BP: The tagline for festival is “Art is Power” so how is art power?
CK: So this year for the festival the theme was more about evolution, which is always something that has resonated with us. In terms of “Art is Power,” that’s a really interesting question because I always ask others that question. So, art is power…I think art is power in two distinct ways. I believe in self-awareness, self-love, self-investigation, and art gets you to go within yourself. And as you start to go within and assess who you are, it becomes a really powerful manifestation and fertile ground for expression. And as you start to express yourself, you start to move to a level of understanding. If I start to express myself to you, you start to express yourself to me more. The foundation of love I believe starts with understanding. You move from understanding to respect. You understand me. Now maybe you’ll respect me. Respect me, then we start to move to trust. When you get to that level of trust, which takes time, you get to love. That’s what I’ve always wanted to work towards. Selfless love.
But there are layers to get to that. That pure and deepest form of love always existed, but layers and constructs that we’ve created or that we’ve been born into need to first be removed and unlearned. We must move through these channels to get to the selfless love that always existed. So, through art, it allows you to tap into that process of detaching and move through the levels of understanding, respect, trust and love. Once you get to love, that builds into the way we interact with others in our family, community, and society – and art therefore is a powerful tool for social inclusion. Especially in a place like Toronto – a microcosm of the world – art allows us to understand each other and the multitude of diversity that exists there. And if we get it right here we can be a model for the move towards global love. That’s why art is so powerful.
And on the flip of art being a tool for building self love and social inclusion, it can also be a tool for self-sustaining, one that’s a really powerful tool for economic development. Once you’ve started to build economic resilience, you can take your art and make money off of it. There’s a whole industry that can come out if it. My friends and I always say the best way for a poor man/woman to get out of that situation and become rich is through Intellectual Property – and art is IP. Don’t get me wrong, I overstand [sic] and the intrinsic values of art – but once you can translate those intrinsic values and remain in integrity and make money off of it, you can sustain an entire community off of it. I think the cultural industries are really powerful.
So when you look at these things – building self-love, social inclusion and economic opportunity you can see art has great power – it has the power and potential to mitigate poverty, mental-illness, violence, etc. When you start to understand yourself and each other and you start to create jobs, a lot of the “symptoms” of social ailments you can address – and all of this through art.
Let’s now move onto the power of art in terms of its transcendent nature. Art allows us to tap in to our cosmic self and our highest levels of enlightened beings. It gives us the power to recognize that within every single moment that we’re connected to this omniverse and helps us become in tune with all levels of our being: our spiritual wellbeing, our creative wellbeing, our intellectual wellbeing, our emotional wellbeing, our physical wellbeing and that holistic kind of creative being that we all are – tapping into all of that. Art can drive us into those moments.
Let’s take a speech that Selassie made to the United Nations. It goes: [Che starts singing]
“Until the philosophy
which holds one race superior and
another, inferior, is finally and permanently
discredited and abandoned
everywhere is war”
That might sound familiar because Bob Marley then took that literary and oratory art and transcended it into the song War which now resonates around the world. I’ve travelled the world – to small corners – and you play that song and where the people don’t even speak English, they’re singing “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another.” It translates all over and to our generation right now and that’s through radio waves to the world, that’s Supreme Power.
So art has the ability to transcend all voice, it can penetrate through all barriers. And we have art forms that go beyond language. Dance. You don’t even need to know the language and you can watch someone dance and feel their emotion and expression. So many others, martial arts, culinary arts, instrumentation…take it back to the beginning with Indigenous throat singers, there’s throat singing which exists to this day and has manifested in hip hop as beatboxing. You look at throat singing or beat boxing and can feel that it goes well beyond any kind of language, and you can feel the emotion and that story and the ancient lineage to the Original Peoples and beyond the Original Peoples, the vibration that exists within every atom. That can be manifested through art. The vibration that exists within every single atom can be manifested through art. Once we do that, we drive ourselves inwards to reach and attain enlightenment. It helps to drive us further and further and further into the space of the present moment.
And then to add on that, art is cool. It has this swagger to it and it can influence people, it can influence entire communities – you can get young people to be interested about how they take care of themselves, how they’re going to sustain themselves – all through art. Art is the backbone of pop culture. We just talked about Jay Z and Beyoncé becoming vegan. Look at the power those two have achieved and now they can announce something like that and influence someone in terms of healthy living – it can also take the opposite, people emulating negative things that are perpetuated through the art or those who have reached a level of influence because of their art. The ripple effect and that kind of Trojan Horse effect of art is powerful – the fact that art can be that gateway into a larger conversation.