When you’re young—especially when you’re young—music speaks directly to your soul.
One of the contemporary, socially- and spiritually-focused artists whose music does that best, José María Fierro, currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona. By infusing his faith, family and daily experiences into his music, he creates uplifting, inspiring and relatable tunes for everyone to enjoy. José María serves others through his music and involves himself in various social action and community building projects that empower youth through the arts. Recently he worked as an instructor at The Rap Camp, a foundation that provides welcoming and encouraging spaces for youth to express themselves through music, dance, theatre and of course, rap.
His debut album Rooftops & Sidewalks was just released and BahaiTeachings.org spoke with him about his musical journey, his service to the community, and the inspiration behind his creative process.
In part one of this two-part interview, José María elaborates on how his creative family and childhood influenced the music he creates today, the role that his community played in nurturing his creative powers of expression, what aspects of the Baha’i Faith inspire his music, and why he believes in the importance of making uplifting and elevating music.
Q: Where were you raised and what was your family home like growing up?
A: I was born in Toluca, Mexico but quickly moved to Brooklyn, New York when I was young. After living there for a couple of years, we moved again and I’ve spent the majority of my life in Arizona. My mom was born and raised on a small African island called Mauritius, and my dad is from Mexico, but he spent seven years in West Central Africa. So as you can imagine, my upbringing consisted of many diverse experiences—from operas and musicals to sci-fi and Bollywood films, from tacos and tostadas to biryani and samosas. My family home was a melting pot of cultures and languages.
Q: What is your earliest music-making memory? What kind of music did you love listening to growing up and how did it evolve?
A: My earliest music-making memory is when I was three years old and I grabbed my little toy plastic guitar to play a song for my parents. I proceeded to sing, in my very broken English, a rendition of “Do You Know The Muffin Man” which is now definitely on the top ten list of Fierro family home movies. My parents had a very large influence on the music I listened to growing up, so my favorite type of music was largely world music. At around 11 I started to get into a lot of 80’s music, because those songs were my parents favorite tunes, but as I moved into my teenage years I really started to explore more 90’s RnB as well as 2000’s popular music. Once I moved past the radio, I started to get really into hip-hop music. I thought it was really cool how much content and how many lyrics a person could fit into a song, as well as how malleable the art form was.
Q: How did your family and community nurture your creative power of expression early on?
A: My family and community have been pivotal in my development as an artist. My parents have always been very encouraging and supportive. My mom loves to sing along to my songs and my father gave me my very first guitar lesson. But apart from that, the community that I was brought up in was very open to the arts. As some of the only youth in the community, my siblings and I were called on to really create and think about interesting and interactive art forms to be used in the community building activities that we were involved in.
Q: Who have you collaborated with so far? What have been some of the valuable lessons you’ve learned through these collaborations?
A: Over the years, I’ve tried to collaborate with anyone else that has a similar vision. That is, creating uplifting or positive music to provoke thought or inspire change. I’ve been blessed to be able to collaborate with BASS Adjustment, Karim Rushdy, LAKAN, Colby Jeffers, Diversoul, and many more. In fact, Karim Rushdy and I just released a new music video for our song that we made for the album called Dawn Breaks. Probably the most important thing that I’ve learned through these collaborations is that the process of creating a song varies so widely from artist to artist, and there is no “right” way to make it happen. Some people want to create and collaborate from the beginning to the end, others will send you a finished song and ask you to just write a small verse about the theme of the song. Some people want to work in the same physical space, and some people live halfway across the world. Whatever the situation, the music that comes out is unique and special, and I really appreciate that.
Q: What aspects of life, service and the Baha’i Faith inspire your music today?
A: Currently, I try to base my music in my current reality. So to me that means speaking about the issues that are relevant to me as a young adult such as finding a purpose in life, wanting to start a family, seeing how I can serve my community, and so on. Additionally, whenever I read stories about early believers of the Baha’i Faith and other change makers in the world, I feel a sense of inspiration and duty to share those stories and concepts. I also take a lot of inspiration from the actual writings of the Baha’i Faith, so a lot of my music sets those quotations to music.
Some of the Baha’i writings that feature on my upcoming album include:
The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, p. 85.
O Thou kind Lord! These lovely children are the handiwork of the fingers of Thy might and the wondrous signs of Thy greatness. O God! Protect these children, graciously assist them to be educated and enable them to render service to the world of humanity. O God! These children are pearls, cause them to be nurtured within the shell of Thy loving-kindness. Thou art the Bountiful, the All-Loving. – Ibid., p. 35.
Q: Why do you believe it’s important to make uplifting music today?
A: I believe that we are a product of what we consume. If we listen to certain messages day after day for hours on end, we will start to internalize those concepts, either consciously or subconsciously. So given that the current messages in popular music often center around misogyny, complacency, and materialism, I feel that there should be an alternative to those messages that doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the sound. When I looked around, I found very few artists who were creating music with that elevated standard, so I decided to make some myself for anyone else that might be searching.
Find more of José María Fierro’s music josemariafierro.com.