Photos by Kisha Bari

Taina Asili’s songs have long given voice to the struggle of the oppressed, marginalized and discarded. Now one of her compositions “We Are Rising” has become the official anthem for One Billion Rising, a movement founded by “The Vagina Monologues” playwright, author and activist Eve Ensler to combat violence and oppression against women across the globe. 

The group’s action’s have resulted in massive protests, flash dance mobs and protests across the globe. Asili, an Albany resident of Puerto Rican descent who is a prolific songwriter known for her energetic protest music, met Ensler about a year ago and the two discussed having Asili pen a song specifically for the movement. Writing a song with the input of outside stakeholders was new to Asili, but it was a challenge and responsibility that she cherishes. 

“I have started to enjoy the process of writing anthems for our movement–not just for myself as an artist, but being accountable to a movement, working collaboratively with a movement to develop a song,” Asili says. 

One Billion Rising’s global reach demanded that Asili’s song could reach a diverse constituency and be somewhat universal. 

Asili recalls being in a hotel across the street from Carnegie Hall before taking the stage as part of “Soul Mechanism: A Concert Celebrating the Music of Migrations” in May 2019 when the initial inspiration for the song struck. “I came up with the skeleton of the song and from there I shared it with the organizers and we would bounce ideas back and forth. That’s the way we shaped it right up until the video release.” 

Asili also directed the video, which was released late last year. 

With the U.S. presidential election approaching, Asili is reminded of the release of her anthem “No Es Mi Presidente” (“He is not my president”), which was inspired by her performance during the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. Released to coincide with the Day Without Women action in Mach 2017, the song tapped into the political zeitgeist of the moment, leading to a write-up in Rolling Stone and other major media coverage. 

Asili again performed the anthem on Feb. 7 at a grassroots town hall meeting at Howard University with The Rising Majority and U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. The four, all women of color elected to the House of Representatives in 2018, are often called (sometimes derisively) the Squad. 

“Each time I sing that song, I hear something different in it,” Asili explains. “I wrote the song to inspire hope during a time when there was so much despair. But in that space with the Squad in D.C., with so much action happening and having been through this different phase of activism, I felt affirmation that we can change things. There were so many powerful activists in one space, and, of course, those sisters in Congress who are brilliant and all these activists ready to make change. It gave me hope that I want to give to others.”

On February 3, Asili performed “We Are Rising” as part of a One Billion Rising action in front of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Manhattan office to protest his decision not to include restaurants in the state’s new $15 minimum wage law. One Billion Rising believes that raising the minimum wage for restaurant workers would reduce incidents of sexual harassment in the industry. 

Studies show that the restaurant industry has a higher rate of sexual harassment than other industries. One study shows 79% of surveyed women and 71% of surveyed men reported being sexually harassed on the job. 

Performing the song in that setting furthered Asili’s view of the value of protest anthems and her developing role as a prominent author of them. 

“We want to offer a sense of solidarity because with the sense of hope we feel, we also feel a lot of despair and we need to recognize that.

Asked about if she thought about her multiple nominations for the Eddies Capital Region Music awards she says. “I received amazing feedback on the video for ‘We Are Rising.’ It had over half a million views, but even with all the positive comments I’ll still find myself having to delete occasional negative comments–some of them telling me to go back to where I came from or worse. But the all the overwhelming positive feedback I receive, including the recent Eddies nominations in our community, is a reminder that my work is welcomed and an affirmation that my work matters.“

“I know the feeling of leaving my driveway and seeing a Trump sign, pulling up next to a truck with a Trump flag and feeling like the world is against me,” she continues. “I’m never sure when I’m in the presence of an opponent or an enemy–someone who I can’t discuss differences with or who wants to do me harm. So I know what that is like and others need to know they are not alone whether they are protesting, or just surviving it all contributes to the cause. I hope my work is affirming that there is a community that they are a part of.”

Taina Asili will be performing at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall as part of their The Lift series on Feb. 19. She’s also nominated for multiple Eddies Awards and will perform as part of the awards ceremony at Proctors on April 5.