While there are many artists that incorporate sociopolitical issues into their lyrics and rail against violence, injustice, and inequality on social media, few manifest that passion into concrete public action. With their new initiative, wakeATL: Call to Action, experimental hip-hop collective WAKE hope to change that, while building a bridge between art and activist communities in the process.
Created as a means to bring awareness to various social issues, wakeATL seeks to use music, art, literature, and more to educate and motivate people to become more politically and socially active in their daily lives. Each installment will come with a special zine curated by WAKE’s Alexa Lima, and will feature original works from local artists, writers, and activists. The first event, which takes place tonight at 529, will focus on police violence and how a community can come together to formulate solutions. Joining the group at the show will be Rise Up, an activist organization that works to advance racial and economic justice throughout the state. In addition to answering questions and dispersing information, the group will also be on hand to set the right atmosphere by to leading chants in-between sets. All proceeds from the show will go to support the organization.
Recently, we reached out to rapper and WAKE co-founder Keith William to discuss the new call-to-action series and how art and activism can better co-exist and be mutually supportive.
How did you come up with the concept for wakeATL?
Well, community activism has been an important part of WAKE since our inception. We have experimenting with different ideas for years. Obviously our music is focused on these ideas, but we have wanted to expand on those ideas for some time. Over the last few months we just finally felt like we needed to do something to manifest these ideas into reality. We have all been active in some form over the years with several organizations and one thing that we noticed was there weren’t a lot of people that crossed over between the music/art scene that we were a part of and the activist community. So we wanted to do what we could to possibly bridge the two in some way.
The thought process was that a lot of people that come to our shows and listen to our music find things like police violence, voter fraud, systemic racism, etc. important but may not know how to get involved. So the idea was to engage the crowd through music and art as well as provide the tools and resources to get active under one roof.
Why do you think that sort of disconnect between the two communities (art vs. activism) exists?
I’m really not sure. I think that both communities are filled with people that are really passionate about something specific, whether that be music, art, or a certain social issue, and, as you know as a writer, when you are really passionate and focused on one thing then it’s sometimes difficult to put that energy towards something else that’s as potent as music and activism. It’s almost like one or the other.
I also think that activism is something that a lot of people are hesitant to pursue because it takes a lot to break away from your normal day-to-day activities and show up to a protest or attend a general meeting. A lot of people are nervous about attending these types of events.
How much of that hesitancy do you believe is caused by the way media portray activists and activist organizations?
Oh, I’m sure a majority of that hesitancy is caused by the media portrayal, as well as deep subtle indoctrination, especially in the South. Resistance of any kind is frowned upon and apathy seems to be more widespread than compassion and action.
And yet, the South has the legacy of Civil Rights. Do you feel the spirit of that being rekindled in sone way?
True, and I think those extreme indoctrinations and prejudices gave birth to resistance in the form of the Civil Rights Movement. The feeling of being exploited and violated for so long that finally there was nothing left but to stand up and fight back in some way. As far as it being rekindled, I’m not sure. It definitely feels that more people are open to the idea of standing up and being vocal about more social issues.
There is definitely a cyclic feeling in the air, for better or worse. Honestly, it’s pretty pathetic that we still have to take to the streets against things like police violence and systematic racism. It’s almost a disservice to the countless amount of people that sacrificed themselves to bring awareness and change.
What do you think about what’s been transpiring between the mayor and the activist community?
Well, I don’t think that the mayor lived up to his end of the agreement to meet with local activists and have a serious dialogue concerning police violence. Pair that with the fact that he provided a person who he knew was not a part of the initial group to publicly “represent” a group that he was not affiliated with was pretty disheartening. I did read his response to the activist’s demands but I am still processing it so I’m not sure I’m at a place to express my feelings on that specifically.
Fair enough. How did you start working with Rise Up?
I had seen their name around regarding various issues like the Stone Mountain anti-KKK march and did some research on their organization. I had been involved in some organizations in the past that leaned more towards the aggressive side of activism like black bloc tactics and I don’t necessarily agree with that. For this event I wanted to align ourselves with a group that I felt was “fighting the good fight” and stood against violence. So I reached out to them and explained my idea and they were open to collaborating. We have done stuff in the past where people would table, but I wanted it to be more of an engaging collaboration. Not just bands and a few flyers and literature on a table.
So what sort of collaborations can we expect?
Well, one of the members contributed a poem to the zine and he will be performing that poem live at the event. There will be members set up at the event with literature and info on how to get active. There will also be members leading chants throughout the night to engage the crowd.
The goal of this first event is to connect people in attendance with Rise Up. As we move forward with more events then we will take the next step and so on.
Will the chants be spontaneous or are they being incorporated into your set?
They will be spontaneous, probably between sets. Rise Up do a lot of chants, which is another thing that I dig about them being involved in something that involves music and activism. Even at their membership meetings, they start with chants. We do have a lot of audio and field recordings from protests and various speeches that we will be incorporating into our set.
How many people from Rise Up will be there?
I am not sure of the exact number but I would say quite a few. We have been communicating and meeting over the past month or two putting this thing together.
So tell me about the zine…
Alexa had been wanting to do a zine of some kind for awhile and when we started throwing around ideas for the event it just kind of came together. The idea is to have a different topic for each event and a zine curated for each event. [It’s] just another way to engage people.
What can we expect to see/read in the zine? Does it have a title?
It’s titled wakeATL and it is mostly a visual zine. Different collages that Alexa made as well as some art from local artists, photography, and few written things from local poets an writers.
How many installments of WakeATL are you planning? Is this a limited series or something WAKE plans to carry into the future?
We don’t have a set number but we definitely plan on doing several more in the future touching on a variety of topics including education, nutrition, systematic racism, homelessness, etc.
WAKE presents the first installment of wakeATL: Call to Action tonight at 529. Supporting them will be Miggs Son Daddy (Savannah) CHEW, and Victor Mariachi. Doors open at 9 p.m. Donations will be collected at the door. All proceeds will go to Rise Up.