Heavy Culture: Musicians on Protests, Power, and the Pandemic

Members of Alice in Chains, Skunk Anansie, Nonpoint, and more offer their thoughts

Heavy Culture August

Heavy Culture is a monthly column from journalist Liz Ramanand, focusing on artists of different cultural backgrounds in heavy music as they offer their perspectives on race, society, and more as it intersects with and affects their music. The latest installment of this column features multiple rock and metal musicians recounting their early experiences of racism.

The year 2020 will go down as one of the most difficult and memorable in the history of the world. As a global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the physical and economic health of countries across the world, protests for justice and equality have led to notable progress in the battle against racism.

After previously spotlighting artists’ early experiences with racism in June and their thoughts on being Black in America in 2020 in July, the last of a three-part summer edition of our “Heavy Culture” column focuses on the aforementioned protests and the pandemic.

We asked a number the artists to share their feelings on the current protests against societal, racial, and political injustice in the midst a global pandemic. Read the thoughts below from Rasheed Thomas and Elias Soriano of Nonpoint; AJ Channer of Fire From the Gods; William DuVall of Alice in Chains; Prika Amaral of Nervosa; Militia Vox of Judas Priestess; Cammie Gilbert of Oceans of Slumber; and Skin of Skunk Anansie.

Rasheed Thomas, Nonpoint

Rasheed Thomas Nonpoint

This is definitely a historic moment that will be remembered and talked about years from now. And it’ll be stories we will be telling to young people in the future like we talk about the Depression, slavery and World Wars.

Movies, TV, and the media — social and mainstream — provoke some if not a lot of what’s going on. This imagery creates our reality. We need to unplug from the Matrix. Get out and talk to real people and experience real things. Not live in it through somebody else’s phone camera taken out of context.

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m not a fan of social media or news media either. But I will tell you if there wasn’t social media we wouldn’t be seeing the injustice to people like George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey and Michael Brown, etc., and the long list goes on. These things do need to be brought to the forefront so people can really see that this is still happening in America in 2020, hence the protesting and riots.

The pandemic was just the beginning. People stuck in their houses on lockdown, not being able to work, not being able to make money, definitely had people stressed and worried about providing for the families, and then throw the videos with the police into the mix. It’s a cocktail for disaster. But what I’ve noticed now is people of all colors coming together during this time and it makes me hopeful for America.

In these protests, I see just as many white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American faces as I see Black. It feels good to see everyone come together, that should be America.

AJ Channer, Fire from the Gods

Fire From the Gods

George Floyd and what happened in Minneapolis isn’t just an isolated event; it’s happening everywhere. In Minneapolis, I was able to interact with that one community that was heavily affected by police brutality. In Atlanta, Georgia, we’re looking at a city that’s more on par with New York and it’s a little bit more homogenous, it’s a bit of a different picture, but it’s all the same movie we’ve seen before.

Seeing how many people came out [for these protests], people from all walks of life, it’s letting me know that this movement, this conversation of true equality and true acceptance and tolerance has really some wind beneath its sails. It’s so important that we all strap in for the ride and we all do our part.

I truly hope that this is a turning point; it seems to finally get towards and to achieve a post-racial America, it’s been a very long and arduous process. I really think we are getting to a point to where the conversation as uncomfortable as it is and has always been, but a lot more people are fed up. The only way to get through this conversation is if more white people come to the table and say, “I’m willing to be educated and learn” and a willingness to change.

Economics, housing, healthcare – all of that needs to be addressed. People think racism is a derogatory or inflammatory word but systemic, institutionalized racism, that’s the fight because it’s so pervasive and entrenched in history and society.

Black people and marginalized communities all over the world have been screaming to the high heavens for years, but nothing’s changed, the argument hasn’t changed, verbiage hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is that it’s on camera and it’s everywhere. I do think it’s a turning point and I think a positive is that there are more people willing to fight, more people are willing to understand and be open to this conversation.

William DuVall, Alice in Chains

William DuVall

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had “Black Lives Matter” painted in gigantic yellow letters stretching from curb to curb on 16th Street for several blocks leading toward the White House. A nice gesture. And, yes, a meaningful one to me as a native Washingtonian.

Here in Atlanta, I drove through a protest of mostly white soccer moms, dads, and their kids lining the streets in the upper-class neighborhood of Virginia Highlands holding up signs with George Floyd’s picture on them saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice No Peace.” Another nice gesture. There are millions of such symbolic gestures taking place all over America and they definitely have power and place in the current social justice movement, just as they always have in the past. I’m heartened by them.

I’m also heartened that the real activists on the ground understand that such gestures, while useful, cannot disguise the fact that until fundamental changes in police policy occur, these murders will continue — on and off-camera. Until we get murder convictions and proper sentences against killer cops and until police retirement and pension funds are used as monetary compensation for the victim’s families, we will keep seeing these outrageous and infuriating videos.

