Maria Isa found out she was pregnant right around the same time she released “Sasa,” the 2018 album she dedicated to her late grandmother, born in Puerto Rico in 1916, her mother, a long time activist, and women of color in politics.
“It was such a beautiful thing within itself,” she said in a recent phone interview. “At the time I didn’t know I’d have a baby girl.”
Isa, a St. Paul musician-activist-teacher-artist, believes in these kind of connections, whether it's waterways that merge or like-minded humans who come together to perform, celebrate and spread a message. Isa is among the featured artists for the Water is Life Festival, an event on Sunday at Bayfront Festival Park that also marks the 25th anniversary of Honor the Earth.
Chastity Brown headlines, and the lineup also includes Corey Medina, David Huckfelt and more. It opens with a procession of species, and there will also be native-led markets.
Honor the Earth, founded by Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls, raises awareness and money for environmental issues, specifically those that affect indigenous communities. Recently, this has been a battle against Enbridge’s Line 3 project.
Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls was thinking about connections, too, in 2013 when the longtime folk twosome played an Honor the Earth concert at Big Top Chautauqua near Bayfield.
“There’s a really big picture happening,” she said in an interview with the News Tribune. “You can fight one pipeline or one mine, but it’s connected to something else.”
LaDuke had already worked with Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne — artists associated with Musicians United for Safe Energy — when she met the Indigo Girls at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts during an Earth Day event in the 1990s.
“That’s how we were launched,” she said. “Fill people’s hearts with joy. Share a message that we are with love, with goodness.”
They’ve done about 100 shows since, LaDuke said, a mix of seeking out artists and having artists seek them out. Lineups have included Raitt, Brandi Carlile, the Dixie Chicks.
LaDuke said she met Chastity Brown at an event to bring awareness to missing and murdered indigenous women.
“I was smitten with her,” LaDuke said. “I thought she was just wonderful.”
Brown, who is coming to town fresh from Sweden, where she is working on her next album, was also in last year’s lineup.
“I have a unique privilege of having access to a microphone, and it means a great deal to me to be part of this event and use my voice to join Winona LaDuke and members of the Earth-loving community in solidarity,” she said in a news release.
Isa, born as much into activism as she was into music, met with LaDuke about 14 years ago, she said. The organization’s missions matched her own: environmental issues and decolonization.
“The movement has grown so much,” Isa said, “empowering tribes and recognizing that we have to speak up for those native to the land. In this crucial time, with the administration in office who is trying to deny our true history, who is denying our leadership and trying to divide us even more, (it’s important to) come together through performance — arts and music — and to pass a message and celebrate that we are here.”
As a musician, Isa mixes Latin beats and hip-hop. She has played stages with Wu Tang Clan, The Roots, Sheila E. She’s also the creator and co-host of the podcast Latina Theory and started the label SotaRico in 2009.
She gave birth to her daughter, but never really took the maternity leave she claimed she was going to take. Rather, she’s bringing her into the fold.
Earlier this week, she said, she was holding her daughter while looping, and she recognized music as a tool for resistance.
“Holding my daughter and singing these songs really showcased for myself, to reflect on this tool that has helped me to survive physically, mentally,” she said. “It’s such a beautiful gift from the ancestors that she has this tool for her generation.”
If you go
What: Water is Life Festival
When: 11 a.m. Sunday, July 21
Where: Bayfront Festival Park
Tickets: $25 in advance at honortheearth.org, $30 at the gate