Last week, Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro democracy leader of Myanmar (formerly Burma) was feted at The Electric Burma Concert in Dublin, Ireland. On the eve of her 67th birthday, Bono presented Suu Kyi with the Amnesty International Ambassador of Consciousness Award. Just hours before, Suu Kyi was in Norway to receive her Nobel Peace Prize. Both of these awards are long overdue; Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize way back in 1991, and the Amnesty International award in 2009.
Her story plays like Hollywood movie: Suu Kyi hailed from a political family in Burma, was educated in Oxford, England, where she eventually married the love of her life. Suu Kyi returned to her native Burma to care for her dying mother and found herself at the forefront of Burma’s political reform, where she would be detained for 24 years,15 of those under house arrest. Her husband died in Oxford while she was imprisoned; the Burmese military denied his request for a visa 30 times. She was released in November 2010, and won a seat in Myanmar’s Parliament this past April.
The concert, a celebration of freedom for the former dissident, featured dance, spoken word, performances by Bono, Bob Geldof (founder of “Live Aid”), Angelique Kidjo—and Lupe Fiasco, the only American artist who performed at the show.
It was only appropriate that Amnesty International invited Lupe, a Grammy Award-winning hip hop artist whose lyrics constantly challenge the status quo, to participate in a concert celebrating a woman who was incarcerated for speaking out against governmental oppression, forcing political change through peaceful resistance. Fiasco debuted his new single, “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free)” to an international audience and performed a single from his last album “Lasers” entitled “Words I Never Said.”
Both songs are befitting for a celebration of freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi. “Words” is a rally call for social activism, admonishing, ‘“if you don’t become an actor you will never become a factor…” Fiasco himself declares he’s “a part of the problem, and the problem is I’m peaceful and I believe in the people.” “Freedom Ain’t Free” gives a shout out to “all the rebels in small cells keeping their mind big.” No wonder the producers of Electric Burma tapped this lyrical genius to fete the ex political prisoner.
I am not just a fan of Lupe Fiasco, in full disclosure, Fiasco happens to be my client of 12 years. I have never had the inclination to merge my journalism and clients of my entertainment law practice until now. Yet, there is something about Lupe's depth and mind that intrigues. I sat down with Lupe in Dublin prior to the concert to discuss his thoughts about being involved in such a historic celebration and about his activism, and of course, his 4th album “Food & Liquor II: Great American Rap Album Part 1,” which will be released on September 25, 2012.
EBONY: Why is this cause, celebrating a social activist like Aung San Suu Kyi, important to you?
LF: I think it is important that you have people from all different vanguards, from all different walks of society and different viewpoints to be focused on the struggle for equality and democracy. We need as many champions for the cause and as many events as possible to help keep this in focus.
EBONY: Chicago, your hometown, has been in the news lately for the rash of violence and killings. How is Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle tantamount to what is happening in Chicago?
LF: I think human rights violations, mass murders, wherever they may take place, all stem from corruption, a failure in the system based on greed, a want for power, trickling down, as it was in Suu Kyi’s Burma. In Chicago, you have an absence of strong family units, and that absence gets filled by gangs. You have a failure in the school system, after school programs and other social programs to help keep kids off the streets. Amnesty International speaks to that in some way, by keeping these issues in the forefront. We are all unified in our intention to keep things peaceful and positive.
EBONY: You have been very vocal about the fact that you don’t vote. But Suu Kyi brought about change and forced democracy by people voting her into the presidency. How can you be a positive proponent for change by not voting? How do you reconcile that irony?
LF: I think you have to ask yourself does voting work on the level that you are trying to effectuate change; that is the conversation you must have. Voting changes some things, but those grand sweeping changes that most of us are looking for, those do not happen by voting. All the big revolutions, whether it’s the Industrial Revolution, the Arab Spring, those changes happened by economic and social shifts brought about by the people’s voices and those things weren’t voted for. Most of our changes today are brought about through technology, not by voting.
EBONY: Do you seek to effectuate change through your music? Is music then, your medium?
LF: Yes, music is my medium, just by default because I have to talk about something. Once you exhaust the material things, you seek to learn, you talk about new things. I don’t do that consciously for people to “follow me” because I prefer critical thinking. I want people to ask questions, what am I agitating? What am I getting you to think about? I hope to get you to challenge your point of view, maybe gain a different point of view, just to think.
EBONY: Let’s talk about your new single, “Freedom Ain’t Free”, what’s your message there? What are you trying to get people to think about?
LF: I question the concept of freedom. Is freedom really “free”? You have to pay for everything; everything comes at some type of cost; are you just going from one form of subjugation to another? As I said, I am just making statements. The song is a collage of different scenes through American history, and American pop culture. The struggles of Native Americans, the black community, the white community, the struggles of the far reaches of the U.S .empires.
EBONY: Lastly, tell me about the concept behind “Great American Rap Album, Part 1.”
LF: I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but is basically about my perspective of America and rapping. Just those two things: you will get songs about rapping and songs about America.
And with that, the celebration of freedom began.