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'Make our voices heard': Lancaster musician collaborates with local artists for catharsis, change

Josh Morales, Jr.

Josh Morales, Jr, also known as 'Josh Mulberry.' Photo courtesy of the artist.

It was only three weeks ago, but it already feels as though every facet of the police killing of George Floyd is ingrained in the collective consciousness.

The screams. The crowd. The knee.

In many hearts, the nauseating scene created a need to do something, anything to help alleviate further pain.

"To be honest, everything that went on there really screwed me up," says musician Josh Morales Jr. "As a minority myself, it really sucks to see it happen every single time."

Morales, 23, plays bass and produces and creates music under the moniker Groovy Mulberry. Born in Lancaster, he got his start playing bass in a church band before making his way to Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida, to study music production.

Since returning to Lancaster in 2018, Morales has played with the likes of Andy Mowatt and Tuck Ryan while also increasing his production skills on a daily basis.

"There's times where I just listen to music all day, and some times the compositions flow out," says Morales over the phone. "At least one beat a day is OK with me, but sometimes it's up as high as five or six."

On June 1, a week to the day of George Floyd's killing, Mulberry posted a text-laden call to arms on his Instagram page, @groovymulberry:

"Rappers/Singers/Etc,, if you have something in your heart that you need to share to the world about what is going on right now, I am offering my beats for free! Hit me up and let's work and make our voices heard."

"Making beats is a release for me," says Morales about the post. "The video screwed with me big time, so I got in the mindset of, how I could help with my talents? I'm just trying to help people out."

Within hours, numerous Lancaster musicians reached out, including Laddie Moran, Charles Infamous and Gregory Martinez Jr.

Martinez was the first to respond to the call to action, and potentially the soonest to have a finished track on his hands. His collaboration with Morales, tentatively titled "400 Years," bridges the gap between modern events and Genesis 15:13 from the Bible, which says, "Then the Lord said to Abram, 'Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.'"

Martinez hopes to have the song finished and released on Friday, June 19.

"It isn't just as deep as CNN or your local newspaper or a Facebook post, it's deeper than that," says Martinez over the phone. "It's recorded history and, God willing, the oppressed and minorities will be heard."

Martinez is very familiar with Morales, as both a collaborator and a friend - the two first met as students at Lancaster Mennonite School.

"[Morales is] just an amazing producer, he reminds me of J Dilla and has the sound palette for it," says Martinez. "Even as a friend at LMH, we used to kick it and talk about artistic things. Now that we're out in the world and creating music that's impacting people's lives, it's just a beautiful thing to see."

Initially, Morales thought to compile the completed tracks onto one release, but for now, he's looking forward to seeing where and how these tracks end up.

"I just feel that people underestimate music when it comes to things like this," Morales says. "Music is very powerful, if you think about it. Like, N.W.A. had the FBI on their back just for a song, you know what I mean?"

While it's not solely up to musicians to create the change they wish to see in the world, music can provide the initial spark of inspiration.

"Music is the expression of the community as a whole," says Martinez. "There's always the question, 'Does art reflect life or does life reflect art?' It's a dance, a bit of both. I believe that us as artists, it's our job to convey the world as it is back to the world in order for someone in a dark place to be able to relate to and feel like somebody understands them."