After an unexpected performance during a RAC Mutual Aid Food Program sharing Sunday in LA, Shining Soul is heading further south in Tongva Territory with ALAS and Zro Prophet for Monday’s performance in UC Santa Barbara. [Read more about the food program here and details about tonight’s performance here.]
While the four artists were in Oakland, Shining Soul sat down with us and talked about intentions of their music and the West Coast tour, struggles in their communities, and building a culture of resistance. (Scroll below the video for the interview.)
[Barely edited transcription:]
BAI: Thanks for taking time. I guess let’s start off with who you are.
Franco Habre: Hello, my name is Franco Habre, aka the Bronze Candidate, one half of Shining Soul. An MC slash beatmaker.
Alex Soto: My name is Alex Soto, aka MC Liasion, one half of Shining Soul. I MC in the crew. Originally I’m from the Tohono O’odham Nation from the Community of Sells but currently based out of Phoenix, Arizona.
BAI: How would you introduce your music?
F: Basically, it’s two cats from the hood in Phoenix, Arizona: one Chicano, one O’odham, indigenous. We’re individuals that took on hip hop as their form of expression. It’s dope beats, dope rhymes in the spirit of De La Soul and Public Enemy. It’s kind of the flavor we got.
A: Or to be summed up, we’re putting the rap game on smash while smashing the state. A lot of our music is in that sprit of hip hop. The hip hop we grew up on, as is mentioned, De La and Tribe, you know, hip hop throughout the 80s and 90s. They all promoted a positive message. But in our case, we’re not from those areas. We’re from where we’re at and in this case, as brown and red, we express the same spriit of that, with that fierceness of Public Enemy and with the cultural pride of anyone from the native tongues, like Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul, but in a way that addresses what’s happening, all while keeping our music, as far as on par or dope beats and dope rhymes. It’s one thing to have a message–another thing not to have the skills to match that message. We feel our music embodies that and of course we’re still growing and still learning. In the process of creating music to build on that, we’ve got to have that foundation, that cultural foundation of who we are and represent. In some ways we’re messengers for our communities, even though I don’t like to be a name and be at the forefront, that’s just how shit goes when you rap. But that’s, then again, an MC.
BAI: How do you stay humble wihen you’re in the spotlight all the time?
F: Hmm. That’s a good question. I’m naturally an introvert, so when I get on stage, it’s like I’m performing this other side of me. I’d say I’m naturally that way. But I take people’s praise, their criticsm and use it to outdo myself creatively for the next song, the next project, the next beat. Obviously, at the end of the day, it’s for the people. That’s who we’re trying to outreach to. That’s who we’re trying to connect wtih. That’s who we kind of have an affinity or kind of groom to these messages or overall hip hop heads. So they’re the greatest determination of whether Shining Soul is still relevant and how we can adapt to what’s happening and the people’s response to our music. And also, we can be aware of what’s happening on a political level; to realize, being from the quote unquote ground zero with a lot of this, these colonial projects via racist laws or projects that are about to develop indigenous lands just to create these different places. So it’s a matter of listening and talking less, hopefully, more listening being that we do rap. So that’s the best thing: listen to the people and stay relevant and still stay real.
