Louis VI

Louis VI isn't one to sit on the sidelines, he aims to help give BIPOC communities a voice on climate justice. On his second album EARTHLING, the London rapper and climate activist is directly challenging the colonial legacy of climate change. Travelling to the Amazon gathering field recordings, giving speeches at COP26 and making award-winning shorts, his album condenses these experiences around his own Dominican heritage. EARTHLING is packed with nature-fuelled field recordings from Amazon storms, to UK forests and tropical birds on Mexican coasts. It’s also stacked full of features from the friends and musicians that surround Louis - including Lex Amor, Oscar Jerome, Moses Boyd, Bluestaeb, Alex Cosmo Blake and Mick Jenkins.

Photo credits: Carlos Martí @carlosmart1 and Dylan James Moore

DDescribe the nature around you at the moment.

I can hear rose-ringed parakeets and other small birds as I look out my window in Lisbon down at the river. The sun is out, there's a beautiful Mediterranean pine just to the right of my view and I saw some common sandpipers and cormorants at the estuary on my run by the river this morning. I'm propa overdue escaping the city and getting into some propa nature though; I’m trying to plan something for this weekend.

Where do you feel most at ease?

In some loud nature; in the tropics. But specifically? Honestly back in Dominica where my dad's side is from. In the lush jungle surrounded by hummingbirds and parrots on one of the black sand beaches or deep in the Amazon at my Indigenous Kichwa friend’s house Leo Cerda; on an island between two rivers. I used to be a real “the ocean is my shit” but I was won over by the rivers there. So anywhere where there’s the sound of water, whether it’s the ocean or a river - and no sound of cars or modern society.

How has music deepened your connection to nature?

I read this question a few times and was like; my connection with nature was first, and probably deepened my connection to music, but I read something recently that made me think it goes both ways. Essentially everything in nature exists in a balance; there's deviation but everything always has a push to return towards that balance. It's harmony, and there's a harmonic resonance in nature that exists in good music too.

Nipsey Hussle said it once beautifully in an interview: you go somewhere mentally and you bring it back for people to resonate with. There was a truth that existed and you found it and brought it down to the human level to experience. Music is spiritual. I was lucky enough to finish my album EARTHLING in probably the most alive place on Earth, the Amazon rainforest, with really close friends that have called that place home ancestrally for thousands of years. There was music to the sound of the forest - undeniably. I need to listen to music every day to feel myself but there, I didn't need to. The forest was singing all day and all night.

What are you interested in at the moment?

I'm interested in helping the diaspora, like myself, in the west understand our deep, deep connection to nature. It was the first and most significant thing we were taken away from as people of colour, from slavery and colonialism. Our connection to the land was embodied in who we were and who we are. I'm interested in helping us understand we are unique in that we can be the bridge between the west - the problem that has caused climate change, and the global south, where we come from, who's on the front line of this climate crisis.

Really, it all stems from the fact my mind is blown by nature and all parts of it. I'm interested in sensory ecology right now, the study of the perception that different organisms have of the world. How we perceive the world as humans is very visual, but we only see a small part of visible light. So many animals, feel and see the world differently; and that's called their umwelt. A turtle or a migratory bird may be in the same room as us but will perceive it differently and even feel the magnetic lines of the Earth. I know they are using AI to try and communicate with animals like orcas and I think if we're to truly live in harmony with this planet, we need to start understanding the experience of the other living beings that inhabit it with us. I'm also interested in how sound can be used to monitor biodiversity and even raise alarm on illegal mining, logging or fishing in forest and marine habitats.

Which song, book or poem inspired your relationship with nature?

Aldous Huxley’s Island was a really interesting book in seeing what a utopian society that co-exists with nature and combines eastern and western philosophies could look like. And Braiding Sweetgrass is an interesting one, looking at the world both scientifically and through an Indigenous lens.

