Art can be entertainment, a relief from the struggles of our day-to-day lives. But it can also be a tool to make sense of these same struggles. Often there is an inherent tension in trying to reconcile the escapist qualities of art with its transformative power. In an age when the day-to-day has become life or death for many Americans facing systems that are inherently, and too often silently, discriminatory, where does art end and activism begin?
This is a question that Aja Monet, an Afro-Cuban poet, educator, and activist from Brooklyn, has been giving a lot of thought to in recent years. “If you’re reinforcing that money will set you free, that’s only oppressing our people more,” she tells me over the phone. “Let’s stop supporting the things that are hurting us and use music for a spiritual reckoning of our ancestors.” Last spring, Monet relocated from Brooklyn to Little Haiti, Miami and went from pondering to acting. The result is Smoke Signals, a music studio where art and community can come together.