In an effort to uplift local artists, support activism and highlight underrepresented issues and voices, KBGA College Radio and Zootown Arts Community Center are partnering to create a new livestream event called "Play it Forward."

“It’s an important time to focus more on what we can do together as a community rather than what we can’t,” said Noelle Huser, general manager of KBGA. 

Each month, the series will put out a podcast discussion with the artists and organization being featured, and then host a livestream with MCAT on the last Friday of the month. February’s installment of "Play it Forward" stars musicians Ash Nataanii and Elijah Jalil in support of Here Montana, a BIPOC outdoors group through Missoula Parks and Recreation. 

The event is free, but donations are encouraged. Here Montana will receive 70% of the donations and the rest will go toward the costs of putting on the show. Rockin’ Rudy’s is also sponsoring the event, which Huser said helps them pay performers fairly. 

“I really constantly believe in just trying to do our part in providing more queer and Black, Indigenous, people of color [BIPOC] voices on the radio and in the facilitator seat,” Huser said. 

Both Jalil and Nataanii expertly weave their experiences as BIPOC people and the emotions of everyday life into their music. 

To Jalil, playing music is about “connecting on a level where you know you don’t really have to explain it because it’s already been sung and it’s put into sound,” Jalil said. “And for me it’s one of the most accessible ways, accessible art forms, to reach people, and I want to reach people and connect with everybody that I can.”

Jalil said art is of the utmost importance. He believes art is everywhere and people need creativity to get through tough times like this pandemic. He thinks imaginative solutions are the only way to piece together our broken world. 

“I feel a responsibility to create, but I also want to create and while it’s terrifying on one aspect it’s also beautiful on another one because I can see the potential to make the change that I want to see,” Jalil said. 

Jalil is ecstatic to see the support artists like him are getting from organizations like KBGA and the ZACC. And he hopes it continues. 

“The Missoula music scene has afforded me a lot more opportunities than I’ve ever had anywhere else,” Nataanii said, “at the same time as it being placed in a state that has a lot of antagonism toward Indigenous people in specific.”

She said her music is evocative of all parts of her. She doesn’t look to make political commentary, but if she has something to say, she does. 

“As a queer Indigenous woman it’s inherent in my daily life to be understanding how I’m viewed for my own safety and then also for my own healing,” Nataanii said. “And to have that be consistently in my daily life also comes out in my music.”

She said performing is like a spiritual experience for her. She never prepares much. She improvises as she goes, creating a new experience each time. She said there’s an element of magic to it. And she loves seeing how it affects people and hopes it shows them what it is to be alive. 

Jalil and Nataanii didn’t know each other before "Play it Forward," but they both spoke high praise of the other from their interactions in the podcast. The podcast, which is on KBGA’s website and will be aired before Friday’s show, focuses on Jalil, Nataanii and Alex Kim, Here Montana’s founder, discussing their own versions of activism and how they’re connected. 

“Seeing the work they were doing was really encouraging to know that while it feels like sometimes I am alone in this effort, that I am not,” Jalil said. 

Kim said he saw an intersection in all of their goals and beliefs that was special. He hopes after the event more of Missoula will get behind Here Montana’s mission of connecting BIPOC people to the outdoors and will open up to conversations of racial justice. 

“I hope that it helps to propel [Jalil and Nataanii] and I hope that it helps to encourage other BIPOC artists and musicians to have a platform and take advantage of a college radio station like KBGA and a local community center like the ZACC,” Kim said. 

He said the money raised through the event will help them buy used gear for participants who don’t have any, it will help feed people when they go on trips and will help get the word out. 

Viewers can tune into the livestream on Friday evening at 7:30 through the ZACC Facebook page and YouTube channel or MCAT's Local Live, or on KBGA.