Taína Asili brings the same resistance rooted in the Afro-Caribbean rhythms she fuses to create music that calls for an end to mass incarceration.
In her latest, “Freedom,” she and her six-piece band, Taína Asili y la Banda Rebelde, connects the disproportionate number of black people imprisoned with the country’s history of slavery.
“There are a lot of intersections between African-American history and other forms of black history, and the mass incarceration of our people is just one,” she tells Latina.
Asili is the daughter and sister of Afro-Latino men who have been locked away in the prison system, and she has for years worked to free political prisoners and end the prison industrial complex. Today, she organizes with the Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration in Albany, New York. Members of the group, along with the Upstate New York chapter of Black Lives Matter, were featured throughout the video for “Freedom.”
Ahead, the Latina discusses the intersection of music and social justice and why she sings and organizes for prisoner justice.
When did you first get into Afro-Caribbean music?
To answer that question I have to go back to my childhood. My father, who passed away, was a Latin jazz conductor, congero and vocalist. He did doo-wop and Afro-Caribbean music. My mother, who is also no longer with me, was a bomba – which is an Afro-Taíno Puerto Rican folkloric tradition that includes rhythm, voice and dance – and salsa dancer. These are the musical traditions I was raised under; it’s what I was most influenced by at home. Outside of my home, I was in love with musicals and classical voice. By 14, I was trained by a Peruvian opera singer. By 16, I was in a punk band. My musical background is really diverse. Musically, I felt like I was living different lives at home, with Afro-Caribbean music, and outside, where I was playing punk for a band called Anti-Product. People knew me for doing that style of music, and I was also pretty successful in my classical voice. I actually went to college on a scholarship for classical voice. My current music kind of brings all of these styles together, as I realized I can hold all the multiplicities of who I am. It has the punk rebellion, with Afro-Caribbean music influences, and then my training in classical voice is carried through it all.
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