Social justice music: 2010-2011 class (videos follow liner notes)
Ashley Armand, Land Of Promise, Nas and Damian Marley
I chose this song because I love the fact that it’s about Africa. It's about the land which was once so rich and full of culture but was oppressed by European invaders, who didn’t think about the art, and the environment which they destroyed. The song is about trying to get the continent back to being a land of promise and into well functioning. The lyrics really hit the heart because the music video was filmed in the streets of Jamaica, to further prove that all black people should join together, and not hate ourselves like society makes us do. The rap and reggae duo invade Jamaica standing in front of a graffiti portrait of reggae legend Dennis Brown and mingling with the locals, and promoting Dennis Brown's activism, as well as being modern day activists themselves. The song’s purpose is to unify people of African descent and teach us that we all need to give back to the land that our ancestors came from.
Elena Ridker: “Where Do the Children Play?” by Cat Stevens
“Where Do the Children Play?” is a beautiful folk rock song written, performed, and released by Cat Stevens in 1970 that raises questions about the various turmoil faced by the world and the future of humankind. Cat Stevens, a widely popular and platinum British folk rock artist is well known for his philanthropy and his use of music and spoken word to advocate for world peace. After converting to Islam in 1977, Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, left his musical career behind to devote his life to philanthropic causes. “Where Do the Children Play?” is the first track on Stevens’ album “Tea For the Tillerman,” an album whose lyrics address many issues in everyday life and pose questions about the world and its future. I first fell in love with Cat Stevens’ music after watching the classic comedy/dark humor film Harold and Maude, a movie rich with messages of antiwar/peace, friendship, and self fulfillment that remains one of my all time favorites today. The soundtrack of Harold and Maude consists solely of Cat Stevens tunes, including some that were written specifically for the movie. “Where Do the Children Play?” is featured in my personal favorite scene in the movie, a scene that emphasizes the meanings within the song. In the scene, the camera pans out from a field of endless white daisies to showing a field of endless white gravestones, underscoring the lyrics of the song that touch on the issues of war, despair, and ecological disaster. The narrator in the song understands that the world is rapidly changing, becoming more industrial and complex, but that it is extremely necessary to prioritize and address issues at hand before it becomes too late. The song expresses the importance of being active and aware in the present to create a future of peace and freedom, especially for the youth who will go on to carry the world in their hands.
Talia Lepson, “One Day,” Matisyahu
As evident by the many revolutions transpiring across the globe, citizens are fed up with dictatorships and oppressive governments and are proactively attempting to overthrow them and change the system. Although the revolutions themselves aren’t necessarily peaceful, their ultimate goal and purpose is to strive for a peaceful and prosperous society that was not previously available to them. In the song, “One Day” by Matisyahu, the catchy beat and reggae-style lyricism initially intrigued me and grabbed my attention. However, this unique song is more than just a good beat or a fun song to work out to. Matisyahu sings about global peace and encourages others not to give up or resort to violence in dire situations. He sings, “One day this all will change/stop with the violence/down with the hate.” These three lines perfectly portray and illustrate the mission of a revolution. Poverty is rampant, violence is a commonplace, and the aristocracy continues to prosper. Even though Matisyahu’s demands might seem utopian, imagine living in a society where humans transcend racial, economic, gender, and religious barriers and coexist in complete unity. As social justice activists, we can only hope to meet these demands. ¡Viva la revolución!
Jake Wolf-Sorokin, “Soobax,” K’naan
When I first heard K’naan, I heard “Wavin’ Flag” around the time of the World Cup. I did not know much about him. Later, I learned of his childhood in Somalia, during the Somalian Civil War, and his later move to Canada, where he spent his teenage years. Then, it turned out a counselor of mine was his good friend from high school in Toronto. They, along with their other friends, had been members of the Canadian Young Communist Party. All were immigrants and all were seeking change. However, now most of their friends work in factories and believe in radical change that involves no dialogue. Rather than focusing on progress over time, they cling to their ideals and are unwilling to work towards social justice through a dialogue between groups. K’naan left this life attempting to make a difference and engage in the difficult work of change. This knowledge changed my perspective on K’naan and his music. In “Soobax,” which means to come out from fear and things that hold people back, K’naan details his own journey and his own quest for social justice. He sings, “Basically, I got beef/ I wanna talk to you directly/ I can't ignore, I can't escape/ And that's 'cause you affect me.” K’naan addresses the root cause of his frustrations and his feelings of displacement as a Somalian. His efforts, through music, inspire others to confront issues and not just side step around them. This song asks people to open their eyes to the potential of change. K’naan’s passion and ability to give voice to the voiceless inspire me to do the same in my social justice work.
