The Luminaries, a conscious Hip Hop collective from Venice Beach, California, have a dedicated ten years of collaboration with the mission of bringing a message of peace, love, and unity to the world through their recordings and touring efforts. They’ve written numerous songs, like “Peace,” “Be The Change,” “Show The World,” and “Free Energy,” to name a few. The band has performed at festivals like Lightning in a Bottle, Enchanted Forest, Harmony Festival, Unifier, Firefly Gathering, Beloved Festival, and Earthdance, and have shared the stage with artists such as Michael Franti, K ‘Naan, The Glitch Mob, Matisyahu and Trevor Hall, as well as music industry legends like KRS-ONE, STS9 and India Arie.
Keyframe caught up with the group to discuss musical influences, social work and their film project “When The People Lead: A documentary about the Luminaries’ travels to Palestine & Israel”.
How did the band meet, and decide to form Luminaries? What’s the inspiration behind the name?
J BRAVE: Luminaries means those who inspire, a body of light. I came up with the name after an epic and transformative journey to the pyramids of Egypt. After recollecting on the trip, the name came to me through deep insight. A few years later that I would meet the members of the group, and the collective would come to be.
Who are your musical inspirations?
J BRAVE: Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, The Beetles, NaS, Black Star, Common, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Sade, Lauren Hill, and so many more.
FREE(W)ILL: Prince, Kool Moe Dee, Freestyle Fellowship, Tribe Called Quest, Leaders of the New School.
CHRIS DEVCICH: It started with my dad’s record collection, which consisted of great music like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Joe Jackson, Isaac Hayes, Bob James, as well as John Lennon, Nirvana (I started playing guitar after I heard the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” CD maxi-single and saw the video), Wu-Tang Clan (especially RZA, who inspired me to rap and produce), Jimi Hendrix, Ennio Morricone, Atmosphere, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Dan The Automator, Public Enemy, Danger Mouse, Slayer, Pantera, Death, and many more.
At what point did you realize that Hip Hop was the avenue for your message?
J BRAVE: Freewill and I used to work together at My Friends Place, a drop-in center for homeless and at-risk youth. It was their bond to service there that connected them as friends, and defined the intention of the Luminaries: to be of service. We realized that Hip Hop was a common thing we both shared, and if we could put positive lyrics behind some banging beats, we could reach more kids through music than we did at the youth center.
FREE(W)ILL: I’ve been on stage since I was 8 or 9. Hip Hop became my way of life back in ‘86. Started rapping in 92-93. I’ve always had a way of combining all of my influences without compromising my own style! So in the 90’s I was known for freestyling and killing the confidence of lesser mc’s at the time. When I met J I was fresh out of my awakening that I am a spiritual being full of light here to take action! After J bugged me and got on my nerves I said fuck it let’s rock, but we gotta keep it conscious so here we are!
CHRIS DEVCICH: I was about 15 and smoking weed with some friends after school. We were listening to Cypress Hill, I think, and they turned down the music and started freestyling over it. I jumped in and they were like “Dammmnnn!” That’s where it started to shift to Hip Hop, as I was already playing in bands and making music. After 9/11, I remember being inspired in the shadow of those events and consumed by my own heartbreak in a relationship. Since then, every time I put the pen to the page it just pours out of me. The inspiration was undeniable and in the dark, cathartic phase of my life, I knew Hip Hop was the way of life for me.
Your team is a sizeable group, consisting of 5 members each bringing their own vibe. What is the creative process like?
CHRIS DEVCICH: Challenging at times, effortless at others. Usually someone will bring a creative idea to the table, like a hook or a beat or a song the band whips up, and we’ll build off of that. Generally, we all contribute to the process. And sometimes one person will take lead on a track.
In looking at the trajectory of rap and hip hop music–as well as other music genres–do you feel part of a movement that aims to steer hip hop in a certain path? How has that impacted your own musical journey?
J BRAVE: We are looking to steer Hip Hop back to its original intention. The Godfather of Hip Hop Afrika Bambata said, “Peace, Unity, and having fun.” That’s the origins of the culture, and we hope to leave our mark on the culture through this same motto.