I think Black Jacobins by C.L.R James really is the most in-depth and real account (also written by a Black historian) of the true history and atrocities of colonialism and slavery in the Caribbean. From the initial destruction of the Indigenous cultures there to the enslavement of Africans and the continued theme of the destruction of the environment. I'd say this is a must-read for any diaspora in the west, especially to understand the Caribbean because so much media focuses on North America even though the majority of enslaved people were taken to the Caribbean and Brazil.

What do you want audiences to take away from your latest album EARTHLING?

I’m trying to save the world with this album in the only way I know how - with the most certi music you’ve ever heard. Nature is the coolest, waviest, trippiest thing out there. But as a diaspora, especially having grown up stuck in the inner city, we've been tricked to think that ain't for us. This album is me standing up and saying, “na, this beautiful world is for us because we ARE nature”. Through colonialism and slavery, we were taken from that connection. And now the places we draw ancestry from, the flags we're proud to wave at carnival and put on our hinge profiles, those places are on the front line of this climate crisis suffering, even though they've contributed little to nothing to it. What I've made here is completely and honestly myself, maybe even to a fault. I've tried to show what I love in a non-preachy, honest, vulnerable, funny, angry, real “me” way. This is a radical record.

I think it's our responsibility as artists; as storytellers, especially from a POC perspective to speak real shit and right now that's being loud on the environment, our home. It may take time but this album will build; this album is going to switch you on; switch you on to something deeper about yourself; to make you think about the meaning behind why you’re even on this planet as an earthling. The end result of this is not just surviving but sowing the seed of an idea where we can, as earthlings, create a future where we live in harmony with the planet.

I want us diaspora to wake up to the fact; we are nature; we were taken away from nature. Nature is part of us so we need to protect it - leaving its jungle, its rivers, its air and its seas unpolluted and able to grow and protect us back.

Throughout the album, my aunty from Dominica talks about the colonial stories that have affected so many of us, and between each track is different sounds of nature from around the world. I've recorded deserts to oceans, to rainforests, to London parks. I've tried to include as much of what I think being an earthling means to me in it. This album is music, but it can be much more than that if people get behind it. It can be a message for young people; be inspired to open your eyes & hearts a little wider to see we have a beautiful future ahead of us or greed and extinction; and it’s our choice how this moves forward. The core of everything is vibration (hence why the middle song in the album is called Vibrate!). Music and nature are the same - it's all about harmony. We have a fucking exciting future if we can change our role as humans to be propa EARTHLINGS and start living in harmony with this planet and its vibration. Let’s redefine our legacy as EARTHLINGS on this planet.

What kind of ancestor would you like to be?

One that my relatives from their house in the Caribbean or on the African continent, indistinguishable from the nature around it, in a world where human-caused extinctions are a thing of the past, reparations for colonialism and slavery were paid, and the world is a unified and fairer place, (because climate justice and environmental justice means gender equality, racial equality, economic equality, technology equality etc... all of it) where greed is a psychiatric illness... would lean over and say over a glass of cold rum and ice: "yo, you actually did some real shit back then. And you didn't shout about it, you didn't blame, you didn't spread fear, but you tried to build a bridge with what you love - and art when words failed".

If the soil beneath your feet could speak, what would it say? (Question from #TheNatureKind interview with Naomi Terry)

“You don't even know how connected we are”. And also, "what's going on up there; like fam - I've survived millions of years, been through dinosaurs, meteors, ice ages, molten lava, flooding, rains and droughts, but something weird is going on up there now”.

What question would you like to ask to the next person on #TNK?

100 years from now, what does your utopia look like?

And could you suggest someone else or other organisations you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind?

Eli Virkina - @eli.virkina. She's a good friend of mine and an incredible young Kichwa activist, writer and photographer from the Ecuadorian Amazon.

You can find out more about Louis VI on Instagram, and EARTHLING will be released on 31 March 2023 on Hiyaself Unlimited.

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