Community Outreach with a Beat
Riders Against the Storm.
Words by Sommer Brugal Photos by Eric Morales
Chaka and Qi Dada, the husband and wife duo behind Riders Against the Storm (RAS), didn’t start out making music, but instead were part of an artist-activist circle in Rhode Island, where they met in the early 2000s. It wasn’t until they realized their art had a stronger impact on the community than their grassroots efforts that they shifted focus.
The pair moved to Austin just as their move from activists to artists took flight, and according to Qi Dada, it was perfect timing.
“Austin was already changing,” says Qi Dada, “and people needed a place to come together to feel like their city, their community, wasn’t falling apart.”
Building community is instinctual for RAS. From the way they curate spaces for events they throw to the music they write to Chaka’s clothing line, Nefrfreshr, community is present in every aspect of the work.
Body Rock with DJ Chorizo Funk is just one example of that community. Qi Dada describes it as a safe place for people of different backgrounds to come together. The duo says parties like Body Rock enable them to build a community within the community.
RAS’s concerts are no different. They embody a healing environment; they have a restorative energy people don’t typically expect from a hip-hop concert.
When RAS first arrived in Austin, one of the biggest issues they faced was being given the moniker of “conscious hip-hop.” They had always blended social justice issues into their art, but Qi Dada says it wasn’t an accurate depiction of their music.
Today, RAS is appreciated for their overall style; the couple says people are more interested in letting them be whoever they want to be, to focus on their art. In 2014 and 2015, the duo was awarded the ‘Band of the Year’ honors at the Austin Music Awards.
For RAS, that appreciation feels like people recognize the work they’ve done and support the work they hope to do. “There’s not much we can do about this wave of things that is happening [in Austin],” admits Chaka. “Instead we need to build up the institutions that can create a safe space for everyone.”