com and can be found in our show notes. On September 11 of 2023. At 7:30pm Tiana silly will perform a free concert of her music at Elizabethtown colleges LeFleur chapel.
Kevin Shorner-Johnson 52:33
I also highly recommend books cited in this podcast in farming. Windblock Leah Penniman has written an incredibly insightful resource on ancestors, anti racist work, reclaiming relations with land and the biology of cultivating soil. Sonia Rene Taylor's book is also a beautiful guide to caring for the self while dismantling systems of not enoughness. This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown college we host a Master of Music Education, with an emphasis in peacebuilding. thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music peace building.com