In the fall of 2017, Denver-based Latin-ska act Roka Hueka organized the first Territorio Liberado. Reacting to a rising anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the country, the benefit concert rallied the city’s music scene to protest Donald Trump’s anti-immigration platform and to raise funds for immigrant-rights groups.
What began as a one-off event is quickly becoming a yearly tradition for Denver’s music and activist communities, and for the third iteration, Territorio Liberado will expand to two nights at Denver’s Goosetown Tavern. All proceeds will go to the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, a nonprofit that provides shelter and support for undocumented immigrants, and Casa de Paz, an immigrant hospitality home.
“Territorio Liberado,” which translates to “Free Territory,” refers to government-owned land that was reclaimed by indigenous people during El Salvador’s Civil War. Roka Hueka bassist Ric Urrutia, who lived in El Salvador during the war, was the one to suggest the title. Many members and fans of Roka Hueka, as well as the other bands involved with Territorio Liberado, are immigrants themselves, so the cause is personal. Since several of Roka Hueka’s members have collaborated in the past with the Sanctuary Coalition and Casa de Paz, the organizations immediately came to mind when the band decided to do a fundraiser and started looking for groups to support.
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“We are a band that’s always wanted to use our music and microphone on stage as a voice, as a weapon; we’ve been involved in immigrant-rights issues, and a lot of our songs speak to those issues, so it’s kind of a natural fit,” explains Roka Hueka’s drummer, Blake Pendergrass. “I think a lot of us, myself included, got into activism through music. It’s a really easy entry point. We and a lot of the bands that are performing see music as a tool. I think there’s always been a connection between social movements and art and music.”
The bands included in this year’s Territorio Liberado lineup will make it the most musically varied edition of the fundraiser to date. From feminist punk band Cheap Perfume to Don Chicharrón’s Peruvian psych-folk and everything in between, this is not a combination of artists you’re likely to see anywhere else.
“Our vision of the event is to have diverse music,” says Pendergrass. “You do a show, and if you’re a ska band, you’ll get paired with ska bands; if you’re a punk band, you’ll be playing with punk bands. So a festival like this is an opportunity to build a more diverse lineup, because we get to build it; it’s not a promoter building it. But the bands themselves are obviously people who believe in this cause.”
The Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, the organization that originally inspired Roka Hueka to host Territorio Liberado, is an alliance of faith-based groups across the Denver area that provides support and protection to immigrants facing deportation, including offering them sanctuary in churches and synagogues.
“We support them in their fight and try to provide a platform and a microphone for them to share not only their story, but their knowledge about why the system is the way it is, the impacts of that system, and how it can change,” says Jennifer Piper, the interfaith organizer who coordinates the coalition.
Casa de Paz (translation: House of Peace), located a few miles from the immigrant detention center in Aurora, has a similar mission, helping immigrants transition out of detention and reunite with their families.
Both nonprofits already have plans for putting the donations from Territorio Liberado 3 to work for the cause.
“We’re going to use the money to purchase plane tickets for our guests,” explains Sarah Jackson, executive director of Casa de Paz. “Sometimes immigrants are released from the detention center, and their family has just paid a lot of money for a bond or for legal support, and they’re left with no money. So what we will do is use the money raised from this benefit concert to be able to purchase a flight, so that someone who is staying in our home can get to their home and be with their family as quickly as possible and not have to wait for their family to save up enough money.”
The Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition also plans on using the proceeds from Territorio Liberado 3 to further its work in the community.
“The priority is, first off, supporting the legal fees of immigrants who are fighting their deportation who are members of our coalition, and then secondly, financially supporting and making possible the fights of people who are already in sanctuary,” says Piper. The group also hopes to eventually hire paid staff and continue advocating for immigration-policy change.
At the concert, Roka Hueka will release a limited-edition seven-inch in partnership with Snappy Little Numbers Quality Audio Recording and brewery Cerveceria Colorado, with all proceeds going to the organizations. The Que No Quede Huella b/w Back to You (Version) record will be the first in a Community Collaboration series from the label.
“Snappy Little Numbers and local artists approach progressive local businesses about sponsoring releases, with all sales proceeds going to local community charities doing important and necessary work,” says label owner Chuck Coffey.
Roka Hueka will sell the record during the Territorio Liberado shows, and will give any surplus inventory to Casa de Paz and the Sanctuary Coalition to sell at their events. It will also be available in local record stores, at future Roka Hueka shows and online. No matter where it’s purchased, all sales will benefit Casa de Paz and MDSC, thanks to Cerveceria Colorado’s sponsorship.
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“Roka Hueka’s music is so positive and energetic, with a message of diversity and inclusion,” says Coffey.
“That’s a magic combination to me, and I felt like I needed to do my part to help. With the current political climate in the U.S. regarding immigration, I feel like my participation in Territorio Liberado 3 is a way for me to show that I personally value diversity and multiculturalism. By extension, so does the label and the bands I play in.”
Territorio Liberado is also a chance for musicians and activists to come together and celebrate each other’s work. While raising money is the primary goal of the two-night event, it has taken on a larger purpose over the past three years.
“The first year we did it, I think everyone was focused on it being a good fundraiser,” says Piper. “Since then, it’s become more of a community touch point and a place where people can recharge and have fun and connect with music that fills their soul, in order to keep going in this fight and keep working toward justice and dignity with the immigrant community.”
Territorio Liberado 3 takes place at 8 p.m. Friday, October 18, and Saturday, October 19, at Goosetown Tavern, 3242 East Colfax Avenue. Tickets are $10 for each individual night, or you can buy a two-night pass for $15. The full lineup for each night is listed on the event's Facebook page.