[This moment] is another opportunity for a reckoning. This country has had many. Unfortunately, we often haven’t made the most of them. Nevertheless, I hope the country lives on to create more such opportunities. I love America. Despite the horrible parts of our history, I still love the potential of our highest ideals. I love the social experiment. But we are under threat as we have never been before, both from outside and within. The problem we face is bigger than America. It’s bigger than any one country. The biggest multinational corporations have more power than any government and no allegiance to any country.

Prika Amaral, Nervosa

Nervosa Prika

I’m from Bragança Paulista, a small city in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. We are one of the regions in the world most exploited by many rich countries. We live in a poor and very violent country, and where corruption is a culture.

I think [our President Jair Bolsonaro] is one of the worst people I know of; he has no empathy for anyone. He is homophobic, racist, misogynistic, and a dictator. I feel shame to have this kind of person as a president.

I’m a very positive person, but it is clear that the future of Brazil is very bad. We are living in one of the worst moments in all political history. Our people are dying and our government is just fighting and threatening our people. The government is disrespecting our democracy. It’s sad and horrible.

Militia Vox, Judas Priestess

Militia Judas Priestess

I’m feeling a swell of emotions, but it all has a baseline of relief.  I truly feel relieved that everybody’s so fed up that many people are saying out loud for the first time how they really feel. “The truth will set you free,” right? I also appreciate the outpouring of love, respect and care that I have received both directly and indirectly. I know that this is a major tipping point in our society that is being felt around the world.  It feels damn good to be alive during this change — it is exciting, raw and energizing.

And now, for a bit of an unpopular opinion, I do not believe that defunding the police is the answer. We need them. We need to be able to call 911 and have them show up when there’s a problem such as domestic violence. I think some police reform is necessary: de-escalation training, no chokeholds or knee-to-neck detainments. If an excessive force, negligent or wrongful death occurs, charges should be brought against the officers responsible. Not all cops are bad. I’ve been lucky and had mostly positive experiences with the police, but I am also aware of my own privileges as a light-skinned, mixed-race female.

The fact that all of this is going down with that invisible serial killer COVID lurking around makes it more intense and amazing because all of this may not have happened if it weren’t for COVID!  People are usually so distracted by their jobs, school, etc., that they weren’t able to massively collectively outrage at the killings. But because of quarantine, the world was watching — a captive audience, stuck inside their homes and glued to these videos — they got so pissed that they had no choice but say “F–k it”, and publicly organize and outcry.

That’s why these marches are even more of a statement- and they are happening across the planet! I was in the musicians’ march and a “Justice for George” march in NYC. Hopefully, protesters won’t pay for their actions by getting sick. Time will tell. But this is the world I want to live in — I want the melting pot. I want the justice. I want the understanding. I want the peace. I want the family. I want the love.

Elias Soriano, Nonpoint

Nonpoint Elias Soriano

At about the beginning of May, I thought that 2020 was going to be considered one of the worst years of our lifetime. Now I think it will be one of the most necessary years for humanity. Being under a stay-at-home order forced families to be together and really appreciate the gift of togetherness. But it’s also giving people a polarizing look at our country; it’s citizens and how ugly our way of thinking has gotten with each other.

Couple that with the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that 400 years of struggle and inequality and 50 years of peaceful protest couldn’t solve. Now 140 US cities and 12 nations are fighting to help people of color finally achieve equality. Personally I see 2020 as a pivotal moment in time; history is being made before our eyes.

Cammie Gilbert, Oceans of Slumber

Oceans of Slumber

I was very saddened when I learned George Floyd was from Houston. When the news goes from your television to the streets outside, everything you thought you could ignore, one way or another, has a way of crashing in. The weight of so many years of mistreatment, violence, and oppression came home with George, and the city made it known we all felt that weight.

These have been sullen and reflective days. There is at least a sense of validation in the growing movement to dismantle discriminatory establishments across America, but at the same time, I break down daily watching footage of protesters tear-gassed and attacked. This movement has been a long time coming with the flames of riots and protests scattered like wildfires throughout our history.

Only now its momentum is unprecedented. Change grips our young and stubborn nation with both hands. If we can maintain our focus, maintain this awareness, maintain this attention, then I know we will have something truly worth perpetuating on the other side.

Skin, Skunk Anansie

Skin of Skunk Anansie

I’ve been in New York since the lockdown, so it’s a bit difficult for me to gauge the situation in the UK but here it’s pretty intense. Yes, it’s very different this time, you have a perfect storm, months of lockdown, divisive communities, aggressive violent policing, nothing for people coming out of lockdown to do, social media where incidents spread like wildfire… all topped with inept and woefully insufficient leadership in Donald Trump!

I feel that the racism here [in the US] is exhausting; it’s like being beaten by sticks every day. Eventually, you fight back not giving a care about the consequences because you’ve just had enough. I think the current movement is much needed and a wonderful thing to see. Racism as a topic for discussion really needed to get back onto the top of the list because there’s been a steep rise in nationalism and white supremacy movements gaining power right under our noses. We have to put a stop to it. To me, it’s vital that we use this moment wisely.


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