A: I’d say, how I see my role as far as rapping, relates to a cultural context of staying humble with my roots. You know what we’re doing is storytelling, sharing. And in this case it’s rapping. It’s one thing to just disregard who you’re sharing to. If you’re just sharing to the hip hop scene or some label just to come up without staying real to where you’re from and your connection, that’s where it becomes where you’re not humble. Because you’re just making it about me, as if there’s no context of the struggle or context of keeping it real, because there’s a history of hip hop being inherently rebel music. It’s to share that message. So when it relates to the limelight or the phrase or whatever you want to call it, the props that we get, you know, it’s just a matter of what does that look like. In some cases it looks like, yeah getting on dope shows and rocking it. But in that regard, we’re not going to disregard our message. Of course we have to make it a little more creative to sell it to a typical mainstream apolitical scenester hip hop kid, but at the same time, opportunities come because of our music. A couple examples: I was recently hit up by Democracy Now and Al Jazeera. That involved my half of the group, as an indigenous person, as an O’odham from my community, in the face of border militarization, in the face of sacred site struggles, in the face of massive development of our lands. These opportunities came, mostly because people know me as Shining Soul and what we’re about and what we’re doing. I could have easily made it about me and say, hey, it’s the struggle of how I see it. But in that case, I extended the invite to my community where it became more than just me and I feel, and it relates to our message, that’s how it compliments each other, where the community–my friends on the reservation–now had opportunities to build on these opportunities that came to me. And to me, that’s how I feel our music can complement and really be effective in our struggle is to use what limelight, the fame, whatever you want to call it, to help what needs to be done where I’m from. Cuz where I’m from, the narrative of the borderland never includes indigenous people. It never includes the Tohono O’odham, Apache, the Kickapoos, Yaquis, all these various tribes on the southern border. So in a lot of ways, what we’re doing is bringing that light. And that’s just my half of this group, cuz that’s where I’m from. But I guess the role of Shining Soul is to make all that sexy, so people can give a fuck and that’s how I, I don’t see how that’s being in a conversation of being humble. That’s just sharing what’s coming our way. It’s one thing though, you know, five years from now, we’re writing this shit and we’re not even in our communities. But that’s where my intentions are. That’s where my heart is and that’s how our music can be effective. I won’t be humble if it’s gonna get shit done.
BAI: What is going on in your communities? Do you want to talk about that?
F: I think personally, it’s trying to raise awareness around those who are brown people of my background. I would say the majority of those living in the inner city- those being Chicano, third generation–kind of challenging what comes from being here, having a presence so long. In Occupy Arizona, Occupy the O’odham Territories, through my music mainly, cuz you know I could write a zine about it, trying to write more and be more critical but also bring the message through hip hop. But it’s a matter of he was saying, you know how what are ways we are being as a community, as brown people being complicit in what’s happening to first generation folks and non-status people, indigenous people from the global south coming to the belly of the beast here. What are ways we can connect and not exclude them? Because obviously we’ve internalized a lot of the oppression that’s been existing for centuries, so it becomes this dog-eat-dogism that’s pervasive in the inner city and isn’t really talked about. So I think there’s a nexus of struggle. We’re all brown. We all come from a lineage of migration. It’s just a matter of folks are coming now, probably for different reasons. And the threat is more serious in a lot of ways and it could be different in a lot of ways. But personally, that’s my energy going toward that. So if I could bring that message and talk about how we as brown people are indigenous as well, and start to have those conversations via the music or just one-on-one at a show, pulling folks to the side. So that’s kind of my, I don’t know if it’s a particular role but, I see that specifically there. I’m not involved in a particular group at all, in any way other than Shining Soul working through affinity with various people and groups. So be it from a migrant community, indigenous community as well. So that’s where the music has its role and my roll as kind of challenging what’s not being talked about and how we can cross pollinate the struggles coming from Chicano liberation, which is, in turn, how can we connect that with the other struggles and exposing what that is to be indigenous on indigenous lands. Also exposing what’s coming with current policies that are being supported by these brown organizations, NGOs, non-profits, where the deception around immigration reform is happening and where you can kind of see where brown people are stepping up and saying yeah, we need to support our indigenous brothers and sister migrants, but it’s in the form of reform which is very perplexed–
BAI: Requiring people to join the military and shit.
