Big Lux spoke to our reporter Alex Nunes about music, war, activism, and his concerns about political division in America.BIG LUX: I think that is getting in the way of this common good. People [are] just trying to dig in on both sides instead of doing what's right for the people, and it’s frustrating to see.

NUNES: Do you see similarities with what you saw as a service member in other countries?

BIG LUX: I do see some similarities, and it's unfortunate. In Iraq, you will see extremes, like, you can't have this road go to this Sunni area, or this Shiite area—people might do what they can to destroy or obstruct it so that the “other side” can't use it, instead of having a public transportation system that benefits everybody. I'm really scared of America going down that route, where we can't do things for each other, because we think it's going to benefit the other side.

NUNES: The song "Chasing Bombs," that is about your experience in Iraq. Can you explain to me what you're trying to convey in that song?

BIG LUX: The frustration at being in a place where you know that your life might be wasted. There's something so elemental about that and completely overwhelming and frustrating to know that, if I die tomorrow, it might not be in defense of something that was absolutely necessary. There are very valid times to go to war when you need to: to protect your national interest, to protect your family, to protect everything that you hold dear. That was not one of those times. We ended up doing more damage to ourselves and to the people of Iraq.

NUNES: How did you go from being full-time in the military to then, within a few years, doing what you're doing? 

BIG LUX: I realized that I had an opportunity to do this music full-time. I had enough clients. I was building a reputation. I was building a following. And I was like, “Wow, if I have an opportunity to do this, I have to take it.” And so I came back to Rhode Island, because that's where I had my people, that's where my network was the best. And once I got here, I realized that I can't just play music, especially as a Black man who's going to be in front of a lot of white audiences. I feel like I have a responsibility to help bridge the gap between the two worlds. And Black entertainers are always put in this position. And I feel like I have the platform to do it, so I'm gonna have to do it.NUNES: So how do you speak out? You're saying you feel compelled that you need to say something in those situations. What do you do exactly?

BIG LUX: The biggest problem that you have is that, a lot of times, people who don't want to hear the message that I have to say, and other Black entertainers have to say, they spend so much time trying to legislate the way that we're telling our message versus the actual message. They're not going to come out and say, “This is bogus. No Black people are being killed; police are doing everything right; everything is great in the hood.” They will come out and say, “You're not supposed to take a knee; you're not supposed to be that loud; shut up and dribble.” And they'll try to come at us that way. So you have to almost be stealthy about it in a way. This summer, because of George Floyd, and because of everything that happened due to his murder, we've been able to be a little bit more explicit about it. So I've been able to go to more protests. I've been able to write more songs about it. I've been able to hold Facebook Live sessions to talk about it and to try to introduce certain concepts. I'm having more one-on-one conversations with people. 

NUNES: When you're trying to educate people on race and racism, and you're playing the violin, does the violin help you do that?

BIG LUX: The violin is so amazing. It's a great common denominator. I think it resonates so well with people, because it mimics the sound of the human voice better than any other instrument. So it almost acts as a Trojan Horse in a way. And it gets me into spaces that I would not ordinarily get into. And I get to play music, and hip hop music, in places that ordinarily wouldn't have that kind of music. So I think it's been a really good way for me to just introduce myself. And I think it's one of the most beautiful sounds in the world.

NUNES: When you are playing, say, you're playing a public event, and you're playing covers, then you start talking in a political way. Have you ever had people come up to you and say, “I don't like that. Stick to the covers”?

BIG LUX: No one has been that bold yet. But I sense the time is coming. I, honestly, almost hope it happens sometime. Because that's where the real growth, and that's where the real communication, can happen. If I'm playing all to people who 100 percent agree with everything I'm saying, then I'm preaching to the choir. And it's cool; we're gonna pump ourselves up, but we're not really gonna make real change. And we're not going to really bridge the divide. And that is the most important thing right now.

NUNES: The song “Red March” is a lot about civil rights, civil rights history. What was the inspiration for that song?

BIG LUX: I had been reading some John Lewis. It was part of a three part series that he wrote called March. He detailed his journey through the civil rights era. And it really stuck with me—his march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and just police met them, and they beat up these marchers badly. And he was marching for voting rights, one of the most fundamental parts of our democracy. And I realized that all the things that I wanted to change about the country right now, I could probably do by marching. 

NUNES: Where do you want to go from here? What are your goals? 

BIG LUX: I'm working on my next album. I definitely want to put that out early 2021. But everybody's got them long term goals. For me, as a musician growing up in Rhode Island, I think my longest term goal is to play at the Newport Jazz Festival. Man, that will be the ultimate.

[You can listen to Big Lux’s music and follow updates on his events at Spotify, Instagram, and his official website.]

Alex Nunes can be reached at anunes@thepublicsradio.org.