Denver Musicians Throw Benefit for Undocumented Immigrants

Roka Hueka has organized a benefit concert for the Denver Metro Sanctuary Coalition.
Roka Hueka has organized a benefit concert for the Denver Metro Sanctuary Coalition. Anthony Camera
Denver-based Latin ska band Roka Hueka has organized a benefit concert in support of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition. Dubbed “Territorio Liberado,” it will take over the stage at Lost Lake Lounge on Sunday, September 10.

The name for the benefit was suggested by Roka Hueka bassist Ric Urrutia. Urrutia’s family lived in El Salvador during that country’s civil war; the term “territorio liberado,” or “free territory,” is a reference to the concept of liberating territory from the government for the people.

“There was a huge connection with folk music as a part of the revolutionary movement,” notes Roka Hueka drummer Blake Pendergrass.

With Donald Trump in the White House and itching to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, the band decided that the idea of free territory applies today in Denver, as well.

“The real urgency was the rise of Trump,” explains Pendergrass of the incentive for the event. “We’re a band that has immigrants in it, and our audience is composed of a lot of immigrants. The impetus was this creeping resurgence of fascism and alt-right politics with the Donald Trump campaign.”

The cause caught on across Denver’s music scene, and the band has assembled one of the most musically diverse lineups this city has seen. On the bill: Latin rock group Los Mocochetes, the post-rockers in Altas, the feminist punkers in Cheap Perfume, immigration attorney Hans Meyer’s punk project Wild Lives, the Molina Speaks-led hip-hop group Roots Rice and Beans, raging electronic duo Church Fire, and darkwave act Mirror Fears.

Most of these bands play political music, and many are made up of people from marginalized groups. For those artists, politics severely impacts and, in some cases, threatens their personal lives.

“Music has always been an expression of people’s resistance in social and revolutionary movements,” says Pendergrass. “A lot of people in our band and in the bands that are participating are a part of the political counterculture. Directly, there are people in our circles that are facing threats from the administration.”

Juan Carlos Flores, a guitarist for Altas and a native of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, echoes this sentiment: “We decided to play this benefit show as a way to show our discontent with the way immigrants are being treated by the current administration.”

Political songwriting traditions from social movements around the world have left their mark on these musicians. Roka Hueka’s music is a part of the ska genre, which has a long multicultural and political history. Pendergrass cites punk as his biggest politically charged musical influence. Flores and his band take inspiration from Rage Against the Machine, as well as the “many Mexican and Latin American bands, like Molotov, that point out the corruption and injustice our people face every day.”

The upcoming benefit isn’t just about the intangible power of music, however. Participating musicians and fans will raise money for the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, a group of faith-based communities that seek to change immigration policy and assist undocumented individuals and families in resisting deportation. Day-to-day actions of the organization include recruiting volunteers for a statewide immigration hotline, offering “spiritual and concrete accompaniment” for threatened individuals, planning and attending vigils outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Centennial, raising money for lawyer’s fees, and, as a last resort, offering sanctuary for immigrants.

“What [entering sanctuary] means is giving up your freedom for justice,” says Jennifer Piper, coordinator of the coalition. “[Sanctuary-seekers] enter a church and don’t leave that church until they have some kind of protection against deportation from the government.”

Currently, the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition is offering sanctuary to undocumented immigrant Araceli Velasquez. Piper is grateful for any money that the benefit brings in, and she expects many members of the organization to turn out for it. Above all, though, she’s looking forward to the powerful communal spirit of the fundraiser.

“The money is important to be able to cover lawyer fees for immigration cases, which are very expensive,” says Piper. “But equally important to the money is being able to be together in a world that we imagine — in a world where many diverse people come together and enjoy one another’s music and cultures without feeling defensive or threatened. These types of moments make me feel like this struggle is worth it — that we really can build a better world together.”

Territorio Liberado: A Benefit for the Denver Metro Sanctuary Coalition, 3 p.m. Saturday, September 10, Lost Lake Lounge, 3602 East Colfax Avenue, 303-296-1003.

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Sage Marshall is a freelance writer and editor covering outdoor recreation, environmental issues, Denver's music scene, the arts, and other Colorado stories. You can check out more of his work and connect with him here.
Contact: Sage Marshall