Hip-Hop Artist and Environmental Activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez Joins Naomi Klein in Conversation at UBC

The Phil Lind Initiative welcomes one of the U.S.'s brightest voices in the fight against the climate emergency.

Usually, when you get invited to an event by a group that has “policy” in the name, it’s not an indicator that you’re about to experience a good time. But UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs has been proving us wrong all spring. Its Phil Lind Initiative is a dynamic conversation series focused on Pop Politics, and has been bringing in some impressively cool artists and writers to share insights and commentary on how pop culture influences and shapes political life in the United States.

The series has already welcomed Trick Mirror author Jia Tolentino and singer songwriter Jon Batiste to the Chan Centre. Rupaul’s Drag Race winner Sasha Velour is slated for April 18. But next up on the docket is an artist and advocate who also has plenty to say: musician and climate-change leader Xiuhtezcatl Martinez joins Naomi Klein for a live discussion on March 21.

In his short 23 years, Martinez has made an indelible impact on the conversation around the climate emergency. He’s taken legal action against the U.S. government and fossil fuel giants; spoken at the UN; been named one of Time magazine’s “Next 100”; and appeared on The Daily Show and on many other shows. He’s also an impressive hip-hop performer, setting sharp observations about Indigenous-colonizer relations and the climate catastrophe to sparse, striking beats.

In other words, he keeps busy… and always has. His parents were both environmental activists, and he grew up in a family that was deeply, actively committed to speaking up for change. “From an early age, I was exposed to culturally subversive ideas, to visionary worldviews,” he says. “I saw first-hand what inspires people to get out of their seats.”

Inspiration, he saw, comes from storytelling. “We live in a time where information and science have become tertiary to emotion. Art is a venue for changing people’s hearts,” he says. Martinez’s music is part of that storytelling, but also a way for him to rest and celebrate. A friend from Ecuador was explaining to him recently that after protests, they dance and celebrate. It’s an idea that appeals to Martinez, who knows the importance of both resilience and rest with a long-term battle like this one.

His activism is tied tightly to his Indigenous Mexican roots. “The fossil fuel industry is a modern form of colonial violence,” he says. “It affects us all, but Indigenous organizers have a close understanding and connection to the gravity of what’s taking place. It’s transparent to identify it as a threat to our survival—it’s not something you opt in to.”

Tickets to Xiuhetzcatl Martinez’s talk with Naomi Klein on March 21st at the Chan Centre are free while quantities last; get yours here.