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M.I.A. and other music artists draw new borders on immigration

As our nation’s immigration issues triggered by Arizona’s new law that will lead to unconstitutional racial profiling reaches a shrill new level of debate, artists mull over the fact that messy politics is prolonging the injustices that innocent people must face. While some major artists have decided to draw borders in a ban on Arizona, others are trying to draw people into Arizona for concerts against the new law. However, one thing hundreds of musicians share – the belief that putting up walls of hatred towards immigrants is wrong.

Placed in Time magazine’s 2009 list of “World’s Most Influential people” for having “global influence across many genres,” M.I.A has now boldly responded to Arizona’s immigration issue by making her Hard Music Festival free for all Mexicans. The major alternative dance pop star said in an interview with Rockerrazzi last week,

Hard Fest – free for Mexican people; everyone who’s crossed the Arizona borders are welcome at my show and I’ll make you a freakin’ passport.

This decision was a spontaneous result of the pop star’s disbelief that SB 1070 (Arizona’s new anti-immigration law) is still a matter of debate.

I just can’t believe it’s still happening, and it’s happening now. I can’t even get past that point; it’s sort of like moving backwards in time.

Watch her interview.

Meanwhile, major artists Public Enemy and DJ Spooky have condemned SB 1070 while reworking their music. Feeling strongly about the ways in which SB 1070 promotes racism, they decided to rework the classic Public Enemy protest song, By the Time I Get to Arizona, originally written to protest the Arizona state government’s 1993 decision not to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This time around, the lyrics reflect their discontent at “those who don’t learn from the past” with DJ Spooky seeing it as a “21st century look in the rear view mirror.” Check out the updated version.

Chuck D of Public Enemy and his wife Theresa have also promoted a boycott and condemned SB 1070. Known for his socially and politically conscious style of rapping and for trying to bridge the racial gap between “black and brown”, Chuck D asked for

a call to action urging fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, academics and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants.

Rage Against the Machine’s Sound Strike is Raging Against Arizona by refusing to perform at any venues within the state until they revoke the laws. 200 other bands like Massive Attack, Michael Moore, Kanye West, Sonic Youth, Joe Satriani, Tenacious D and Los Tigres De Norte have joined this boycott and called on their fans to sign a petition demanding an end to the draconian law. “You can’t look at SB 1070 in isolation,” Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha said in a video on the Sound Strike website. “It’s part of an entire state’s campaign to humiliate and criminalize an entire population.”

In response, another group, Artists for Action has invited artists to Arizona to perform, educate, and inspire audiences. The group includes Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino and the Sand Rubies’ David Slutes. As Krist Novoselic, a writer for  Seattle Weekly explains,

The Sound Strike boycott is coming from a good place – it’s a reaction to barriers within humanity. But it’s based on borders themselves, in this case those around the state of Arizona… The state border is literally a line in the sand. Who drew those lines, and why are we drawing more with things like boycotts?

To that end, Artists for Action is planning a major concert in Phoenix later this summer. As Burns says,

Whenever there’s an artistic or cultural boycott, it’s important to back that up by showing your presence and doing something. The intent is to go to fans inside of Arizona and inspire them to vote. If people haven’t registered to vote, now is the time to do it.

Major sounds are amplifying the fight against SB 1070.  Let’s hope legislators are listening.

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