There’s an f-word that that’s rarely heard in cultural circles- faith. But in 2015 that appears to be changing. With artists like Lecrae, who is open about his Christian faith, hitting #1 on Billboard, making an appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, and packing out venues all over the world, mainstream culture appears to be ready for artists who blend their faith and artistic expression to deliver a message of hope.
Quina Aragon is that kind of artist and she’s a much-needed breath of fresh air. On her album The Eternal Saga of the Saints the talented spoken word artist does a beautiful job mixing beautiful truths about her faith with a lot of hard truths about life.
I had the pleasure of chatting with her about her debut album, being patient, which musicians have impacted her as an artist, and her spiritual journey.
Ryan McNeill: Who are some spoken word artists, or artists in general, that you admire?
Quina Aragon: I think the first one that comes to mind is Jackie Hill-Perry. Her versatility. Her variety of subjects. She’s able to do spoken word but she’s also able to rap. She has covered so many topics. I think she has been very influential among Christian artists in general. Her testimony as well as her art is amazing.
Ryan: Who are some people or fellow musicians that have helped you grow as an artist?
Quina: Jackie Hill-Perry from her stuff, but I think the biggest one that comes to mind is KB. I’m from Tampa so I’ve known KB for a while and especially in the last couple of years, he and his wife have been a huge influence to me personally as well as my husband. But also musically, I’m also his friend, but I’m also a huge fan of him as a person and a man. I love the content he covers in his songs. There might also be a sense that I know he’s really living it out in his day-to-day life because I’m a member at his church as well. I know how he literally lives out the stuff he talks about in songs.
I think Christian hip-hop has played such a huge, huge role for me walking with the Lord. I came to know the Lord at 16 and shortly after I heard my first Christian rap album which was Flame’s first album that was self-titled. I remember being so confused that Christian people could rap. Then I was just really challenged because I remember the first track that he was like ‘Mathew 10:34’ and then he just started quoting scripture. It just made me really hungry.
Ryan: The Eternal Saga of the Saints, that’s your first album, right?
Quina: Pretty much, yeah. That’s just a project that I put out for free on Bandcamp. So, yeah, I guess you could say that. I’ve also released a single this year called ‘Wine Mixed with Myrrh’ as well on Bandcamp. You can see the video on YouTube.
Ryan: I’m a huge fan of Bandcamp because it’s a great way for me to find new artists like you. What motivated you to give your album away for a donation on Bandcamp?
Quina: That’s kind of a multi-layered answer for me. Part of that is I know what it’s like to be a broke college student because I was one for a while. And, I mean, with budgeting and everything, there is a think, in this age, music and art is very easy to come by and a lot of it is free anyway. Also, from the buyers perspective, I know that it can be hard to buy every album that you want to hear. So I always appreciate when albums are actually given out for free. It’s kind of that buyers perspective. But also for me there’s a sense too where I agree that an artist is doing work and because it’s their art there should be a sentiment that we want to pay you for your work because we appreciate it. At the same time, I think for that first project, there was also a sense of this is a gift that the Lord has given me to proclaim the Gospel and to encourage the Body of Christ. I really see my art doing that more than anything. I didn’t want purchasing it to be a hindrance to that. I wanted it to be as easy as possible for people to download and to share it with people that they want to share the Gospel with. Also, nobody really knows who I am, so I felt like it would be a little presumptuous for me to put out something that with a price of any kind because nobody really know who I am.
Ryan: You mentioned Jackie Hill-Perry earlier, and the label that she is currently on, Humble Beast, currently gives away their artist’s albums. How impressive is it to have a Christian label, like Humble Beast, giving away albums?
Quina: I’ve always been impressed by that, even before Jackie Hill-Perry came out. I should have mentioned this earlier that one of my biggest inspirations is Beautiful Eulogy. Whew! That’s like probably my favourite sound out there as well as just their content. Even stuff like Braille and Beautiful Eulogy and Odd Thomas and all of them have been releasing quality stuff. I always appreciated it coming out free and I know that many people benefit from it. I think sometimes we associate free with not so good art or lacking quality, where Humble Beast kind of smashes that presumption.
I think it’s also challenging as a local artists to think that they are some of the best artists out there and yet they are giving it out for free. I think it really challenges me as well. There’s an argument that an artist is doing work and should get paid for that work, but at the same time, it’s challenging, too. Even if you are going to have people pay for your work, for your art, it makes you at least challenge your heart motives. Why am I doing this? Am I doing it for album downloads or sales? Am I doing this to really impact people’s hearts? I think them setting that example really challenges people in that way. Or, at least it does me.
Ryan: How has the experience of having your album on Bandcamp and allowing people to download it for a donation increased the number of people who are aware of you?
Quina: I think the interesting thing about putting the album on Bandcamp and making it a free download is that most people that gave me feedback, besides my own hometown of Tampa and they are my friends and they know me, I think the biggest feedback that I got was from Africa. From both South Africa and in particular Uganda and Ghana. I was getting tweets. I was getting direct messages. Even to this day I’m getting Facebook messages from people who are saying, ‘Man, I was weeping listening to your project. It really challenged me.’ I’m able to have these conversations with people all the way across the globe asking them what their testimony is. I’m also able to share more of mine. I think that has been a huge surprise for me because I didn’t realize how big spoken word was over there. It was kind of interesting because I would have expected more people in the United States to give me feedback. And, I did get some feedback from people here in America, but honestly, I think most of the feedback I got was from the continent of Africa. That was a sweet surprise for me to see that other people were being encouraged in places I wasn’t even thinking to reach out to.
On the other hand, because spoken word is kind of a performance art, there’s a sense where you want that live feel. The more well known people in spoken word world or people that have videos on YouTube – be it their live performances at big events or be it like really nicely produced videos – and so I think maybe the downside to only having a Bandcamp album like I do but only two videos out, usually I don’t hear a lot of feedback from people in the U.S. unless I have a video. So one of my ideas now is just to do some videos of some of the tracks on this album Eternal Saga of the Saints because I’ve noticed that once I do a video people start to really listen to it and are more drawn to it than if it’s just me putting out an album. People want to see you perform it and feel it because it’s a live kind of art.
Ryan: What was the toughest part of recording this album?
Quina: I think the toughest part was just how long it took for me to do it. I was struggling financially a lot during that time and so there was a sense where I was questioning if I should be working more overtime hours or should I really be going to record this thing that is going to be free. I just had this sense that I really want to finish this. I really want to put this out. It’s kind of like you want to get it done, but because of time constraints, work, things of that nature, other responsibilities, I wasn’t able to just knock it out in a month or two. It really took about a year or so. I think that was the part that really was the hardest seeing those time limitations that I wasn’t able to dedicate the same amount of time as somebody who maybe works part-time or who is blessed to have the chance to do their art as their sole job. I was like, man, I want to do that! Being patient was the hardest thing for me.
Ryan: Being patient is a theme for you…
Quina: Yes! Yeah! The Lord is trying to teach me about patience again and again. He’s just hoping I learn it.
Interview by Ryan McNeill
Click here to check out The Eternal Saga of the Saints