Lines- Music Inspired by Migration and Denizen
I am packing up my clothes, getting my gear together for the People of Faith Root Causes Delegation to Central America. I got the music going, but its not a random playlist; its a collaboration with DJ Shammy Dee I recently initiated after attending Union Theological Seminary’s Millennial Leaders Program in New York City.
Long ago a UCSD college friend of mine, Anby, swore by the fact that there is always a soundtrack to our major life events, we just need to tune into the music. I, for one, am the sort that just puts my iPod on random play. Random is easy; random doesn’t take effort; random means being passive about what inputs are coming into my life- here that particular input is music. But my trip to Central America is part of a Pilgrimage, a journey that is intentional in every aspect and far from a vacation, so random and passive does not make the cut.
Being intentional, I decided to curate a mixtape on the topics of migration and what I could imagine being an undocumented migrant (denizen) in the USA means. This part- thematic music selection – was inspired by another friend Taz and Misthi Music.
I got flummoxed really quick, I not only didn’t have a musical ear but I also lacked the music knowledge to truly pick songs with meaning; so I reached out to another college buddy, the talented and creative DJ Shammy Dee (here) for help. We ended up collaborating on Lines: Music Inspired by Migration and Denizens which is a collection of old school hip hop, rap, #BlackLivesMatters poets, fusion tracks along with Spanish and R&B numbers. Each song was an intentional addition reflecting the politics, peoples, lives and circumstances that frame migration and the life of a denizen.
The Mixtape rolls out in three Acts-
- The reality of a the Migrant/Denizen life from dreams to living between places;
- The Denizens life under the shadow of a coercive government, neighbors that demonize, and a broken policy system;
- Hope, where do we go from here without finding the silver lining, so we end here.
Listen from the link below and read some of our thoughts on it directly on DJ Shammy Dee’s Mixtape cloud here (link), also sign up for his monthly mixtape (Link here). Listen to the mixtape here, and warning there is explicit language in some of the tracks.
— Act 1–
- Dirt and Blood – Antibalas – with Spoken Word piece done by Frank Lopez of the Peace Poets
- One Day – UGK
- The Show Goes On – Lupe Fiasco
- Ilegal en Estyle – Maria Del Pilar
- Immigrant – Sade
- Cumbia de los Muertos – Ozomatli
— Act 2–
- Somos Sur – Ana Tijoux
- Police State – Dead Prez
- Just A Friendly Game of Baseball – Main Source
- Sound Of Da Police – KRS-One
- Protective Custody – Various Artists
- Letter To The President – 2Pac
- Ice el Hielo – La Santa Cecilia
— Act 3–
- To Zion – Lauryn Hill
- Is Anybody Out There – K’naan feat. Nelly Furtado
- Rise – Shammy Dee
- Hope – Twista feat. Faith Evans
Do you know what a “denizen” is? I personally have a problem with the word “illegal” and am not all that much of a fan of the term “undocumented migrant” because it is a mouthful. Thats where the term “denizen” fits perfectly; I appreciate that “denizen” needs defining, so here is where I got it from.
The term “denizen” is used to describe an inhabitant who is not a formal citizen but not an “illegal” immigrant either. Often, denizens are barred from becoming citizens, Ramirez said. Free and enslaved blacks were denizens before the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1868.
For me the idea of a denizen fits the current immigration debate because folks who come (came) to the United States came because of economic pull factors, and American foreign policy push factors in their countries. They are responding to capitalisms primary forces, and therefore if our immigration policies are incapable of managing this influx of immigration, its not the migrants fault. Its the fault of the society that continues to tout an antiquated and broken immigration system.
The mixtape starts with Antibalas track “Dirt and Blood” because this really was a good way to set the tone of the whole collaborative. It is a beautiful example of rhythm and we mixed it with Peace Poetry’s Frank Lopez (please check them out, especially the track ‘I Can’t Breath‘ here). The rest of Act One is followed by tracks that highlight what its like to be a denizen. Maria Del Pilar offers what feels like a anthem touching to Madonna’s “Vogue” in “Ilegal en Estyle” and Sade offers a wonderful reflective piece in “Immigrant” especially her the lines that resonate “The secret of their fear and their suspicion… Standing there looking like an angel.” In “Cumbia de los Muertos” we loved Charlie 2na’s verse especially, but Ozomatli is just amazing in so many other ways.
Act two starts with a riotous number by Ana Tijoux, featuring Mona Shadia, “Somos Sur.” I wrote a bit about the importance of this song in this post, and we used it here at this point to emphasize that “We are all the south” means solidarity with denizen also requires solidarity against the threat to human integrity and rights that many of these folks face due to state sanctioned violence and racism and bigotry from society (as presented in Sade’s Immigrant from Act One). Its a way to set the tone for whats to come.
We talk lately a lot about intersectionality, and the next few tracks by Dead Prez, KRS-One, Main Source, along with the track “Protective Custody” and 2Pac all speak to the fact that if we are dealing with state systems that are broken (see above discussion on denizen), then they are impacting the lives of many folks beyond the most immediately impacted communities. While these tracks speak about police brutality, the inordinate policing of Black communities, incarceration and the violence in these communities, these are all realities for denizens.
Finally Act Two ends with the luscious ballad by La Santa Cecilia. “Ice el Hielo” is an amazing track. Even if you don’t understand Spanish you will be mesmerized by the simplicity and beautiful vocals. The fact is this song lyrically takes ICE (immigration and customs enforcement) and portrays it as a plague that takes people away from their loved ones. This metamorphosis is empowering, even if it is haunting, and it speaks directly to the denizen sense of life.
Act Three is really a culmination of all the rolling and jarring emotional ride Lines has been so far. We presented a dynamic rhythm that was meant to go through he emotional roller coaster that is experienced in a denizen life. The idea for this Act was to leave from a place of hope. Is Anybody Out There truly sets that tone, because it presents life stories of folks from middle class America, but the question presented here is asking whether anybody hears and will witness the plight of the denizen.
Lauryn Hill and Faith Evans round out this Act, both look at the idea of a song writer, and artists, as a prophet of peace and future possibilities. What was interesting was the inclusion of Rise a piece by Shammy Dee. It fits perfectly in Lines and I can’t believe Shammy Dee thought it might not fit because its his track, dude hit the spot and I am happy we got this track in here.
Please share your thoughts, was this a worthwhile endeavor? I know close to fifty thousand folks visit this blog annually, many of them are repeat readers, but I sometimes wonder what exactly is so interesting because there is this void in response from you.