Interview By Rory P. (This interview has been edited for clarity)
Musician and health justice organizer Campbell Charshee plans to release a five-track album in September titled, “The War on Health Mixtape,” under his stage name and alter-ego, “Campblicated.”
Charshee grew up playing piano in Baltimore and moved to New Jersey in 2008 to study jazz at William Paterson University under Kevin Norton. He previously attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., performing in various bands in the activist scene of the mid-2000s. He lives with diabetes and the undue burdens that come along with it in a privatized healthcare system.
“The War on Health Mixtape” will be available for $4 on Bandcamp. Proceeds will be paid to RIP Medical Debt, a Long Island-based charity that purchases and forgives medical debt. Every $4 forgives $340 of medical debt.
Rory: How did you get into performing and making music? How did that part of your life coalesce with the political part?
Campbell: I grew up in Baltimore and moved to D.C. in 2004 to go to George Washington University. I was originally thinking I would go there to study political science. Most of the people you meet down there were, in some way, shape, or form, political junkies. There was also a great jazz program at that school. I took a couple of years off but still lived in D.C. Got out into the city a lot. A lot of these historic jazz clubs were there.
I had a gig playing in the church across from the White House. When I was a freshman, Bush was re-elected. There were countless anti-war protests at the time. I was out of school but working. I started running my own band and playing clubs around town. You’d go to one of those protests in the afternoon and play a gig in the evening.
R: When did healthcare become political for you?
C: I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1988 at 12 years old. Before that I had leukemia. Later, I started wearing this pump that sits on my stomach and administers insulin. So, I’ve had technology keeping me alive for most of my life. It’s why my alter-ego, Cambplicated, is a cyborg. I’ve also been a huge fan of science fiction. Grew up watching Blade Runner and Star Trek.
Becoming an adult and managing a chronic condition is a very difficult thing to do, especially if you’re making a living as a musician. I have not had to ration insulin. I’ve had to ration other kinds of supplies. I’ve had to skip doctors’ visits. I’ve routinely had to take on medical debt, been in and out of collections. Paying off almost $8,000 of medical bills.
So, I realize this was, in my opinion, a form of medical discrimination that I was experiencing. In 2015 and 2016 the costs really started going up for me. That led me to be a health justice organizer and to do organizing in our chapter. I wanted to address this in a musical fashion. I want people to be aware.
You hear about diabetics dying because they couldn’t get their insulin in time due to insurance companies refusing to cover it. There is a psychological cost to living and getting by in this system while managing a chronic condition. Knowing that you’re being denied care in our multi-tiered system that others have access to. And knowing that other countries don’t have to deal with this.
R: What do you hope listeners take away from this album?
C: Fundamentally, this is my alter ego, Cambplicated, putting out a conscious record that people enjoy but also gets people to think about things the media is trying to sweep under the rug. Policies like Medicare for All and the insulin price cap, which didn’t pass under Congress a few weeks ago. Diabetics like me are being invisibilized and have no political representation from a political party. I express that through art. This is my attempt to foster awareness and conversation.
R: How has your work with the North Jersey DSA chapter influenced you as a musician?
C: Doing a summer of door knocking for Joel Brooks. standing on the line with striking nurses, now doing work in Jersey City to do publicly financed abortion care has all made me a better musician and a better listener. We all do so much hard and serious work. I want to give people something to bump to and chill to.