Hip Hop is expressed in so many ways, and instead of judging others for the way they choose to express themselves, we just choose to be ourselves and spread love. Love conquers all!
CHRIS DEVCICH: Underground, Independent Hip Hop, and music in general has been a huge influence on my life by revealing a path that can exist outside of the mainstream, corporate-controlled and dominated music industry. It showed me that we can create and release our music, book our own tours, and follow a sustainable path of right livelihood on our own all while building a grassroots following, and interacting and connecting with People and communities around the country and the world. That is the essence of Hip Hop – a force and tool that was given to an oppressed People so they could rise out of that situation and make something out of nothing.
FREE(W)ILL: We all know that wack rap has a short life! We are DIY and filled with positive affirmations that anyone within an earshot can feel!
Your own personal experiences reflect your commitment to being catalysts for change. Tell us about the varied community work you’ve done (either outside of Luminaries and/or individually, etc.)
J BRAVE: Free and I used to be full-time youth counselors with Homeless and at-risk teens helping kids in the streets. Chris and I knew each other as adolescents and reconnected many years later as activists for the South Central Farm, which, at the time, was the biggest urban garden in the nation. It was through that movement that our bond grew, and our connection to the Earth, and our learning to protect the land.
CHRIS DEVCICH: I’ve come to the realization that I’m here to help. I’m just a helper and everything I do is for The People. Some of that work includes standing for Mother Earth and the People who didn’t have a voice at the nation’s largest urban community farm, The South Central Farm, which became the catalyst of a global movement for community farms and gardens to blossom in cities around the world. Little did I realize then, that was the spark that ignited so many of these farms and gardens you see when driving through cities now, a trend that carries on to this day. I’ve been involved with the Occupy Movement, Ferguson and the murder of Mike Brown, working with Indigenous communities who have shown me who I truly am, Tenant’s Rights – all types of stuff. Now we are working to help unite the People of Palestine and Israel with the rest of the World with our film “When The People Lead.”
You have performed at a variety of Transformational Festivals such as Lightning in a Bottle, Enchanted Forest, Beloved Festival, and Envision, to name a few. Describe your festival experience. Are there other festivals on your list?
J BRAVE: We’ve performed at Envision Festival in Costa Rica, Bali Spirit Festival in Indonesia, Synthesis Festival in Chichen Itza Mexico, Open Mind Festival in Quebec Canada. It’s also worth noting Enchanted Forest Festival in California, Harmony Festival, and EarthDance.
CHRIS DEVCICH: Rock the fuck out for The People! We throw down hard, and give it everything we got while connecting with audiences in various communities. Ain’t no spectators at a Luminaries show. Everyone’s a participant. At last year’s Lightning in a Bottle we did a panel discussion about “When The People Lead” and our journey to the Middle East. We showed a couple trailers and People asked some really thoughtful questions. It was great to bring that energy there because I think the Israel/Palestine situation isn’t one of the many topics that get brought up at festivals. It’s often not in the festival community’s awareness. It wasn’t so much in ours either, before we got involved with Citizen Diplomacy Initiatives, the sister city program, and saw what it was like over there. It felt great to share that in a festival environment and see People very interested in the subject. ‘Cause ultimately, People are looking for The Truth.
Your track “Reflection” features Nahko Bear of Nahko & Medicine for the People. How did that collaboration come to be?
J BRAVE: We met Nahko at Bali Spirit Festival in 2012. He immediately made an impact on us, as he’s such a funny, charismatic brother. We brought him out to our weekly Luminous Movement event in LA and his ship started to set sail. He’s been touring 2 years straight, yet we were fortunate enough to get him in the studio to lay the vocals and piano parts for the song. We’ve performed the song a few times live without him, and the crowd immediately starts singing along to the hook. It’s a very special feeling. We can’t wait to release the track with our next body of work, “Seconds of Solace,” and hope to shoot a music video for the song as well.