F: Yeah, they’re problematic. And a lot of these quote unquote solutions are not people solutions. Speaking from privilige as a status person–it’s very blatant how these things are coming about, be it the DREAM Act, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) or just overall comprehensive immigration reform. Everything is proposed by white elites, West Point Officials. This is all about creating a brown draft into the military, pitting our communities against each other for crumbs. Basically the migrant rights struggle is being militarized itself. We can talk about the border, but it’s also the movement itself is being that, being that they are promoting the DREAM Act and these other forms of relief that are being sold to them as compromises. But at the end of the day, it’s all about enforcement and the continued harm of migrants, deportations, extractions from your community in violent ways. So that’s to make a long story long, that’s how I see myself and where music can come in and intervene and talk about these things and still be relevant and funky and not be dogmatic, be sensitive about other people’s struggles and you know, just try to push the narrative forward about how we can all get free.
A: Well, in my community, the Tohono O’odham Nation–literally our lines have been divided since 1848 by its colonial border–the so-called US Mexican border. In 1848, the Tready of Hidalgo was situated, not where the current border’s at but north of there, a little south of Phoenix in another O’odham Community, the Akimel O’odham, which is now the Gila River Indian Community. Then in 1852, the current border was established with the Gadsden Purchase which, there was no O’odham or indigenous people across the border were ever consulted and only until the 80s and 90s has this directly impacted our traditional way of life. Starting in 1992, with the Southwest Border Strategy, it was pretty blatant with the state, regarding their efforts to–of course with migration picking up and all the various global factors that caused people to migrate, indigenous territories along the border which are deemed upon as a rural or hot in extreme places, across, became the major corridors for migration, due to the level enforcement of Nogales and San Diego and El Paso, started to have. And that was just the strategy from the state, which was oh, we’ll just make people walk through these rural barren areas, but in my people’s case, 70, 80 miles, that is into the Tohono O’odham Nation, which is the reservation on this side in the US, so since that time period, my community’s been going through this militarization of our land, due to this state created problem. And I say problem not because the people who are crossing, but the problem that the state has made other indigenous people, from the south, cross into these fucked up barren areas to now where our community is facing the effects of NAFTA. Because since 1994, which is really when migration has picked up from my community. It’s not a coincidence that NAFTA was passed in 1994. That’s throughout the 90s, early 2000s, you know my community became more of a testing ground for what’s happening now in Arizona with racist laws such as SB1070 and the militarization of our communities, due to the fact that our community has three major roads off the rez, which all have checkpoints. Now we have drones in the air. We don’t have a border wall, necessarily. We have vehicle barriers that are on the line itself. So all these impacts have affected our way of life as O’odham. Cuz to clarify, the O’odham people, Tohono O’odham translates to desert people. But the O’odham ancestral land from the Phoenix area all the way to Hermosillo, all the way to Rocky Point, and within that, there’s various O’odham in there. I’m a desert person. You go to Phoenix, ever fly in, that’s Akimel O’odham Territory. Their river people. By Rocky Point, that’s the Hia’ched O’odham. That’s a sand people. So that’s been our land since time immemorial and before that Huhugham, the ones that came before us is where our land’s at. So we have various spaces of sacred sites. We have gatherings, family on both sides. Only since this militarization have our people been impacted because all these things are inherently scaring our people to uphold our inherent rights to be who we are as O’odham or on the other hand are being caught up in the development, in the dsecrattion that’s happened along the border territory. So a lot of the work that I’m involved in in my community on the US side is to confront and be able to challenge this patrolling that’s happening. I’m part of a group called Tohono O’odham Hemajkan Rights Network (THORN), cuz a lot of shit we’re doing is a thorn in the movement for the fact that indigenous people are sharing our stories and we’re doing Know Your Rights trainings across the reservation, informing the community of one, what are your rights? Because what’s happening is border patrol is not even following their own laws, their