Biko Casini on aligning your values with your actions

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

When Rising Appalachia’s leaders Leah and Chloe had to get whisked away for a sound check at the end of our interview at FloydFest 2017, they unexpectedly grabbed bandmate, percussionist and dear friend BIKO CASINI and brought him over. Leah breathed, “you HAVE to talk to him. He knows.”

I’d later learn that truer words could not be spoken. In an instant, Biko is sitting in front of me, beaming calm radiance. Little did I know I was about to get schooled . . . in most expansive way possible.

This video opens with the first nugget that Biko drops on me. ‘Our courage [to imagine things being better than they are] has been wounded,” he says, “because our values and our ability to live our values has been disconnected.”

Let’s consider just a few of the areas of my life where I’m out of alignment with my values, and the shame it causes: Glaring at the soft roll of belly spilling over my bathing suit bottoms (seriously, shouldn’t I be over this by now?! You know better than this!). Volunteering at a local school where my kids ask me why so many brown and black children can’t afford lunch (the pain of our privilege is a knife in my heart. What’s an age appropriate way to describe systemic oppression?). Reckoning with my gas guzzling minivan (all these kids! so many activities! Ever hear of climate change, Shannon?).

As a white woman living in 21st Century America, I’ve been socialized in certain unavoidable beliefs. Biko’s message cut through my shame. His words offered me space to consider that like it or not, this is my reality. Perhaps a better use of energy than the bob-and-weave of shame avoidance I know all too well, would be to offer myself compassion. I’m a product of a culture that is set up to serve a few. A culture that tells me I’m not worthy, but generously offers to sell me products that can change all that. Heaping doses of self-compassion is the only humane option if I’m going to stay conscious of where I’m out of alignment with my values.

Of course, this compassion-fueled self-awareness is only the first step. Creating a society that equally values all beings is the work of our lifetime. But activism and justice born out of self-awareness of my unconscious triggers is going to be more inclusive, loving, and sustainable than acting from my unseen wounds.

Biko, as a master percussionist, holds the heartbeat of the band. He and Rising Appalachia have an intuitive understanding of the mix of solitude, inner reflection, community building, and allyship necessary to ground successful social justice movements. They’re bringing back the fullness of music into our common spaces—the small, quiet ceremonies that punctuate daily life.

This is the work, as Leah says, of the troubadour. To break down the walls between performance and life. To no longer siphon the ecstasy and connection you feel when dancing in rhythm with thousands of strangers to infrequent festivals. They’re showing us how to do the brave, new work of harnessing the love, and applying it to our tiny moments in the office, at the breakfast table, on the highway, in our neighborhoods.

Together with the band, Biko Casini lays down the foundation for all of us to RISE. But of course, those of us who love to lose ourselves in art, in performance, in festival, know that morning comes all too quickly, Monday comes all too quickly. For Biko and Rising Appalachia, they’re taking the energy of love that is richly cultivated in spaces like FloydFest, and applying it on the ground.


I’ve been seeking out conversations with young people, twenty-somethings. What do they think of this world that they’re inheriting? What ideas do they have for change? Where can we support their vision? So I paid rapt attention to the views of Biko, and found a tremendous gift waiting there. He spoke of the cynicism that comes when you no longer are daring to dream.

In this video, he responds to my question about how he nourishes his soul to keep the dreams alive in the face of a world that seems hell bent on destroying itself. With disarming wonder, and soft, loving eyes, he spoke of inspiration he draws from the global community of artists, activists, farmers, healers, and warriors, who are busy building an alternate world.

Patiently waiting for us with widening circles, to find our way back home when we no longer fit in ours.

Follow Biko at and get RISING APPALACHIA’s recent record “Wider Circles” at

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