Connected \\ February 8, 2019
You want it? I got it. See me in the farmers market… Roots and refinement, meditate and get quiet.
Rest assured, you have never heard rap lyrics like this before. A vegan and self-described “cultural Jedi, Afro drummer, street activist, beat teacher, hip-hop yogi, emcee, deejay, educator and midwife,” Dr. Ietef Vita (pronounced EE-tef) is also a chef and the O.G. (Organic Gardener) of Eco-HipHop under the name DJ Cavem Moetavation. Pulled from his eco-anthem called "Plant The Seed Bite The Knowledge," these lyrics are just a dose of what this earth doctor prescribes.
The O.G.— Organic Gardener. Photo courtesy of DJ Cavem.
On his tracks, DJ Cavem raps about everything from food justice to his earnest vision for the earth and its human inhabitants. With smashes like “Wheat Grass,” “Cool to Live,” “I’m a Sunwarrior” and “I Can’t Breathe the Air,” this earth-guardian is trying to inspire the transition from “gangs to gardens,” and aspires to trigger a stream of climate consciousness with his “fresh” perspectives. He has been featured on The Rachael Ray Show and in Oprah Magazine and has even performed at the White House as part of First Lady Michelle Obama's “Let's Move!” campaign. During School Vacation Week, DJ Cavem will continue his cruciferous crusade here at PEM.
“The Homie asked me if I had Beets, I asked him which ones, the red ones or the golden ones?” Photos courtesy of Chef Ietef/DJ Cavem (@ietef on Instagram).
Photography by Bob Packert. © Peabody Essex Museum
What led you to create the connection between environmentalism and hip hop? Was there an original moment of inspiration for you?
I grew up in an urban community with no access to healthy food. It inspired my first song, called “Wheat Grass” and from there, one of my first initiatives was a Van Jones fellowship with the non-profit Green For All where I founded Keep It Fresh Day. Then, I started teaching high school and had a radio show which made me realize that I could use art to educate and activate ideas about sustainability, food security and green-living. I was thinking, how do we interact with kids who are missing out on this conversation about environmentalism and holistic health. There was a huge opportunity there and the best mode for that was through hip hop.
Sunwarrior. Photo courtesy of DJ Cavem.
Who do you cite as your musical and creative inspiration?
My surroundings growing up were most definitely the greatest creative inspiration. My mother was an activist and ran a poetry venue in the early 1990s up until the mid-2000s, and I would be surrounded by that. I grew up on Amiri Baraka, Oscar Brown Jr. and jazz.
These poets and musicians showed me how to use words of wisdom to build a conversation within my community, and that the art we create does not have to be about sex, drugs and violence to gain attention. As far as musical inspiration, it would have to be hip hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest, and those from the early 1990s when I was growing up.
I understand that you are incredibly passionate about promoting green living in food deserts and communities where organic food is not readily available. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
My first album on sustainability was titled “Produce Section,” because that is always my first goal — to get people into that section of the grocery store. From that, I began programming about growing your own food in schools and communities that did not have access to healthy alternatives, getting kids working in farmers markets over the summer. Where I grew up, the corner store was the only place you could find fresh produce — and that would be a lemon. I am working with those corner stores and the Ron Finley Project on urban farming and bringing natural foods to places that do not have access.
What is the biggest challenge you face while trying to educate kids on planting produce, eating fresh and going green?
Access is definitely the biggest problem. I am reaching out to urban communities that have no community gardens, no adequate soil and no clean water, and where there is a disparity in transportation.
What keeps you going? How do you not get burnt out as an activist?
It is a pretty simple answer, but I am a father of three and my wife is a mother of five — they keep us moving. I also love my smoothies in the morning and getting in some sunlight. The sun is revitalizing and aids in replenishing and restoring... and I like hugs. Hugs are important. Mostly, spinning music and creating that “vibe” helps me charge.
Porcelain fruit. Gift of Miss Helen C. Hagar. © Peabody Essex Museum
What is your favorite fruit or vegetable (from their sound) to mix beats with?
Oh! Broccoli, beets, oranges and eggplants. Most of my beats actually come from recipes. I love to make something good and be able to play with my food. I can be chefing-up a watermelon salad with fennel and blueberries, attach copper wire to the blueberries soaking in a bowl of water — because it is a conductor — and mix something. I am making food and am still able to have fun with it.