Interview with Taina Asili

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Taina Asili
Taina Asili

Interview and photos by Scott Preston

Taina Asili carries on the tradition of her ancestors, fusing present and past struggles into one poetic song-voice. She is a puertorriquena vocalist, poet, visual artist, educator, activist and mother from Philadelphia, PA and Albany, NY. Her newest artistic work is with her live band, Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde, soulful vocals laid over a unique infusion of hip hop, rock, neo-soul, flamenco and Afro-Caribbean sounds. Taina Asili carries a fire breathing voice of rage and resistance to venues, festivals, conferences and political events across the country. She weaves resistance, anti-colonialist struggle, love, identity, reclamation of the body, ancestral remembrance, and more into an unparalleled vocalization style melding poetry and song.

Cincy Groove: What have been some of the bands highlights over the past year?

Taina Asili: Well, we just came back from a U.S. tour. We started here in Albany, NY, then did some shows in the south and went across the country and into California. It was exciting because it was our first cross country tour with this group.

Cincy Groove: I was able to catch your set at this past years Mid Point Music Festival here in Cincinnati. Did you have a good time at the festival?

Taina Asili: We did have a great time. One of the things we enjoyed the most was when we played out on the street corner before we came in to do our set. A number of neighborhood folks came up to watch us perform. We’ll do that from time to time before we play our regular gigs. We even had a chorus of children playing with us. We gave them acoustic instruments to play and they really had a blast.

Cincy Groove: I know you have quite a few interests outside of music, what are some of them?

Taina Asili: I just finished my Masters degree in Transformative Language Arts. That’s basically studying how the spoken, written word can be used for personal and social change. What I did was look at the history of Puerto Rico in relationship to poetry. I write poetry and I also teach poetry workshops that look at how poetry can be used for personal and social change. For example, I work with refugees from Burma, Afghanistan and Colombia here in Albany, NY teaching poetry and photography. After they create their work we have this big presentation so they can share their work with their community.

Cincy Groove: I understand that Miriam Makeba was a big influence on you.

Taina Asili: Yes she was, we were in Olympia, WA when she past away late last year. I started listening to her right when I got out of college. I moved to Philadelphia and went to this small record shop and found one of her albums and fell in love with her music. After I found out more about who she was , how she worked to fight against apartheid in South Africa, how she lived in exile because of her work, it really inspired me. Miriam was just someone who was phenomenal on so many levels. Instead of being depressed about her passing, I really tried to celebrate her life.

Cincy Groove: Are you working on any recording projects?

Taina Asili: We are currently working on our debut album. I have been performing with a number of groups over the years, but this will be La Banda Rebelde’s first full length album. We do have a demo out right now. Our album is going to be called Mama Guerrilla and should be out sometime this year, hopefully by the summer.

Cincy Groove: What kind if music did you listen to growing up?

Taina Asili: I grew up in Binghamton, NY and my parents are of Puerto Rican descent who grew up in NY. I really listened to a wide variety of music. My father is a Latin Jazz musician. He also grew up singing doo wop on street corners in NY and played at The Apollo. He had this doo wop group when he was younger called The Orientals. He grew up in Harlem, so it was very common to have African Americans and Puerto Ricans singing doo wop on the corners. So I listened to a lot of doo wop, oldies, jazz, salsa, a lot of music from the Caribbeans. As I got older I really got into rock music, being inspired by punk rock.

Cincy Groove: I see that you have had a diverse musical history.

Taina Asili: At the age of 14 I was being trained by a Peruvians opera singer and did that until about the age of 22. When I was 16 I joined this punk band called Anti-Product. It lasted 8 years and became a pretty well known group. We put out 4 albums that were distributed world wide. So at the same time I’m singing punk rock I’m also singing opera music (laughing). After Anti-Product I joined a band called Ricanstruction . They were sort of a Puerto Rican punk band who were pretty popular for a while. It was a mix of punk, salsa, and reggae. Then came my current group La Banda Rebelde. I’m trying to mix all the influences from throughout my life into something original that’s my own.

Cincy Groove: I see that your current band members in La Banda Rebelde are from all over the world. How did you end up meeting them?

Taina Asili: Pure luck, praying, and a lot of hoping. My guitarist, Gaetano Vaccaro, (whose family is from Sicily) we met and started dating and then started playing music together. Khadija who sings back up vocals with us is from Tanzania. She was my roommate in Philadelphia. Kiki our drummer was born and raised in Greece. I put up a sign one day for a drummer. She saw the sign and gave us a call. I looked at her myspace page and knew right away she was the one. Our bass player Shawn is of Brazilian origin, was born in Australia, spent part of his life in India and England, and then for some random reason moved to Albany, NY.

Cincy Groove: Are there any big plans coming up this year?

Taina Asili: Well the main thing we want to focus on is getting our new album finished. It looks like we will be planning a tour of Latin America for the Fall. Probably Puerto Rico, Mexico and maybe extending out from there. Our music is influenced by the music of Latin America and I sing in Spanish on some of our songs. We think it will be a great opportunity.

Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde:
Taina Asili – Vocalist
Gaetano Vaccaro – guitar/saxaphone
Kiki Vassilakis – drums
Sean Muniz – bass
Bryan Brundige – trombone
Khadija Sharif – Back-up vox
Graham McEvily – cello

Taina Asili at the Sanctuary For Independent Media

Upcoming Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde tour dates:
visit www.tainapoet.com for show details
Jan 24 2009 Circle of Hope Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Jan 26 2009 Ultraviolet Cafe Albany, New York
Jan 31 2009 The Red Square Albany, New York
May 1 2009 May Day Festival at Prospect Park Troy, New York
Sep 6 2009 The Power of Words Conference 2009 Plainfield, Vermont