“Unified meditation” is the phrase Miguel used to describe his August 28th gig at Old National Centre. Whether he was singing about sex or drugs, Miguel made it clear that he finds an element of the spiritual in all aspects of life.
Ascension is the name of Miguel’s current tour, and a recurring theme throughout his show. A tall white staircase dominates the spare set, as psychedelic imagery dances across the enormous monitor which serves as a stage backdrop. Over the course of the night Miguel repeatedly nudged fans to let go of the conventions of the material world, and reach toward a higher spiritual plane.
Miguel is in the midst of a very public spiritual and political awakening. He’s credited Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential campaign as a starting point for this transformation. But he was careful to avoid partisan sloganeering onstage, and issued no direct political statements during his nearly two hour performance.
Instead Miguel focused on the themes of love and romance that propelled him to fame in 2012. Miguel wears his biggest influence on his sleeve, and echoes of Marvin Gaye’s raw sensuality reverberate through his live performances and recorded work. Within the framework of the Ascension show, Miguel subtly positions his celebration of love as an act of resistance within the increasingly corrosive social environment of the United States.
In reality, Miguel doesn’t need to act overtly to express his political position. His existence itself has been politicized by the dangerous racist rhetoric of America’s rogue president. Miguel’s ethnic identity represents two of Trump’s most frequent targets: Blacks and Mexicans. Miguel commented on his background during an introduction to his 2015 song “Waves”.
“My father is Mexican. He is from Zamora, Michoacán in Mexico. My mother is a beautiful Black woman from Inglewood, California. In the ’90s when I was growing up in Los Angeles, California there was a lot of racial tension between Blacks and Latinos.”
As Miguel continued he tied his personal struggle with identity into the anthemic singalong chorus of “Waves”.
“You probably wouldn’t expect this, but one thing I had to do was fight my way through the streets of my city. Can you imagine little Miguel trying to fight some motherfuckers? In this lifetime, in this dimension, in whatever it is that we’re experiencing right now, the most important thing we can do is ride our own fucking wave. I mean regardless of whatever people say, you gotta be who you are unapologetically. Love what you love, and do that shit hard. Fulfill your purpose.”
Miguel has spoken frequently about the skills he adopted in navigating both the Black and Latino spaces of his childhood. That cross-cultural fluidity is evident in his music. Miguel favors heavier musical textures in the live setting, pairing his classic R&B crooning with abrasive metal guitar riffs. It’s an odd combination, but Miguel pulls it off. That’s no doubt due to his appreciation for a wide span of music. If you dig deep enough online, you’ll find videos of Miguel performing a surprising range of music, from Trio Los Panchos to Pussy Riot.
While the majority of Miguel’s Naptown performance leaned toward more bombastic sounds, the concert climaxed with a whisper, not a bang. Near the end of his set Miguel performed an impassioned barebones version of “Now”, the closing song off his 2017 LP War & Leisure. Miguel introduced the song to his Indianapolis fans with the following statement.
“As this reality is playing out, the truth is, I think there’s nothing more important than empathy. We need to really put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and show each other love. We’re at such a critical time in our history. We can elevate the human race, and elevate our consciousness. Or we can completely wipe ourselves from the face of the Earth. There’s no better time than right now to shed light on the issues that are important.”
“Now” represents the culmination of Miguel’s spiritual and political transformation. The song’s lyrics reference a variety of issues, from the contaminated water supply in Flint, Michigan, to Trump’s proposed border wall. During the chorus Miguel asks listeners to act on these issues now, “Not later, no, no, no, not later. Right now.” It’s not a rallying cry, but an anguished plea.
In November of 2017 Miguel released a video for “Now” that addresses both the criminal persecution of undocumented immigrants in the United States, and the urgent need for prison reform. Miguel has slowly stepped forward as an important voice on these issues.
But the dream of political and spiritual ascension Miguel advocated for in Indianapolis won’t happen without serious effort from us all. And there are lots of battles to be fought here on the home-front. If you haven’t committed to voting in this year’s upcoming midterm election, that would be a good first step in moving forward. Head to indianavoters.in.gov to register online.