Songwriter and activist discusses legacy of resistance that inspired her fiery new protest song, released to coincide with A Day Without Women
When Taina Asili arrived in Washington, D.C., on January 19th to play a concert for DisruptJ20 in protest of Donald Trump’s inauguration, her heart was heavy. “I was feeling really scared,” Asili tells Rolling Stone. “I was feeling fearful for what was to come.” But that weekend, when she also performed at the historic Women’s March on Washington and heard speeches from the likes of Angela Davis and Janet Mock, the Albany, New York, musician and activist felt her perspective shift. “When I looked out at the audience of almost 1 million marchers, I felt a sense of hope like I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt compelled to take the energy I received from that day and turn it into a song to offer for this movement.”
The result is “No Es Mi Presidente,” an anthemic tear into Trump’s racism and sexism that Asili is releasing today in solidarity with the “A Day Without Women” general strike. Asili has spent her life dedicated to prison, climate and gender justice, as well as playing music for more than two decades, most recently with Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde. The song’s lyrics emphasize the interconnected struggles of feminist organizing, the fight for immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter and the Standing Rock protests. Asili adds: “I wanted to have my music video be a contribution to the continued work that we’re doing as a feminist movement to resist the Trump regime and all that it symbolizes.”
She spoke to RS this week about the symbolism of the “No Es Mi Presidente” video and music’s place in the anti-Trump resistance movement.
What is depicted in the video for “No Es Mi Presidente”?
The video features a television with clips of different scenes that symbolize white supremacy, patriarchy, the desecration of sacred sites and harm to our earth. In the video, I smash the television as symbolism for smashing these concepts, making way for something new – using all of the tools that we’ve gathered from our activist movements over the years. For me, I see the work we’re doing now as part of a legacy of resistance.
Some of those scenes include Barbara Smith and Naomi Jaffe talking about the history of our movement. Barbara Smith is a long-time black lesbian feminist activist. Naomi Jaffe is a white feminist activist and former member of the Weather Underground. Another scene is people teaching how to do civil disobedience. Another is a self-defense class. When I was beginning my learning of feminism, learning how to physically protect my body was profound. We are so inundated with violence right now. As a brown, queer woman in this country, walking outside my door, my life is at risk. Then you see a circle of people celebrating our cultural heritage, using African dance and native drumming and other forms of celebration to reclaim our culture as it’s trying to be stolen from us. To hold space for it, as a way to celebrate our humanity in the face of inhumanity.
At the end of the music video, you realize this smashing of the television is actually me creating an altar. A lot of times when people are looking at activists from the outside, they may see anger, violence. The other [side] is that we are clearing out to create something new, something spiritual, something powerful. I wanted to wrap up the video with that understanding.
Why was it important to you to present this as a bilingual song?
I’m Puerto Rican and I grew up bilingual. A lot of my music tends to be bilingual. As the Trump regime has taken hold, Latinos in this country are being targeted, particularly folks who are undocumented, but I would say Latinos in general across this country are targets. I wanted to use this language as a voice to express our dissent, our resistance. But I also wanted for the song to connect with English speakers, too. So, the chorus is in Spanish, but the verses include both Spanish and English for a way for it to be accessible to as many people as possible.
How do you see music playing a role in the resistance to Trump?
Within my culture and my people, Puerto Ricans, we have always used music as a tool of resistance in our folkloric art. I see this music as a part of that legacy. In general, we’ve seen, throughout the world, representations of that, whether we’re looking at resistance songs in South Africa or folk songs, hip-hop, jazz. All of these genres really come out of musical movements of resistance. What we need more now than ever is to continue that legacy. What I resonate with now more than ever is artists that are speaking truth to power and using their voices to create a platform for social change to be more visible.
I teach social-justice songwriting workshops. And a lot of times people ask me, “Do you have to be an artist or a songwriter to be in these workshops?” I always say no, because I think that we need to experiment as much as possible with opening up our creative selves, so that we can think creatively about solutions for this world. We absolutely have to hold a common space for creativity. Where we’re at in this world, and what we’re facing, we are going to need creative solutionaries to make it through this moment.
By Liz Pelly
Courtesy of Billboard