Meet Shining Soul: Phoenikera’s voice against injustice

Read more

On a street corner among the chaos of La Phoenikera’s First Friday, the saturation of attention seekers, artists, free hug dealers y la chota que se pasa de verga, Shining Soul’s rhymes shoot out from a portable speaker and flow like a spear wanting to pierce everything corrupted. This lyrical bayonet contains sentiments of rebellion, a beef against a vitiated system that regards power whores and sleazy politicians as champions of the people, but really they’re just peons for money.

Years after I heard them for the first time on that corner on Roosevelt and 4th, the duo and I finally sat down for coffee at a local joint near Osborn, to talk about identity, politics and how both play a role in an artist’s work in a state where both ooze from people all the time.

Sinplanetario: When did you decide to become a duo?
Bronze Candidate: At the beginning we were a six-piece band but people started to quit and we’ve been a duo for the past 5 years.
Liaizon: Basically the band just fell apart and we just kept at it, experimenting. My mom gave me a beat box and since then we’ve create our own music, of course collaborating with other creatives. Bronze plays the bass and keyboards so we were able to be involved in that aspect of our music. We’ve both been exposed to hip-hop one way or another, in school, at parties, or just hanging out with friends, this has been out interest always.

S: How did you come up with your name?
BC: Actually it came very nonchalantly, even when I wasn’t part of the band…
L: The guitar player that used to play with us was a huge video game nerd and he really liked Shining Soul… years later we realized it was a game. We liked the sound of it.

S: Did you guys play it?
BC: It’s an adventure type game, like Zelda, by Sega, not very popular.
L: I never played it, you did…
BC: Yeah, I was never into those types of games.
S: It would be bad to be associated with a shitty game…
BC: Horrible.
L: Yeah…

S: How would you define your identity as a band, how do you feel you’ve evolved as artists since you started?
BC: It’s an ongoing thing, something that’ll keep evolving. It’s telling where we come from and as politics and issues intensify, so do our lyrics. But we also talk about everyday things in life and also it helped us come out of our shell and express our truth and the experiences we’ve had growing up.
L: There was a transformation. Our lyrics sometimes were a little vague but now I think we are more informed, it’s more narrowed down.

S: What’s the message, what do you want people to hear?
BC: We love hip hop, we believe it allows us, actually like no other genre, to shout against social injustice; hip hop is perfect because it has a strong connection with marginalized communities. Our songs are about everyday experiences, what happens in our surroundings and how that affects your life.
L: But we also talk about regular bullshit, we don’t just talk about politics, economy or how fucked up the world is, we don’t pretend to be dogmatic, alienate people or give a sermon. We are political beings, and we live in a state where you constantly have to remind people when things aren’t “OK” for everyone, I’m Native-American, I have to be critical of the system.

S: Liaizon you have Tohono O’odham and Mexican ancestry and Bronze, you are third generation Mexican American and grew up in South PHX. How have both life experiences influenced your art?
L: Since an early age we were aware of situations affecting our communities. Only when we became older and educated ourselves, we started realizing what it all meant and most importantly, the reasons why there were so many disparities in the community. We know now how political systems affect negatively the lives of so many people and they’ve been doing it for centuries. My experience was watching the injustices being done in the reservation, but it’s not just about my reservation, it’s happening everywhere.

S: You say you use hip-hop as a tool to reject social injustice and the single “No Mercy” from your recently released Sonic Smash, is an example of that. How does the political climate affect your music?
BC: Social change was our focus since the beginning, but laws like SB1070 and other voter suppression laws definitely have made us react and make us more involved because it’s an attack to the community, not only to Latinos or minorities.

S: What makes you care?
BC: I was born here; my family has lived here for three generations. I consider that laws like that are attacks on all people of color or under resourced communities, it criminalizes people of color and it creates a police state in cities and also rural areas like in the reservation or borderland towns.
L: And from my perspective people in the reservation have been subject to laws like SB1070 since the mid 90’s with Operation Hold the Line or GateKeeper, so this isn’t new. It just became statewide and now it’ll probably be in the whole country.

S: Why not rhyme about other things like cars, sexual conquests, money, success, etcetera?
BC: There are people that do that already, we want to address other issues that are more transcendental for us.
L: I mean we have fun shit too, we like to have fun; hip-hop has a lot to do with parties as well. But we think that people should see outside their bubble and how the entertainment industry in many ways exists to distract people from important matters.

S: So what’s your purpose?
BC: We’re not dogmatic, we don’t want to preach or convince anyone of anything, but we think that in order to change, you have to make your audience uncomfortable, address issues that aren’t fun.
L: We have the opportunity to make people aware that it’s not just about one law or one Sheriff. Transformation can be achieved by art, in this case, music could be a component of that change, because culture empowers us, and hip-hop is culture.

S: What’s your perception of the local hip-hop scene?
L: I believe some strides were made. Creatives from other parts have moved here and there are collaborations, there’s more diversity and that always helps. But I still want people constantly to pushing limits, sometimes we become complacent and that’s when we don’t progress. There is a lot of cool shit going on like with Writers Guild, Random aka Mega Ran, or DJ Element and some other cats that are doing their thing. It would be interesting to have acts like A tribe Called Quest or Slum Village, and I think we’re getting there.
BC: I think the artistic infrastructure is being built and there are a lot of people from different walks of life that are trying to create great music, I think it’s progressing at a real fast pace.

S: You recently released Sonic Smash, how is it going?
BC: It’s going great we’ve had some great feedback.
L: We’ve had feedback from people we don’t know in the country and in other places too, we’re having a good moment.

S: Where did you guys record it?
BC: In my closet. We have a studio built in there.

Both explained the challenges of being independent artists. They have part time jobs and dedicate their lives to this, but their commitment to spit venom, to raise people’s veils and to denounce injustice with their music, is as strong and loud as that First Friday when their verses speared in multiple directions into a growing crowd of Phoenikeros.