Maya Binyam, The Revolution will not be Televised, Gil-Scott Heron
Our time is undoubtedly one of change. Revolution has spread across the Middle East, global warming is accelerating at an astounding rate, and our economy is in the greatest recession since the Great Depression. As much attention that these issues deserve, it seems that the majority of people in our society are inactive--unengaged and unwilling to make positive change for themselves and for society as a whole. Though Gil Scott Heron first recorded "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" in 1970, his desperate call to action (unfortunately) still applies. Through his combination of cultural references and witty plays with repetition, Heron combines poetry and song to urge the American people to see that revolution is not something we can wait for, or expect to come and pass quietly. Change must come from the people and will shake society to the core. I often find myself wishing I lived in the 60's so I could fight for civil rights, women's rights, and against the war in Vietnam. What Gil Scott Heron's song shows me, though, is that 2011 is just as riddled with social justice issues as was 1966. What I'm finally beginning to see is that I haven't missed the revolution. Even now, forty years later, "the revolution will be live".
William Dean Pontius, Ain't no Reason, Brett Dennen
I see the song “Ain’t no Reason,” by Brett Dennen, as a confrontation with the way that many people live their lives, ignorant of the abundance of injustices present in the world. He mentions social justice issues (many of which we touched upon in class) ranging from the unfairness of the prison system to the atrocity of some labor conditions. In addition, the song serves as an encouraging message to the listener. Dennen is sending the message that although problems do exist around the world, there is a way to change them. When Dennen talks about how “love will come set [him] free” he is showing how compassion for mankind and a want to make change is what will ultimately solve the problems. By saying that “there’s no reason things are this way, it’s how they’ve always been and they intend to stay” Dennen is emphasizing how blind we are to the interconnectedness of our world and how our attitude towards the world should change. I chose this song for two main reasons. It both addresses issues and inspires change. The song acts as a wake-up call to those people who are oblivious to the issues around them while simultaneously highlighting the idea that change is attainable with love and empathy towards our fellow citizens of the world. This is a perfect song for social justice because of the way it spreads the feeling of community throughout the world, inspiring action against the injustices against our brethren.
Natalie Segal, Let It Be, The Beatles
A song that I immediately thought of was “Let It Be” by the Beatles. I have always thought of it as a universal social justice related song that can apply to almost every type of person in the world with any type of social justice issue. A quote from the lyrics is: “And when the broken hearted people living in this world agree, there will be an answer, let it be. For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see, there will be an answer, let it be.” This song inspires me because it shows that although there are so many hardships that people have to overcome in life, whether it is racism or sexism or any type of inequality, there are always ways to find peace within yourself. Even the melody of the song is so beautiful and inspirational that after hearing it, I want to make a difference. The song brings people together and shows that ordinary people can make a difference by starting off by doing ordinary things. It makes me want to spread this message by showing people that we must accept that there are wrongs that go on in the world, but that doesn't mean we have to let it get us down. There are always ways we can go out and make change.
Emily Brown, Blowin’ in the Wind, Bob Dylan
I chose “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan because it asks important questions about war, freedom and activism. It is described by many as a protest song because its powerful lyrics beg for equality, peace and justice. My favorite line is: “Yes, how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?” because it addresses the issue of people looking the other way instead of speaking up and fighting for change. Not only does this song call on people to stand up and use their power to fight for freedom and peace, but it also helped to inspire another song about making change, “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. I think that the song was named “Blowin in the Wind” because the answer to questions like “Should I speak up?” are usually right in front of us, and once we make this realization, we can make true change.
David Gunnison-Wiseman, What's Going On, Marvin Gaye
Kerry Grove, World, Five For Fighting
Lose the Earthquakes—Keep the Faults
Fill the oceans without the salt
Let every Man own his own Hand
Can you dig it baby.
What kind of world do you want?
Let's start at the start
Build a masterpiece
Be careful what you wish for
History starts now...
There's more to this than Love
This song was first introduced to me at church when I was in ninth grade. I was part of a group known as “challenge” and throughout the year we learned about ourselves, searched for what we believed, and in the end, spoke it all in front of our congregation. At my church, social justice or “making our world a better place” as we tell the five and six year olds, is an important lesson.
The beat and flow of this song was what first struck me as empowering. It is one to listen to when you are feeling defeated and need someone to make you stand up a little straighter and give you the strength to keep fighting. But then I looked up the lyrics and really read them. The main message is what the chorus repeats over and over again: “what kind of world do you want?” I think this is a powerful question that is something each and every one of us has been trying to answer in social justice all year. And you listen to this song and feel so strong and ready to go out there. It pulls at your heart strings and gives you that emotional connection. But then, the songwriter snuck in that one line in the middle of it all: “there’s more to this than love.” That is something that will be very important for me to keep reminding myself once I begin to grow into being a social justice advocate. All the love in the world will not produce change, but people in the world will.
