Music That Makes a Difference 2018

Music That Makes a Difference 2018

CNN Music & Art

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

CNN Music & Art

Eddie Van Halen donates guitars to public schools

Eddie Van Halen

CNN Music & Art


Big Mountain

In recent days, the U.S. has dramatically tightened security on the border with Mexico — in particular around the San Diego, Tijuana area, including a pre-dawn closure of the country’s busiest crossing at San Ysidro on November 19.

It re-opened after several hours but almost half of the vehicle lanes remained closed.

In recent weeks, U.S. military troops rolled out more than 12 miles of barbed wire on the border and, over the weekend, work crews reinforced another part of the border fence by covering it completely in coiled razor wire.

President Trump Tweeted this:

trump tweet

All of these measures are intended to harden the border because Customs and Border Protection believes some of the thousands of immigrants who recently arrived in Mexico may try to force their way into the U.S.

Here’s part of a statement they issued on November 19: “In the early morning hours, CBP officials received reports of groups of persons from the caravan gathering in the city of Tijuana for a possible attempt or attempts to rush illegally through the port of entry instead of presenting themselves as required to a CBP officer.”

At least one activist groups, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, says  that claim is a “deliberate attempt to mislead the public and demonize refugees.”

Many have questioned President Trump’s claims of just how big the threat really is from thousands of poor, desperate immigrants in those caravans — many seeking asylum from violence and political persecution which followed widespread outrage over the administration’s policy of separating parents from their children.

And then there’s the signature campaign promise made by candidate Trump to build a wall on the border — which critics have called a solution in search of a problem.

Now all of those concerns have been put to music… a reggae, rap from the band Big Mountain called “Deportation Nation.”

big mountain 6But I and I live in a deportation nation
That don’t want to hear about no civilization
So they can round up the population
With no explanation
Right in front of our face

The song is a long way from their 1994 hit which might be a little more familiar — a cover of Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way.”

But when you look at Big Mountain’s background and the history of the band, it becomes pretty clear that the issues on the border are personal.

“We’ve always been artists and activists,” lead singer Quino McWhinney told CNN’s John Vause. “Big Mountain was inspired to take on the name Big Mountain because of a group of Native Americans that were being forced to relocate from their native lands and our first few shows we were doing benefits for those folks.

“We’ve always been conscious. That’s what we believe reggae music is all about — staying provocative and just giving people the truth the best way we can with music.”

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There have been a lot of controversies surrounding President Trump and immigration — it began when he announced his campaign and has intensified ever since. And while this song takes direct aim at Trump’s policies, it also speaks to efforts the band has been engaged in for decades.

“Our second album (the one with ‘Baby I Love Your Way’ on it) also had a song on it called ‘Border Town’ and it centered around the activities that were going on back then,” McWhinney said.

“1994, if you remember, that’s the year that NAFTA was inducted, a big militarization of the border called ‘Operation Gate Keeper’ was taking place. So we’ve just been very tied in to the activists border community.

“I’m appalled every day at some of the things that President Trump is using — some of the political ploys that he uses — to get his base rallied up at the expense of human beings, people that are really suffering, people that really need help. The reason we did this song was to show solidarity with them.”

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I and I live in a deportation nation
I did my time upon the big plantation
I had my spot but then my spot was taken,
my reality shaken

Now everyone’s talking
And history is watching
What will the angry man do?
When is he coming for you?

The band acknowledges that the angry man in the song’s lyrics is a reference to President Trump. And ‘when is he coming for you’ pertains to mass deportation and family separation at the border. But big problems and complicated practices pre-date this president.

At one point, President Barack Obama was deporting 400,000 undocumented immigrants a year. That was the result of a policy which began under President Bill Clinton.

While the outrage factor may not have been turned up as loudly years ago, Big Mountain singer and Northwestern University professor of ethic studies Dr. John Marquez says, “We’ve been raising awareness about border militarization and the plight of immigrants for over twenty years.

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“I think the most powerful element of the more recent art we’ve produced with ‘Deportation Nation’ is a critique more of American history than it is of one particular president. We just found a unique opportunity to raise that awareness once again. Unfortunately, we’re having to do it time and time again.

“There’s a strong anti-brown undercurrent to American nationalism that contradicts the heroic contributions that Mexicanos and Central Americano people have made towards the building and maintaining of this nation state.

“As artists we feel that our work is to pull back the curtain on the illusion… through which immigrants, those along the border lands, are persecuted as an invasive species or as a parasite to the nation state despite how much we contribute, despite the sacrifices our families have made over time.”

Lock our children in cages and they will reinvent our world
Redefine what it means to be a nation
You know not what you do
This steel is making us stronger
Our radical traditions are rooted in how we live and love otherwise
Despite you we bond with one another
Lock us up, deport or separate
And we still find ways to connect
And we love radically and insurgently
A love that burns with the power of the sun

big mountain 1

While the obvious overtone of family separation pervades Marquez’s rap in “Deportation Nation,” he says it is mostly meant as a rallying cry.

“There’s always been caravans of people migrating to improve their lives. There’s always been caravans of people displaces and dispossessed of opportunities,” Marquez said. “What I’m referring to is the way that our communities stick together — mostly through the work of women, mostly through the work of Mexicanas and Latinas — who hold our families and our communities together despite the persecution that we suffer, despite the threat of deportation, despite mass incarceration.

“What I’m trying to convey in that piece of art both to our people and to our communities is that we will persevere through this. And out of this discrimination, and out of these forms of criminalization — we grow stronger.”

And that strength was tested even more throughout the midterm elections as President Trump used immigration to stoke fear in America. It was a strategy that partially worked — helping Republicans gain seats in the Senate. Which means that there are a lot of U.S. voters out there who are willing to cast ballots to support a man who makes blatantly racist remarks.

To that point, McWhinney replied: “The United States, man… the battle continues. The way that Donald Trump is able to manipulate the news and just stoke the fear of his supporters — it’s really a shame. But that’s why we make the art that we make.

“If we want a better world, first it has to be imagined. And that’s what the responsibility of singers, painters, poets — we’re the ones that imagine a better world and then we hand it off to the people that are supposed to do the hard work.”

Written by Ben Bamsey & John Vause. Produced by Ben Bamsey for CNN.

big mountain 2


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