Words and Photos by Ursula Vari
On June 5, Raine Piyako made history for the Asháninka people with a debut performance in front of a packed house at Hotel Cafe, on the same stage where in the past Adele, Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Leonard Cohen and other singer-songwriters wowed their audiences with intimate acoustic performances. Raine is the son of legendary indigenous activist Benki Piyako from the Asháninka indigenous group in the Brazilian Rainforest, who won the United Nations Equator Prize in 2017 for his reforestation initiatives and the protection of Asháninka rights and culture. LA’ s “medicine music” scene is bringing indigenous voices into the mainstream with their impassioned message advocating for the Amazon and Mother Earth. Despite the dim lights of Hotel Café, the room was filled with the light of expectant “family”, friends, “brothers and sisters” from LA’s spiritual community.
At 25, Raine carries the profound wisdom of his people, the Asháninka indigenous community, who live in the State of Acre, Brazil, parts of the Ucayali in Peru and in the forests of Junín, Pasco, Huánuco. With his voice strong and determined, Raine’s songs and words of gratitude lit up the whole room. Despite his broken finger, due to an accident the day prior, Raine played and sang thousands of years old Asháninka prayer chants until his bandage started to unravel on his injured hand. His father, Benki Piyanko, who is also the founder of Yorenka Tasorentsi, a center focusing on the conservation and restoration of the Amazon, stood in the audience with eyes glowing, witnessing the leader his son has become. Hotel Café never had this much light in its history. After Raine got off stage, his cousin Piyako Piyako, 22, took the guitar to continue connecting with the audience one prayer song after another and by this point the crowd was moved to dance to the familiar rhythms of prayer circles. Everyone was singing along to the Asháninka medicine songs in the “Só Alegria” (only joy) state which is a term often used during ceremonies.
The evening was a beautiful coming together of people from all over the world, as a prelude to the annual Aniwa Gathering that is to take place in Big Bear June 8-11, where 40 indigenous elders from all around the world will be sharing their wisdom. After Piyanko finished his set, Leo Barbieri, a multi-instrumentalist Brazilian musician and Oscar Mazuwa from the Yoreme people of Sinaloa, Mexico led the crowd into a singalong. For those who were present the night became a profound heart opening celebration of love, life and the remembrance of purpose.
“We have to take care of the Earth while we still have time. It's still early enough to do something.” In his impassioned speech as the night was coming to an end, Raine reminded the crowd what was at stake. Weaving profound words of wisdom into his message, the audience was witnessing an emerging leader. “We fight for the Earth, for the land, for the forest so we can take care of it. It’s for us to think of, the new generation that is coming. I am that new generation that’s coming” he urged the audience into a quiet reflection as his father stood backstage, proud of every one of his son’s words. By the time Benki stepped on the stage, his son had delivered the most powerful message ever uttered at Hotel Café.
After another Asháninka prayer song for the Earth, Benki urged the crowd and all who were watching the livestream: “Let’s walk together and defend this earth that’s being destroyed. Because she is our life, the water is our life, the Earth is our life, the wind is our life, the fire is our life, the animals are our lives, the forest is our life, everything is our life . I hope I planted a seed in your hearts with this message. “
Leaving his words etched into the fabric of the velvet drape behind the stage, Benki walked off with the audience roaring in agreement. And just when many thought the night had ended, Rudy Randa, one of the founders of the Boa Foundation took the stage, “Water is Life'' he sang with the passion of a man who has seen a lot. Many thought the night had ended after Randa left the stage, but the few who stayed were rewarded by a surprise and unexpected 3-song set by Benki Piyako. Many say the “road” from Hotel Café leads to the Hollywood Bowl and from the heart-centered talent and message present last night, the Earth certainly needs a much bigger platform.
How can you get involved in Saving the Amazon and become an Indigenous Ally?
What happens in the Amazon affects us all. Bill PL 490 was recently passed by Brazil’s Congress that would open the door to irreversible destruction and potential genocide by disregarding indigenous land rights. The unprecedented deforestation that the bill allows for will have global effects and further exacerbate climate change.
You can help stop this bill (which is now renamed to PL 2903) it from getting passed in Senate.
What can you do?
✍️ Sign the petition at http://www.together.earth (link in bio) ❗️Let the President of the Senate, @RodrigoPacheco, know on Instagram that you’re not okay with passing the Marco Temporal bill. 📣 Amplify and share this story #NoMarcoTemporal #PL2903