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The Common touch

Who: Common

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16

Where: Green Music Center, 1801 E. Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park

Admission: $12.50 to $37.50, discounts for students and kids

Information: gmc.sonoma.edu

Hip-hop artist Common may be best known for his collaboration with John Legend on the song “Glory,” featured in Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film “Selma.”

A native of Chicago, Common (born Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr.) has worked with artists ranging from Questlove to Stevie Wonder and has read poetry with Michelle Obama at the White House.

He’s also a talented actor who played civil rights activist James Bevel in “Selma” and more recently appeared as himself in “Girls Trip.”

Common performs Saturday at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center.

His most recent album, “Black America Again” was hailed as one of the best rap albums of 2016. It reflects the deepening divide among Americans and calls for reconciliation and reunification.

“I wish the hatin’ would stop,” he raps on the title track of “Black America Again.” Later in the song he says, “I know that Black lives matter, and they matter to us.”

An advocate for prison reform, Common met last spring with an aide to California Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators seeking adjustments to the state’s the juvenile justice system.

He spoke by phone with The Press Democrat in late August. Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Can music help heal a divided nation?

A: I think that music is a catalyst and a spark to give people motivation and inspiration. … It also is a bridge to bring people together because music is a unifying factor.

No matter what language you speak, if you really connect with this music, you’re all sharing the experience.

I know the country has divisions, and I think these divisions existed before. So I don’t think this is really a new dimension of what America is.

As black people and Latino people, we’ve experienced this and now it’s like everybody is starting to feel this.

It’s good in a way because everybody has more compassion and empathy towards each other. We gotta come together — we gotta figure out the commonalities between us.

Q: When you recorded your most recent album, “Black America Again,” did you have a sense of things getting more divisive in this country?

A: I recorded that throughout 2016, from about March until August. I didn’t really feel the country was getting more divisive.

I was just looking at the history of the country and at killings of young black men and women and looking at the situation of mass incarceration.

I can’t say I predicted incidents like Charlottesville, but I knew that the spirit of Charlottesville existed.

So I think “Black America Again” was really an expression saying this has always existed. Let’s acknowledge it. Let’s put it out there and talk about solutions.

Q: You have worked as an advocate for juvenile justice here in California — what’s unjust about the system?

A: In California, juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole. Kids under 18 don’t have a chance to talk to somebody (like an attorney) that can explain to them really what is going on.

What I’m saying is, the treatment of young people when it comes to law enforcement and the criminal justice system just ain’t right.

I think we can work on getting the prison system to be something that benefits the human being and not just punishes and demeans and dehumanizes. Let prison be something that is focused on bettering the lives of people who are incarcerated.

I am also an advocate for an educational system that benefits our young people so they can be prepared for the jobs that will exist when they graduate high school or college, and so they can find things that they are passionate about.

I believe that’s helping me to fulfill my life — I found something that I love and am passionate about.

Q: And today more and more schools have cut funding for arts and music programs…

A: That’s where we could be putting more money in. … That gave me a way to express myself and discover things. I was in a Chicago elementary school … about 14 (when I knew) I really wanted to do this, be a hip-hop artist.

It was a gradual thing: I never knew I could be a musician and be a part of the arts. I really started seeing that art is something I can be a part of, and I want to be a part of.

It started with breakdancing. By the time I was 12, I rolled my first rap, and when I was 14, I thought, man, this hip-hop thing is what I want to do.

Q: Can you speak to the power of film and how you collaborate with artists such as John Legend to create a song for a movie?

A: The beauty of being able to create music for film, it gives you a theme that you might not necessarily write about.

Being able to be a part of “Selma” was already life-enhancing and enlightening for me. Then to be able to write a song for it, it made me think deep into the themes and really examine the life of Dr. King and all those people who worked in the civil rights movement.

I really wanted to write it like I was writing a speech. When I see movies and the music is really beautiful, it really adds to the emotion of the scene.

I connect with it more, and I feel it more. I look at it like a benediction. In church, the benediction sums up what the theme of the day was in a positive light. And that’s what I look for the music to be.

Michael Shapiro is author of “A Sense of Place.” He writes about travel and entertainment for national magazines and The Press Democrat.

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