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This evening in Los Angeles, the hip-hop metal band Rage Against the Machine and indie music darling Conor Oberst play a benefit for The Sound Strike. That's the musicians' boycott of Arizona over its controversial immigration law, SB 1070. But many musicians in Arizona who also oppose the new law say a boycott is the wrong kind of protest.
Arizona Public Radio's Daniel Kraker reports.
DANIEL KRAKER: Arizona is no stranger to musical protests over its politics. Here's the hip-hop group Public Enemy from 1991.
(Soundbite of song, "By the Time I get to Arizona")
PUBLIC ENEMY (Hip-hop Group): (Singing) ...come on. I'm on the one mission to get a politician to honor, or he's a goner by the time I get to Arizona.
KRAKER: The song lambasted Arizona's decision not to recognize the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Stevie Wonder, Bill Cosby and others boycotted the state. The NFL yanked the 1993 Super Bowl from Arizona over the uproar.
Soon after, voters approved the holiday. Fast-forward to 2010 and the musicians hope another boycott, this time over the state's immigration law, can have a similar impact.
Mr. ZACK DE LA ROCHA (Member, Rage Against the Machine): We have to intervene in order to do whatever we possibly can to limit that state's ability to function and implement the law.
KRAKER: That's Zack de la Rocha of the band Rage Against the Machine from a Web video he's produced. He's organized a boycott of Arizona called The Sound Strike. So far, he's recruited artists ranging from Kanye West to Nine Inch Nails to Latino bands, including Los Tigres del Norte. Jorge Hernandez says his band's decision to join the boycott was personal: If the Los Angeles musicians were to come to Arizona, they worry that police could detain them.
Mr. JORGE HERNANDEZ (Member, Los Tigres del Norte): They can ask questions because I look brown or I look a different color. We are very sure that there's going to be problems with our community.
KRAKER: Hernandez supports the boycott in solidarity with Arizona's Hispanic community. But not playing Arizona won't really affect his band's bottom line.
The boycott is having an impact on some Arizona music promoters and clubs. Alycia Klein is the general manager for the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, where the rapper Pitbull canceled his show earlier this month. She says the boycott couldn't come at a worse time.
Ms. ALYCIA KLEIN (General Manager, Celebrity Theatre): With the economy as it is, you know, I mean, this is the last thing that people are thinking about doing with their money is going to spend it to have fun. So now when I do have artists that will attract people to come out, and now they're unwilling to come out, it's devastating.
KRAKER: While hundreds of artists have joined Sound Strike and said they won't come to Arizona, so far only a handful of acts have canceled already scheduled shows, including Hall & Oates and Los Lobos.
But Martin Cizmar, the music critic for the alternative weekly Phoenix New Times, is more worried about the hundreds of bands who might not join Sound Strike but just won't come.
Mr. MARTIN CIZMAR (Music Critic, Phoenix New Times): Arizona is already a little bit of a hard sell during the summer, and we're going to have a long, silent summer, I think, with some of this, because people are just going to look at us on the map and think: Oh, I don't really want to go there.
KRAKER: Cizmar says a big, organized boycott caught people off guard. While he's opposed to the law, he fears the boycott could really take hold.
Mr. CIZMAR: It doesn't take too much to get people behind a really big cause, and if this happens to become the cause of the moment and this becomes a trendy cause, we're screwed.
KRAKER: So Cizmar rounded up 17 Arizona artists to contribute to a CD called "A Line in the Sand." It's a collection of protest songs against the law SB 1070. All of the bands, including Phoenix-based Andrew Jackson Jihad, finished their songs in just two weeks.
(Soundbite of song)
ANDREW JACKSON JIHAD (Music Group): (Singing) Give me your tired, give me your tired, give me your poor. When our government acts likes this, I don't want to live here anymore. Sure, I can see us (bleep) move to Portland or New York, or I can say change the place where I was born.
KRAKER: Proceeds from the CD will go to organizations fighting the law. That's what Phoenix promoter Stephen Chilton thinks Sound Strike musicians should be doing.
Mr. STEPHEN CHILTON (Promoter): Any one of these artists, you know, if they really wanted to make a statement, really wanted to be involved, they could come here and play. I mean, Rage Against the Machine could do a benefit here and donate the profits to a number of local organizations that would have an impact.
KRAKER: Rage Against the Machine is playing a benefit - in Los Angeles. But a group of musicians led by the Tucson band Calexico is asking groups to come to Arizona to play and speak out against the law.
Yolanda Bejarano with the Phoenix band Snow Songs is part of the organization called Artists for Action. She says, initially, she supported the boycott, but now believes...
Ms. YOLANDA BEJARANO (Member, Snow Songs): We need to do something here and mobilize people and try to do it a different way, instead of just not coming here.
KRAKER: In the end, as happened back in 1991, if Arizona relents, it likely won't be over principle. It will be over the economic impact the boycott has on the state.
For NPR News, I'm Daniel Kraker.
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