own rules. They’re blatantly profiling, holding communities at checkpoints for hours when it’s like a hundred degrees, elders being harassed, items being desecrated, being like medicines and staffs and so on. So all these things, sadly are a fucking everyday occurence in a lot of regards. Keep in mind how it is on the reservation. Tuscon is about 50 minutes away, so a lot of people go to town for work or school or just to get food. Basically, daily, every day things that people do anywhere. But the only difference is we have to go through checkpoints. And that’s for all the major roads. So what’s happening in my community is that we’re making efforts to address that, but not address it as a spectacle of, Oh we need to know our rights. We’re also providing the information as history, that I shared briefly right now of how the fuck did we get here. And you know, it’s not just this one law. It’s not just this one current president or whatever. It’s a symptom starting from 1848 all the way to all these strategies that the state tries to put in to essentially colonize the land while at the same time fucking over other people that have been forced to be removed and displaced from their lands in the quote unquote global south. So, there’s a lot that as a community we’re trying to, not figure out but, this is a lot. And native communities overall have to go through the decolonization process. In our case, we have to go through with the foot of DHS above our heads and border patrol, and even our tribal government because they’re not inherently doing shit to help the people. I mean, it’s the tribal governments, puppet governent. And their only accountability is to get the federal funds. So as an O’odham, traditionally speaking, this inherently destroys our way of life. And a lot of the organizing I’m involved with includes our ellders and a movement of young people who understands these things and want to keep that alive. I’m 28 years old and I’m probably like the last generation to see the border when there was no vehicle barrier there, when it was not a fucking issue, because I was 5, 6 years old going to these areas now that I’m talking about. There’s nothing there other than chicken wire fence. People come up and trade blankets and food and so on. So now, here we are seeing vehicle barriers. And now with this push for comprehensive immigration reform, it’s gonna quadruple the militarization. So these are realities that indigenous people always face these struggles that we’re in a position to play oppression olympics, but we’re point zero zero one of the population. So on the outside, we just hope folk can remember we’re still here and understand you’re still on occupied territory. And in Arizona, as we mentioned eariler–my group mate here, is what does that look like for other folk? And this is just this one struggle. We’re not even talking about the proposed Loop 202 struggle in the Phoenix area that would desecrate a sacred site to O’odham. And also additionally, it’s part of the Canamex, which is the NAFTA project. So these things all connect our struggles and it’s, where I’m from, I try my best to focus myself in my community, but in terms of hip hop, it give me a voice on the outside to inform people and that’s why we’re here today in this interview to share. But at times it can be disheartening when the outside that doesn’t get it. We have too much to worry about in our communities to always baby folk, but at the same time we’re here to share. We want to share. It’s just a lot. It’s fucking a lot in Arizona.
BAI: So then, what do you hope can come out of this tour?
F: It was about making connections with other indigenous folks, meeting occupied Klanada, other communities here in the United Snakes. So basically, this is a learning opportunity for me specifically, I’m an indigenous person from the south. from the global south in quote unquote Mexico. The person trying to find their roots still, and in a large part it’s been through hip hop and with the nexus of warrior and hip hop tour. Its like what is this about? Communities are saying and what tools they’re using to survive and maintain their own culture via hip hop. Hip hop is everywhere these days and a lot of it is being held up to its true roots. Its not like the stuff you see or hear, you know the pervasion of it. So yeah, that was the purpose of being on this tour–being with other communities and see what their struggles are about and talk to them about what it looks like and feels like in Arizona and Phoenix. And hopefully, maybe bring them out to where we are, or have them proliferate what’s here, vice versa, and get their message out as well. So yeah, basically, it’s just been a learning experience getting into different communities, seeing the rest of these undeveloped, beautiful lands that are being protected through people’s practicing culture and also through confrontation when needs be, when people’s lives are being threatened, when Mother Earth is being threatened.
