Video Premiere: Carli Munoz Talks 'Wangari Maathai' And Puerto Rico Recovery
Steve Baltin Contributor
Hollywood & EntertainmentI write about music and the business of music.
Carli Munoz's excellent new album, Follow Me, is infused with the sounds and spirit of his native Puerto Rico. The record from the jazz pianist, who has played with the Beach Boys, Etta James and Wilson Pickett, among others, was recorded in New York and Puerto Rico. He was finishing it in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria hit.
The environment, the hurricane, the recovery and everything surrounding Maria is part of the album and the first single, "Wangari Maathai," named after the Nobel Peace Prize winning environmentalist, known for her Green Belt Movement (http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/).
The spirit of Maathai and her work, as well as the spirit of the music that inspires Munoz, from Bill Evans to Sting. is celebrated in the video, premiering here. I spoke with Munoz about the new album, mixing music and activism and finding the best in the dire situation that is still affecting his native Puerto Rico.
Steve Baltin: Was the whole album recorded in Puerto Rico?
Carli Munoz: The basic tracks were recorded in Brooklyn, New York and it was completed in Puerto Rico in terms of the string section, the horn section and the arrangements of the horns and strings.
Baltin: What message do you hope people take from the video?
Munoz: There's a strong parallel, the Wangari Maathai movement basically has a universal focus and local as well in terms of Africa -- the trees, the abuse of land, not taking care of nature, which has affected the society in its entirety. The strong parallel right now is what's happening from the hurricane, which caught us right in the middle of doing this. It was basically about the idea of caring for the planet and for the trees and the byproduct of that, which is a better society. It just trickles down all the way to human well being. So it's an important issue. And I concentrate on Wangari because she really impressed me the way that she pushed that forward as a single person that has done so much to bring attention and awareness to the issue of the environment. And also she touched a lot of social issues and how that affected the villages, the women who were the main workers in the village and the young girls, who were suffering a great deal by the social structure that lack of resources brought in. She fought that and she single-handedly won. She even toppled the government and she got recognized. She got the Nobel Peace Prize, which is fantastic and it's world recognition. The thing that just impressed me so much is that a single person could do that. It tells me how much we can do. It inspired me. What I do is music but I always wanted to have a voice. And I often thought, "How can I do this? With music I wouldn't be able to do this." But I was wrong. And people kind of corrected me that I shared this sentiment with. Somebody said to me, "You can do it with music." And I hadn't even seen that as a possibility. So I'm trying to be a speaker through music.
Baltin: Are there artists you admire for the way they mix music and their message?
Munoz: Sting has done it. There are a lot of artists nowadays that are involved and that's fantastic. I love saying that because like I said, we have the privilege of the microphone and perhaps a crowd in front of us so we have the reach. As you say, Harry Belafonte was very active in his time. And also a dear friend, Eddie Gomez, you didn't even have to speak sometimes. You can do so much, just music can do a lot, let alone speaking. Just supplement that. It's really a wonderful thing. And not just musicians, every field of art -- artists. actors -- are doing so much. I have so much respect for actors and actresses who have been so outspoken.
Baltin: Typically crises like you see in Puerto Rico don't happen overnight. Have you seen it build slowly?
Munoz: Yeah, it's been building at a local level, at a domestic level. Trump didn't start with Trump. You could take that back to the Roger Stone's of politics that have been meddling with our politics and beyond that. Trump is a horrible byproduct of it, but this comes from a long ways. The way things are in Puerto Rico right now, it has evaporated. You have a very strong colonial background, the idea that we have certain limitations, that we can't really fend for ourselves, even in a situation where a lot of problems could be solved if we just had a better give and take with the mainland, that could easily be solved. We had a period of living in a state where everything was right and we had the best of both worlds. That can be true, but it has a lot to do with who's governing locally and abroad. And everything that happened now is a perfect storm besides having a real storm interfere. It just came at a time when financially we were basically doomed. We're at the apex of financial discuss and that has a long political history here. We're puppets, but at the same time we are guilty of electing the wrong people. It's just a messed-up system through something that happens in the U.S. and many other countries as well. But here it came to an apex at the time these hurricanes came in and took us to the bottom. Sometimes great things come out of hitting bottom. And I think that's the case too cause although we didn't have a whole lot of real rescue efforts from the federal government. I don't know if you remember when Trump came in and threw a roll of paper towels to the audience. What the federal government, from the top, has done, is basically analogous to that. They dropped some money for corrupt people in the government to misuse it so it wouldn't get to the people. But I could say what has come to our aid has been people from the U.S. mainland -- individuals, foundations. It's been people, private corporations and foundations that have really made a difference. If there's a light at the end of the tunnel in this dire situation it's to see that, to see people at work helping their fellow human beings.
I write about music and the business of music.
I have written for Billboard, Rolling Stone, the L.A. Times, Yahoo, Vice and every other major publication as well as host the Hulu interview series Riffing With and teach music journalism for Grammy Camp. I have had countless amazing experiences in music, from tea with Neil Young and hanging in a limo with Stevie Wonder to drinking beer bongs with the Foo Fighters in Vegas and being onstage with Skrillex. When not writing about music I am hanging with my dog, playing basketball and eating sushi in sunny Southern California.