Hannah Gottlieb, Million Voice, Wyclef Jean
The song that I chose for our music project is called “Million Voices” by Wyclef Jean. Commemorating the tragic events that took place during the genocide in Rwanda, I find this song to be both a sad reminder of what happened and a call to never let anything this awful happen again. The soft guitar music and voices of children singing also adds greatly to the message. I think what this song addresses is the world’s failure to act in the midst of a crisis and crimes against humanity, and simply asks why everyone was so silent. I think it also questions the relations of power, and asks why the set up of governments in the West fails to meet the needs of many African countries. What I love most about this song though is definitely the melody and the children’s choir. I think they are what make the song truly powerful, and while the subject matter may be very sad, the music itself leaves you coming away with a feeling of hope. The translation of the opening lines is “When will the sun return above us?/ Who will reveal it to us again?”, and I think this is a call for activism to restore peace and stability to such a troubled nation.
Lesly Suriel: Where is the love? By the Black Eyed Peas
This song is very inspiring because it touches on the subject that people over the years have forgotten to love others and that the greatest way to show love is by lending a hand. My favorite part of the song is "But if you only have love for your own race, then you only leave space to discriminate, and to discriminate only generates hate." I agree with this because discrimination occurs when you feel that your race is better than others and you begin to judge people because of their race. If everyone begins to at least cooperate with each other and find a love for the entire human race then violence, injustices, genocides would not exist. The song talks about the people who are dying in the world, the children being hurt, the violence that can be seen in the world, "fairness in equality", "values of humanity", etc. This is a perfect song for social justice because it inspires you to stand up for what you believe in and love, to say stop the injustices, and reflect on our world. I have always loved this song because the message is truly beautiful; it is "We only got one world," we need to take care of it and each other if we want to live in a world that is based on love and peace and not hatred. In the song they are asking where is the love? This question sounds so simple but it isn't. Sometimes I can not explain some of the things that happen on this world like "Nations dropping bombs, Chemical gasses fillin' lungs of little ones." I can not understand why people kill people, why they discriminate, why they hurt and harm, and I probably never will but I am sure there is more good than evil on this Earth. The world to me is the most imperfect thing that exist but I know there is hope because I believe there are more people who love than hate, more people that cure than hurt, and more people that care than not. I want everyone on this world to find the love no matter where it is and to make the world a better place.
Daniel Kunin, Hurricane, Bob Dylan
Hurricane is a powerful emotional song written by Bob Dylan and co-written by Jacques Levy. The eight and a half minutes song tells the story of professional boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter who was wrongly convicted of a triple murder in 1967. Hurricane was on course to becoming a world champion middleweight boxer when his conviction ended his career and limited him to a cell for much of his adult life. Only after 18 years in prison and countless days in court were his charges finally dropped in 1985. Carter later served as the director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted.
I chose this song to be my social justice song because it educates me, angers me, and yet also gives me hope. I like this song in the sense that it is specific to one person. Other social justice songs are very general, talking about theoretical problems and impersonal issues. This song also does discuss major issues such as racism or the court system, but it does so through a personal story. This story always captures me, and before I know it eight and a half minutes have gone by. The song starts off describing the murders and who Hurricane Carter was. It then proceeds to discuss his imprisonment. And finally it ends with stating how he was wrongly convicted. In the last stanza of the song Bob Dylan writes:
That’s the story of the Hurricane
But it won’t be over till they clear his name
And give him back the time he’s done
Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.
The first two parts of the song educate me and anger me. I become emotionally attached to the story. And at the end, in this stanza, I am given hope. I am inspired to make change. To right the injustice. This song provokes the strong emotions of hope for a better future that inspires social activism.
Amina Johari, “Outside of a Circle of Friends,” Phil Ochs
To me, this song is about being human and compassionate. All the versus are about true events in which bystanders did nothing. One verse in the song is about a situation on the highway were traffic was completely stopped. People were getting impatient and were worried that it was about to start raining. The reason traffic was held up was because a couple of cars were suspending on a cliff. But people were more concerned about themselves and where they had to be or what they had to be doing that they didn’t do anything. Another story is about someone’s friend who was caught smoking marijuana and was sentenced to thirty years in prison, and no one protested the outrageous sentencing. The song is about social apathy and the message is that as human beings we have to respond to each other. I think his repeated line "outside a small circle of friends" says it all. Phil ochs was so inspired by the story of Kitty Genovese, the woman being stabbed, that he wrote this song. However he got the line "outside a small circle of friends" from an acquaintance over a conversation in a coffee shop about the incident. The acquaintance said this regarding the incident: "Oh, I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends." Meaning the reason that no one responded was because no one knew her and was naturally uninterested in helping the girl. The song means you should help people even if you have no personal connection with them. The lady being stabbed doesn't need to be your mother, or sister or daughter for you to do something. You do something because you should. You do something because as people we should.
