PT 2: Has American Borderland Art Jumped The Wall?

border cantos

Last week I posted some thoughts titled: Has American Borderland Art Jumped The Wall?

In it I detailed a list of grievances with the current state of borderland art commodification and sterilization.

Some of you were offended.

Some of you were supportive.

Everyone I heard from seemed to struggle with similar questions.

After much soul searching and conversation, I’d like to offer a final follow-up note of clarification and personal reflection.

And a mea culpa too.

So here it is:

Not many of you know my history.

I’ve been a musician all my life.

For 40 or so years few knew this beyond my immediate circle.

Then in 2006 came The Anta Project and with it the national / international spotlight.

Before that time my music was neither my public identity nor a source of substantial income.

Music for me was medicine.

It was my spiritual practice, my drug of choice, my voice, my lover and my therapist.

I was never concerned with who listened to my work.

I did what I did because it was what I did.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

In 2006 all of that changed.

When I played the border wall in Nogales Arizona/Mexico along with migrant ephemera, it was an outgrowth of my spiritual practice as a musician.

I did not do it for publicity or money.

My reason was simple: To create awareness and tell the story of migrant deaths and border militarization at a time when it was largely unknown to the general American public.

Because what I was doing was unique -- playing the borderlands with a cello bow and implements of mass percussion -- media attention snowballed and I developed an audience I was unprepared for.

At the same time I had begun my work, the Web had also become an affordable global distribution medium. 

During the first five years I gave away approximately one million downloads via my site

The numbers are staggering in retrospect, but at the time I took it all in stride.

Every person from around the globe who downloaded The Anta Project had to learn about the humanitarian crisis on the United States / Mexican border by passing through words and images telling the story before getting the music.

Despite the fact I am self-taught and have been figuring out everything as I've gone along, I was invited to speak at universities and conferences, install my work in museums and galleries, and share my observations and performances in films and books.

The stipends I made from speaking and performance engagements went to keep my site afloat and purchase supplies.

The remainder was sent to humanitarian groups who were doing the real work of saving lives on the border every day.

Gradually I became “that-guy-who-plays-the-border wall.”

I developed attachment to this new identity and forgot the reasons it all began.

In some ways I’d become a cliché and parody of myself.

But things were also veering into the realm of Spinal Tap and it was not hard to imagine a full-size replica of The Border Wall made entirely out of Styrofoam appearing on stage or in a gallery somewhere.



Over the years bootleg versions of The Anta Project and Droneland Security have been posted on torrent download sites. At one point there was even a bootleg ringtone available.

Border artists also used my music in performance and videos without giving it credit, the only request I made for using the work.

The original word "sonicanta" which I’d coined in 2006 was used for a television show. Anta Project was used to sell a high-end line of celebrity wine and also to describe a dam project in India.

Because of my attachment and insecurity about my new identity, I saw it all as a rip-off of what I was doing rather than a compliment or simply a series of unconnected events.

Gradually my tunnel vision was setting in.

After the release of Border Songs which raised roughly $100,000 to help the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, I quarantined The Anta Project and Droneland Security and made them available by purchase only.

When Border Cantos came out earlier this year, the musical component of the exhibit bore the brunt of my attachment.

I knew the artists were familiar with my work and I felt the conscious decision to ignore my contribution to this genre was a callous appropriation of the ideas I had been so carefully cultivating over the past ten years.

I also knew the money and marketing behind their project would serve to eclipse everything I’d tried to do.

These sentiments were an outflow of my attachment and ego and not appropriate or accurate.

Along the way I'd become lost.

No longer was playing the border about creating awareness of the humanitarian crisis.

Now it was about ME and the work I had created.

My attachment and ego had stripped away my humility and I’d lost focus on what sonicanta was originally all about.

In light of these personal revelations, I see that Border Cantos is trying to do good work and offer them my apologies and my blessing.

I may not agree with their aesthetics or financial allocations --- especially when so many migrant groups are financially scraping by --- but I accept their intentions as good and the rest is none of my business.

I plan to continue doing what I do for whatever it is worth, but I’m also going to take a conscious step back from the validation of the spotlight.

It is time to return to music as medicine.

I appreciate the opportunity for this dialogue and welcome your thoughts / ideas.

Stay tuned,


border cantos