A: Overall, empowerment. I missed the first couple dates, had one show up in the reserves, but been on since then. Of course, we were gonna wish for the best. In the native communities, at least, the people are already there. That empowerment at times, that little push comes from music, comes through other people doing the same thing. You don’t feel alone. And overall, we hope that there ultimately its action–and that’s best decided by whatever is happening in those areas. So the fact that we’re spreading this message all the way up from occupied territories, so called Canada down to my territory, the Tohono O’odham nation. I always hope in those territories to reconnect with the youth in those communities, reconnected with young people is to show for one, there’s a lot we need to do that’s gonna have to go down in our communities in the future, the way the state is pushing against who we are as people. And two, more on a personal level, to show and to share the energy that you can do it too. There are a lot of inspiring MCs we met on the road, aspiring heads that can do what we’re doing right now. And like, what we’re doing right now, the way I see it, in my music–I don’t really put this out there out there, you know the spiritual level, this is a prayer. And like we’re where it is an end in this case, for music, that’s the energy we’re trying to share. And we’re all for diversity of tactics, whatever the hell that looks like. In those communities, native communities, like in Hoopa or all the shows we had in Canada and the show’s gonna end in the Tohono O’odham nation and its very powerful. Also, there’s the logistics of okay, how can this help struggles on the ground. For example, when we get to my territory, we’re gonna have a panel on border issues and we’re gonna, hopefully if our shit gets together, we’re gonna air a new music video that’s about the issues and how music can be an effective tool in our communities as part of a broader strategy. And as far as music, I’m not gonna romanticize it and say this is a revolutionary way to “escalate it” or whatever. This is part of that empowerment. In one of our songs we say, “saying the shit that you can’t say.” That’s what hip hop does, when maybe you can’t say it in an academic setting. You can’t say it in an activist space. You can’t even say it amongst your own people. You’re not really scared, but more or less it’s new. And with this tour, I hope it shows that you can do it to attitude and it relates to the non-native communities, such as we played in Vancouver, we played in Seattle and we’re gonna play here. Not to say there are no natives in the Bay. More or less, the shows that have a greater percentage of, I guess white folk to sum it up. What we’re doing is in the spirit of our ancestors and the spirit of that resistance so personally speaking, be it I liive in the city as well and I know my roots and my community, as an O’odham, we’re very helpful people. We’re very generous. We’re a peaceful people at the end of the day. So what relates to the outside, I hope you carry an open mind and an open hear and I hope you understand the context of these struggles. We can all have a Tibet syndrome and want to help far far away, but I would say you need to start where you’re at and articulate what you’re doing as it relates to someone else’s land. Because, as I understand, this is Ohlone Land and I know there are a diversity of other tribes in this region if you can’t support where you’re at, then what’s the point. Especially if you call yourself a radical or an anarchist or whatever you identify as. Beacuse you’re supposed to get this. The leftists–we know they’re fucking loss. The Democratic Party and of course the Right Wing. We would pray that they would get it, but they fucking don’t. So I would say for everybody else who puts themselves out there, if you can’t even read a zine or do some research in the spiritt of intellectualism or whatever, then what’s the point. Because if you can’t do that, we’re really fucked. But at the end of the day, indigenous people are going to be there. At the end of the day, if you decide to transplant some other activist scene or community across the country, well, we’re still here. So in the time that you are here, or if you consider this area home, you need to check that settler priviliege and start and articulate where you’re at. Because if you’re unable to, you’re going to perpetuating colonization. That’s neo-colonization.
BAI: ..and maybe you should leave…
A: And inherently, yes you should leave. And as I mentioned, I’m a very nice person. And at this point, it’s 11AM in the morning. Ultimately, I hope this tour provokes, pushes people to step out of their safe spaces and become more of a threatening force against these colonial systems and essentially be accomplices for indigenous people. We don’t need allies, we need accomplices. And that’s just how I see it, due to past experiences in Arizona. But we have plenty of literature you can cop at the show if you can come out.
F: Check for Shining Soul. Hopefully, we’ll be on tour soon with some new material. We have a blogspot: check shiningsoul-music.blogspot.com. Our music is up for pay what you want on BandCamp, so help us out. It goes a long way.
A: We’re on tour. Give us money.
F: Yes, potentially it’s free. So if you download it for free, you know what I’m sayin, spread it. It always goes a long way. We appreciate it. Thank you.