Last month's "Reject and Protect" protest in Washington on the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline included appearances by Neil Young, actress Daryl Hannah, and hundreds of cowboys, Indians, and environmentalists. But only one person came armed with a rap song.
Frankie Waln, a Sicangu Lakota hip-hop artist from the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota, was invited to the protest to perform a set that included the song "Oil 4 Blood," which he wrote about Keystone. The song was written and recorded three years ago, but Waln said it's found "a whole new life" in the past year as the Keystone protests have heated up. Waln, 24, will graduate from Chicago's Columbia College this month studying audio design and production.
In an interview with National Journal, Waln explained how the song came about, what it meant to perform it at a protest, and why it refers to his mother.
How did "Oil 4 Blood" come about? Why write a song about Keystone?
This was about three years ago, and I was in my dorm room, and this was about the time Keystone started to be talked about back home. I was on Facebook, and I started seeing photos pop up from a protest at home, where people on my reservation had blockaded a road and were blocking trucks that were carrying pieces of the pipeline. There was one video of Marie Randall, a 92-year-old, and she was speaking to my generation. She was saying, "All we have left is this land. I'm 92 years old, and I'm not going to be out here much longer. Who's going to be out there when I'm gone?" That really spoke to me and cut to my core. So I did the only thing I knew how to do.
What's the main theme of the song?
We do not want the Keystone pipeline. If you look at the chorus, when I say "soil my love," I mean you're destroying the earth. And when I say "my mother," I'm talking about the earth. Our word for nature means mother, so we look at the earth very much the way we look at our mother.
In the verses, I'm talking about a lot of the issues we face on the reservation and saying we have a lot to worry about already. We don't need this pipeline poisoning our land.
Why do you think it's important to have a song as part of this movement?
I didn't really realize this until I performed ... but people came up to me and were saying that all day we had speeches, we had numbers and facts and statistics. But music brought an emotional element. You can make people feel something. For some people it connects much stronger. Through experiencing emotion through music, we can make a connection that we couldn't just listening to numbers.
This article appears in the May 11, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.