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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Levitating’ By Xenia Rubinos, Sammus, And Olga Bell

The days following this year’s Women’s March are as good a time as any to repeat the central question posed by “Levitating,” a collaborative track by Xenia Rubinos, Sammus and Olga Bell: “Are you really down? Way down? All the way down?”

“Levitating” is a smooth and steady intersectional anthem asking those who are “straight, white, thin, cis, or rich” to acknowledge their privilege and the ways that it plays out in their activism and discourse. Sammus says it directly in the opening lines of her verse: “Recognize it / Don’t deny how much your life is different.”

Sammus goes on to call out white silence, and the violence inherent when white people refer to protests led by people of color as “riots.” It is a call for “well-meaning liberals, left leaning folks” to be open to criticism and difficult conversations, and to center the interests of those who are most affected by systemic injustice.

“So will you go the distance? Or will you vanish in a cloud of smoke like incense? While brown folks risk things and they rage against this machine built on green,” raps Sammus.

In a tweet, Sammus elaborated on what the song means to her:

“This is a song in which I shared what intersectionality means to me — if u say u r down, r u down for me? For other brown folks? For queer folks? For trans folks? For poor folks? Fat folks? Disabled folks? Are you down baby?”

On Xenia’s verse, she sings in both Spanish and English, calling out the deportations and the lies that define the United States. She dedicates the song to the American dreamers, the chulas and witches, “all our cousins aunties uncles sisters brothers / Torn apart by these United States / All for one and one for none.”

The song is the first collaboration for this trio. It came to be when Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus invited Rubinos to participate in her radio show, C.L.A.W., which stands for the Collaborative Legions of Artful Womxn. Rubinos invited Sammus and Bell, who she had recently played a show with. Bell produced the song.

“Levitating” ends as an extended outro fades into a whirl of Bell’s ambient synth keys and a slow, hooky bass line, as distant background chatter captures the three artists hanging out and laughing. It’s a song full of necessary questions that plays out joyfully, an energetic ode to the uncomfortable work that needs to be done for everyone to rise up.

Listen to “Levitating”:

Liz Pelly

Liz Pelly