Our first #AmplifyVoices interview is here!
Meet Mike de la Rocha.
Mike de la Rocha is a renowned musician, writer and speaker in the fields of criminal justice, spirituality and self-development. With more than 15 years experience advancing public policy and empowering community stakeholders,Mike has facilitated strategic coalition-building efforts, drafted groundbreaking legislation and implemented innovative youth development programs nationally and internationally. Mike is a featured artist for Rock the Vote and has presented lectures and performed at various high profile events including Clinton Global Initiative University, TEDx, Chicago Ideas Week, and other events in Mexico, France, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Through this #AmplifyVoices interview by David Katznelson, learn more about Mike and the power of using music for social change.
Questions by David Katznelson
Responses by Mike de la Rocha
DK: What is it about music that, in your mind, is a primal force for cultural/social/political evolution? What is an example of one of the greatest pieces of music that has triggered change?
MDLR: Growing up music was my vehicle to learn about love, life and the world around me. It was bands and musicians like U2, Public Enemy and John Lennon who helped me better understand who I was through sharing stories of resiliency, struggle and courage. It was their lyrics and determination to create a different world that inspired me to become an artist committed to using my music for social awareness and social good. As a child growing up in Ventura, CA punk bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat made me feel as if I wasn’t alone and that I was a part of a community bigger than myself. It was the music of Lauryn Hill and Jeff Buckley who made me feel comfortable sharing my own stories of love and loss. And it was in those moments of listening to their vulnerability that I really experienced the transcendent and healing power of music and art.
For me, one of the biggest examples of an artist using his or her platform to bring about social change can be found in the music and life of both Nina Simone and Bob Marley who literally brought millions of people, neighborhoods and countries together through their lyrics, life and music. They personified for me, on a very human and basic level, the way that I could utilize my music to educate people about the historical struggles of people of color while at the same time really using love as the driving force behind my music and my message.
DK: How do you balance creating art for art’s sake and creating art as a change agent, with that idea that art needs to affect people in a more visceral way before the meaning can be unlocked?
MDLR: Music and song are central to social movements for change and transformation. Historically, artists have always helped me — and I would argue helped the broader public — think differently about identity, about culture and about our individual and collective ability to change the world.
I personally believe that some of the most impactful artists have simply been courageous enough to share their own stories and in turn have been able to speak to the lived experiences of so many of us. Whether that be a story about growing up feeling isolated or a story about the realities of life in a war-torn country, music has always been a universal language to help us see ourselves and our shared connection to each other. That’s why to me, music and song are central to our ability to recognize, embrace and transcend our differences. In the realm of song we are brought together by common experiences and reminded of the words of Subcomandante Marcos, one of the many leaders of the Zapatista Movement, who said that “We are the same because we are in fact different.”
DK: How has the internet, and other new modes of music consumption changed/enhanced the work you do? What would your advice be to up-and-comers on how to maximize effectiveness with the new platforms out there (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.)?
MDLR: Today’s technology has allowed anybody to have direct access with people worldwide. Before, you needed big marketing budgets and a huge label, but today you can literally utilize Facebook or Twitter to get your music out there. I think that this direct access has benefited independent artists and that it’s now incumbent upon us to create great art and to hustle in getting our music out.
Stories are central to humanity and technology has made art even more accessible than ever before. Therefore, I’m hopeful in the future of music and the ability for artists to have a broader platform to share their message and music with the world. I would simply encourage others to keep speaking their truth, to be authentically themselves and to keep pushing to get your music out there.
DK: Can you let us in on a big goal that you have with your work? A goal you are working on, a goal that you have not yet achieved?
MDLR: In terms of goals, I want to continue using my art as a vehicle to have people see different perspectives and to learn about various issues that may or may not impact them directly.
I’m currently working nonstop on building Revolve Impact, a social impact firm that I founded last year, to become one of the leading companies working to utilize art and culture as a way to end mass incarceration and create safer and healthier communities worldwide.
DK: What was your favorite record of 2015? Does it tie into your work?
MDLR: My favorite album of 2015 was Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly.” But I would be remiss not to mention that 2015 was also the most difficult and memorable year of my life with the loss of my father and the starting my own company. It was a year of huge highs with the launch of John Legend’s #FREEAMERICA campaign to a year of extreme lows where I was forced to re-examine everything. And again, like in so many moments of my life before, it was music that helped me get through it all. It was the music of James Bay’s “Let It Go” to Jack Johnson’s “Adrift,” to Death Cab for Cutie’s “Transatlanticism” to listening to the big banda music of Banda El Recodo that helped me grow and heal in 2015.
In the #AmplifyVoices campaign, we are pairing leaders in the Jewish community in conversation with activists for racial and social justice to further discussions on equality and social good, and to invite our audience to take action through volunteerism.