Adam Wong, Stand Up, The Flobots
I chose Stand Up by The Flobots. The Flobots are known for making socially conscious music. This is a great song that talks about a lot of social injustices such as the response the government approached with during Hurricane Katrina and the issue of fighting the war (presumably the Iraq War) and urges people to not just sit there, but to challenge the way the issue stands, which is why the song is called "Stand Up". The song is very clear on its message and it is delivered very strongly, which is obvious to tell by the passion that you can feel in the strong instrumentals and strong vocals. The song does make me want to stand up because they go over the way Hurricane Katrina was dealt with and the issue of hunger, both of which are big problems in this society. The lyrics are very visual so it really puts an image to the problem as you listen to the song. The chorus is inspirational because it calls on people to make change if they can and to do it together in a unified way. One of many great quotes in this song is "We shall not be moved/Except by a child with no socks and shoes/If you've got more to give then you've got to prove/Put your hands up and I'll copy you/Stand up/We shall not be moved/Except by a woman dying from a loss of food/If you've got more to give then you've got to prove/Put your hands up and I'll copy you". The message is simple and beckons people to make change for such simple things we take for granted.
Callie McLaughlin, “Changes,” Tupac
I chose "Changes" by Tupac because I think it is heavily relevant to Social Justice. Tupac mainly focuses on the African American community in this song, which makes sense seeing as he was a member of that community. However, I think this song can relate to any group of oppressed people. The song calls for change. At one point, Tupac raps "Come on come on/I see no changes wake up in the morning and I ask myself/is life worth living should I blast myself?/I'm tired of bein' poor & even worse I'm black/my stomach hurts so I'm lookin' for a purse to snatch/Cops give a damn about a negro/pull the trigger kill a nigga he's a hero/Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares/one less hungry mouth on the welfare." This expresses his frustration with not being seen as an equal in the government’s eyes. It shows how desperation and inequality leads to crime as a last resort, something people often don't see. This song inspires me because, though it shows the oppression and the desperation, it also shows the hope. It shows that oppressed people are not content with their position in society, but that, in fact, it shows that they are crying out for change.
Sabine Shaughnessy, The Times They Are A-Changin,’ Bob Dylan
‘There's a battle outside/And it is ragin'/It'll soon shake your windows/And rattle your walls/For the times they are a-changin'”This song in particular expresses the sentiments of the 1960s protest movement and much of the American public. It had a major impact on the young American community with its proclamation that change is coming. This song inspires me to not only believe that the current issues of the world can be resolved, but also motivates me want to be a part of this change. After being a part of the social justice class, I have felt overwhelmed many times due to the complexity of fixing many of today’s problems. This song helps me remember that change is possible. It still amazes me that this song was able to fully capture the feelings of the time period yet still has an impact on activism today.
Deirdre Quillen, Hammer and a Nail, Indigo Girls
I chose this song because its pretty upbeat, and is all about getting out and doing something in the world. I think my most defining struggle of this year has been taking my new knowledge about issues around the world (food justice, women's inequalities, the unfairness of the prison system), and converting that to action. Simply acknowledging injustices is not sufficient; its really the action that individual people make to enact change that matters. This song really reflects that sentiment in the lyrics, "gotta get out of bed//learn to use my hands//not just my head". Without discounting the power of though and reflection, the song makes the point that it's necessary to have courage to take a stand about the injustices you see in the world.
Diane Pierre, Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson
I chose the song Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson for the message that he sends through the song. As social justice advocates we are searching for an answer to the problems that people may face and we realize that the answer isn’t always giving them what they need but going to the source of the problem to stop it. Some of my favorite lines in the song really respond to what most people want to do, be ignorant to a problem that doesn’t affect them: “Who am I to be blind/ pretending not to see their needs,” And the next few lines is to inspire, helping them in how those ignorant people can change, which is also getting to the root of the problem in themselves: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror/ I’m asking him to change his ways,” … “If you wanna make the world a better place/ you need to look at yourself and then make a change.” It’s an inspiring song because throughout it you are given scenarios with starving and lonely people; we can’t help them all by giving them something but we can if we can get to the root of the problem.