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Regional Interests

Happiest Climate Change Song Ever? Fantastic Negrito and ‘Rolling through California’

Smoky skies. Wildfires. The skyrocketing cost of living in the Golden State.

Oakland-based artist Fantastic Negrito has figured out a way to make a joyful melody about some of California’s toughest issues.

The music video for “Rolling through California,” released last month and featuring fellow Oakland musician Miko Marks, shows a young boy dressed up as a firefighter, surveying a burned landscape. Fantastic Negrito appreciates the simplicity and honesty with which kids think about and process massive problems like climate change and a housing crisis.

Much of the video unfolds on a ranch owned by the Oakland Black Cowboy Association — a way to celebrate and highlight the role Black people played in shaping the American West.

The California Report Magazine’s Sasha Khokha talked with Fantastic Negrito about his creative process — and why he remains hopeful and optimistic.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

On how the lyrics for the song came to him

Fantastic Negrito: I remember it was, I guess, September 9th. That day of the red sky. It was extremely surreal and it felt apocalyptic and it felt like a message.

It felt like that something greater than us was speaking. And I just stood there looking at this bloodshot sun in the sky with this orange hue. I got my guitar and sat out there for a little while and I guess the riff just came to me. I wanted to tell the story of what was happening in the moment.

On staying optimistic in times of crisis

Fantastic Negrito: Someone said it’s the happiest climate change song ever. I’m going with this visceral energy that I’m feeling. I want to live the full spectrum of this life that I’m afforded to live; this opportunity that I have every day to contribute, exist, agitate, enlighten, disappoint.

I live in that free-fall of emotions. That’s when you can feel life — when you can accept that, hey, it’s all going to happen. I thought that it was really appropriate to be celebratory, and to be optimistic about the challenges that we have to face, because at least we’re alive here and hopefully healthy to face them.

Those obstacles that we face become fuel, and that’s how we keep this motor running.

Fantastic Negrito and Miko Marks, singer, songwriter and fellow Oakland resident, collaborated on the new single, ‘Rolling Through California.’ (Courtesy of Fantastic Negrito)

Behind the scenes of the music video

Fantastic Negrito: I thought that it would be interesting to get a young person.  I wanted it to be through his eyes. He had to find his tribe of people that believed in it.

The kid is someone that I know very well. He’s kind of like family. I talked to him about the fires and I really loved how simple his view was on fires, climate change. I thought that he — in an honest way — could embody that message.

We drove him out to Santa Rosa and you see him looking at all these charred remains of what was a forest. And I wanted to get his truest, real reaction. What does a nine-year-old think about that? I thought was very important.

I [also] was so ignorant to the role of Black cowboys in America.  I think it’s it’s a chapter that is untold. So I decided to have the video right there on their ranch and I just thought it was important to shine the light on them.

On Optimism in His Genes

Fantastic Negrito: I come from Southern people. All of my mama’s relatives go back to Virginia.  A lot of my attitude comes from spending those summers and those Thanksgivings with my Virginia folks who are all very elderly people.

I remember we’re talking about the blues and spirituals. I was young. I didn’t really even care about the blues, but I remember one of them saying, “White folks thought we were sad. We weren’t sad.”

That means [that] things are dismal, things are tough, there are obstacles, but we’re going to keep on moving here.

Whatever we got to do, we’re going to make it through this. I’m here now because of the kind of courage my ancestors probably faced under fire. That attitude permeates. It’s pervasive. That’s the way I feel about everything: no matter what, stay upbeat and look at how things can be done. Stop looking at how things can’t be done.

On the past, present, and future for California

Fantastic Negrito: We were once seen as the place to be, California, the dreamland that is the land of milk and honey. Twenty years ago, I remember this being the place people were overwhelmingly trying to live in. It is a beautiful place, we just have challenges right now, so that doesn’t mean that we abandon or retreat.

The future of the state, the country, of all of us, is that we embrace possibilities. Affordable housing, that can be done if we want it to be done. I think the control of the fires containing fires, global warming, climate change — it can be done if we get on the right side of it.

If someone can have their own private satellite that we see up in the sky and people can take trips to the moon, we can do anything.

Copyright 2021 KQED