CHRIS DEVCICH: We met Nahko in Indonesia at the Bali Spirit Fest. When you meet someone in a foreign environment like that, there’s a different kind of connection that forms. I was impressed with how hard he and his crew smashed while they were in Bali. Back home, we booked him at our weekly “Luminous Movement” in Santa Monica. The day before the show, he came through the studio and laid down vocals and piano for the track. He improvised some stuff and made the track uniquely his. He’s a natural in the studio. It was inspiring to write my verse in the control room as he was writing and tracking his parts in the next room.
As your mantra and music indicate, peace work is an intrinsic part of your calling. Tell us about your collaboration with Citizen Diplomacy Initiatives and your Indiegogo campaign for your film, “When The People Lead: A film about the Luminaries and Citizen Diplomacy Initiatives peace delegation to Palestine & Israel.”
CHRIS DEVCICH: There’s a lot to tell — you’re gonna have to wait for the film. (Laughs) Basically, one of the heads of CDI (Citizen Diplomacy Initiatives) saw our video for the song “Be The Change” and wanted to use it in a documentary he was making about their sister city program involving Gainesville, Florida, Kfar Saba, Israel and Qalqilya, Palestine in the West Bank. He reached out to J about a licensing fee. J ran it by me, and I said I wasn’t sure about a fee… but let’s go over there! It sounded a little far-fetched to J, but apparently Steve had the same idea. He brought us to Gainesville to do a couple shows and next thing we know, a month later we’re on a plane to Tel Aviv. That’s how it started. We met with all types of People and politicians in Palestine and Israel, including a Palestinian B-Boy/parkour/skate crew called X-Games Crew, the Palestinian prime minister, a bunch of students at various universities, high schools and elementary schools, activists, artists, and musicians. The memories and connections were ones that will last a lifetime. Performing over there was something out of a dream. The film “When The People Lead” is going to look at all that and the power of People-to-People relationships in war-torn areas, how culture and the sharing of it can connect severely divided communities, and how The People, united and acting together as leaders, are the only ones who can truly solve these problems. And perhaps the international culture of Peace and Unity known as Hip Hop.
When the film is finished, what do you hope people will get out of it?
CHRIS DEVCICH: That they see Palestinians as People, not terrorists. That we are all connected, that we are all related, and every choice affects the entire Universe. That we are way more similar than we are different. And if there are differences, it’s those differences that makes us strong and unique. People and culture combined make this world the beautiful place that it is. It’s up to me, and every individual, to love fully and overcome the challenges that exist in the world. That starts by loving myself and overcoming the challenges that exist within myself first. With all that’s going on in the world right now, especially in Paris and Beirut, this is the vital message we wish to convey through the film.
Tell us about upcoming performances, plans, projects, etc.
J BRAVE: Our new upcoming album, “Seconds of Solace,” is set to release in 2016. We are currently planning our spring and summer touring, and intend to release a few more music videos as well. We intend to find new management and booking agent, and open up for a larger headlining act.
CHRIS DEVCICH: In addition to the film “When The People Lead,” we are working on finishing our next album “Seconds of Solace.” It’s going to be more beat-centric, more story-driven, in the same vein of great Hip Hop orators like Nas, Rakim, Slick Rick, Ghostface and Raekwon. Hip Hop is about storytelling, and we are going to share ours. Booking out 2016, Luminaries is involved in a theater performance called “Fire In The Heart” on March 5th, 2016 in Santa Cruz, CA. We’ll continue to be at Zanzibar on Wednesdays in Santa Monica at our weekly “Luminous Movement.” The Luminaries MCs are long overdue on solo releases. Watch for those coming too. And much, much more.
Is there anything else you want to say?
We are deeply moved and grateful for all the support we’ve received around the campaign for “When The People Lead” so far. We’re 60% funded, and it’s really moving to see People believe in what we’re doing. To all our family, friends, fans and supporters – and to People who think that Peace in the Middle East IS possible – Thank You. We couldn’t have done any of this without you. YOU are the Luminaries.
View and support the Luminaries Indiegogo campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/when-the-people-lead#/
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