AMFest Spotlight: Lobo MarinoBy Kimberly Cataudella | 4/13/17 2:25pm | Updated 5/6/17 3:37pm
If you’ve been searching for an internationally-inspired, earthtone-infused, harmonium-playing band close to Washington, D.C., look no further. Jameson Price and Laney Sullivan make up “Lobo Marino,” a folk band based in Richmond, Virginia, though they’re inspired by sounds and instruments from all over the world. They will be at American University for AMFest this Saturday, April 15, to share their loving messages through drumbeats and recorder melodies.
The foundational trip for the band was a year and a half-long journey to Chile, Argentina and Colombia. “We lived near a port in Southern Chile, and these sea lions were always there. That’s where we got our band name,” said Price. (Lobo Marino actually means ‘sea lion’ in Spanish.)
When they came back from that trip to the United States, Price and Sullivan decided to record an album in 2010 as a memory of the experiences that they had. “We saw this as a photo album,” Sullivan said. They called up Price’s connection in the music industry and made music that they thought would only be heard by their close friends.
Wanting to Be the Change
They realized that they wanted to make their music a more public project when they played at a show in Virginia where their friends had come out to hear, Sullivan said. “Something happened in that place that night. When we started playing, everyone got completely silent to listen. It was magic! We realized that there was power within ourselves to decide if we wanted to keep playing for others. We realized that we had the power to make change through our music,” said Sullivan.
After they realized their duty as musicians, one of their first songs written and recorded as Lobo Marino with the mission of influencing listeners was “Celebrate.” It’s a conscious song about ending war and destruction to instead focus on healing the earth and one another. Its pop-feel and upbeat vibes make audiences dance, and it’s a crowd favorite.
In “Celebrate,” Sullivan and Price sing, “With all we are we cannot hesitate, hesitate/o raise the ruined earth through the air, up to the sky/Lay down your swords and wait for rain.”
Another song, “Hari Om,” was written to apply to any moment in time. The lyrics are reminders of how we should just act to love one another, Sullivan said. In “Hari Om,” Sullivan sings, “Carry your brother, carry your sister/Forgive your mother, forgive your father/ Welcome the neighbor, welcome the stranger/Trust in the elder, trust in the younger.”
“My favorite song to play is the one that makes the most sense in the moment. I think songs are appropriate at different moments. With these quasi-political events happening, we will need songs to fit them. When the song is relevant to what is happening politically, it makes the song more emotionally powerful to perform,” Sullivan said. At AMFest, Lobo Marino will play crowd favorites “Celebrate,” “Holy River,” “Awake” and “We Hear the Ocean,” among others. “The other songs that we choose to play will be the ones we feel that the audience will want the most at that time,” said Sullivan.
In many of their songs, you can hear finger cymbals, deep drumbeats and chanting. As white Americans, Price and Sullivan are often asked about their intentions behind making this music. Some people even question whether their art is cultural appropriation-- when individuals use elements of another culture in their own work. But Price responds to critics by saying, “The world has gone through such changes throughout the century, and with our activism and music, we are happy to say that we are learning about it along the way, and we are more than happy to talk about this.”
One of Lobo Marino’s albums, “City of Light,” was recorded as a chanting album. They incorporated elements of Indian, Chinese, Thai and other Asian cultures into the album because of the beauty they found in the sounds of music they heard in 2013 while they were living there. “[‘City of Light’] was recorded and sold with 100% of the album’s proceeds going toward children in the untouchable caste in India to teach them how to use music,” Price said. “People aren’t sure of the full story.”
Price explained the history of the harmonium, which Sullivan can be seen and heard playing during their live performances and music videos. The harmonium was originally a pump organ that Christian missionaries used, but then was adopted into Hinduism and Indian practices, Price said. “I share the history of the harmonium a lot, especially the culturally appropriative history of it. It all comes from the intention behind [the use of the instrument], not the instrument itself,” Price said.
Lobo Marino has one album on which they sang in Sanskrit, the primary language of Hinduism, while their other six albums are original compositions in English. They both say that the songs written and music played come from their hearts and travel experiences. “Since we’ve traveled around the world, we carry with us some vibes and influences from living in other cultures for so long,” Sullivan said.
Organic Farming and the Environment
“We’ve traveled all around the world for years working for organic farms in international communities. We’ve studied what a more holistic and sustainable way to live is,” Sullivan said. After working on these organic farms overseas, the duo’s eyes were opened to the way that people in the United States consume resources and build houses, feeling that it doesn’t have the lightest impact on earth. “Through that journey, we decided we wanted to have a completely alternative lifestyle,” said Sullivan.
Coming back to the States after their years overseas made Price and Sullivan decide to live a more responsible lifestyle with what they consume and their water and waste systems. Now, they grow their own food through their organic farm: Earth Folk Collective. The urban homestead project, founded in 2015, offers workshops and events for members in the Richmond community. “We wanted to model how to do all of this in an urban environment for others who want to live this way too,” Sullivan said. Both members of Lobo Marino have strong connections with other local farmers in the south side of D.C., and these farmers have been helping the two with a public project.
“It’s been hard to get grocery stores to come to [the south side], so there are several groups of farmers on our street who have been growing large amounts of food on public lands. We started growing in parks to increase food access in the neighborhood from the ultimate grassroots level,” Sullivan said. They have seen others growing food in their yards as well, and they know that this will ultimately make their community stronger. Through their organic gardening habits and powerful song lyrics, they hope to inspire others as an activist group.
Be sure to stop by AMFest in the amphitheater this Saturday to get to know this unique duo. Lobo Marino's set starts at 3:15 p.m.