The video tribute above comes from Jasiri X who’s taken to music to reflect on the legacy of Nelson Mandela.
In the chorus he raps:
Then I looked over the horizon and saw Mandela in a sun that was rising
He said listen to what the drum say, we are all gonna be free one day
When I looked over the horizon and I saw Mandela with wings he was flying
He said listen to what the drum say, we are all gonna be free one day
There is a history of music inspired by Nelson Mandela. He has left a profound legacy, the outpouring of love and admiration in light of his passing is a reminder of just how much of an impression he’s made.
And this profound impression spans across generations and countries and peoples. Nelson Mandela is truly a person of the ages whose impact cannot be understated. Jasiri’s song beautifully captures that fact and yet goes future. In honoring Mandela’s legacy– Jasiri also poses a challenge to all those left to carry his torch that’s worth reflecting on as we mourn the loss of a great leader and celebrate the life of an extraordinary individual.
I emailed Jasiri to ask about the inspiration behind the song and he replied:
I believe Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest revolutionaries that has ever lived. When he started to get sick, myself and the song’s producer Agent of Change, wanted to pay tribute to his incredible leadership. I always have wondered why we give so much admiration and love to Nelson Mandela, but so few of us are willing to make the sacrifices he did, to effect a world that still needs revolutionary change. I imagined what a conversation with him would be like and what he would say. I believe Nelson Mandela would have great faith in our generation to carry his ideas and make them a reality. We are all gonna be free one day.
Spalding is an accomplished jazz musician who plays with a lot of heart. She started playing violin at age 5 but she truly found her groove, and subsequently her sound, upon discovering the bass at age 15. A ton of hard work, a Grammy and a few records later, she was doing no big deal things like jamming with Prince and playing with Stevie Wonder at the White House.
Now she’s channeled her musical prowess into an empowering anthem that strives to be for something.
That something being the American values, principles and laws that make the concept of indefinite detention without trial – and thereby the very existence of Guantanamo Bay – completely indefensible on our watch.
Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., encouraged by her band members, and supported by various human rights organizations Spalding captured her feelings not only through a song but a fact-laced video that spells out what’s going on, why it’s important, and how you can help. The video encourages viewers to contact their representatives and the song is a rousing cry as to why they should.
As Spalding sings
I am America
And my America
It don’t stand for this.
We are America
In our America
We take a stand for this.
Speaking to MSNBC, Spalding clarified that she hadn’t written a protest song– rather she’d created an invitation to participation:
It’s such a gift and a joy to be engaged in the process- in our democratic process, and I think maybe we forget that we each really can do something. You know, it seems like an overwhelming issue and any overwhelming issue gets solved by slow continual person-by-person action so that’s the invitation.
She went on to specifically address personal power and it’s role in this project and others like it:
We’re powerful individuals. Each of us have a lot of power in us to contribute to positive transformation of the world we live in and it’s a celebration of that- a celebration of we don’t have to sit her and let unpleasant things happen under our nose. We can celebrate this freedom and power that we have to make a difference.
Writing in the LA Times Spalding went even further to explain her inspiration as well as her hope for the project getting into the nitty gritty legislative details of how and why that power matters”
If the Senate and the House of Representatives agree to the Guantanamo provisions in the defense act, the few prisoners in the detention center who face charges could be prosecuted where it makes the most sense, in federal courts.
Radio Music Society (and friends) made “We Are America” because we believe that, while not all of us are called to the front lines like Martin Luther King Jr., we can all support our elected officials in doing the right thing.
The entire project is amazing and it accomplishes its job, as described by Spalding, in that it helps to raise consciousness around what’s happening and why it matters. In a little over a decade 779 men have been illegally detained and 164 remain imprisoned despite the fact that well over half of them are cleared to leave. What’s happening is wrong but what happens next has yet to be determined.
The video’s call to action spells out what you can do:
Call the US Capitol Switchboard 1-202-224-3121 to connect you to your two Senators & your Congressional Representative
I am your constituent and I want you to support closing Guantanamo
Indefinite detention and unfair trails are illegal, un-American and unnecessary.
The video, done in collaboration with ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, includes cameos from Harry Belafonte, Janelle Monáe and Stevie Wonder, while also highlighting statements from President Obama, Senator John McCain, Colin Powell and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen to spell out why closing Guantanamo is the right thing to do.
All that’s lacking is the courage and political will to do it.
The sentiment expressed in the video is not just a company angling for page views– it’s at the heart of the GoldieBlox philosophy.
Founder and CEO Debbie Sterling is a stunning example of practicing what you preach. She holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University and sees the depressing statistic that only 11% of world’s engineers are women as an opportunity to, in her words, “disrupt the pink aisle”.
The GoldieBlox website is unapologetic about their mission and they have no interest in burying the lead:
At GoldieBlox, our goal is to get girls building. We’re here to help level the playing field in every sense of the phrase. By tapping into girls’ strong verbal skills, our story + construction set bolsters confidence in spatial skills while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.
GoldieBlox is here, clear about what they want, and people are responding.
Last year the company launched a successful kickstarter that blew its $150,000 goal out of the water garnering $285,881 in pledges. As of this writing the youtube video for this spot amassed over 7 million views and show no signs of stopping.
I don’t know about you guys but I’m super excited by the prospect of going to Space. Even more so after renowned scientist/ tweeter Neil deGrasse Tyson’s epic twitter live-tweet of the movie Gravity and all the things the movie got wrong. At a certain point you just want to check things out for yourself. Seems to be the case for many pop stars who have the means to shell out the one bazillion dollars (tickets actually go for $250,000) required to board a flight into orbit. Among them, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Ashton Kutcher have all called dibs on some of the first commercial flights into space. Never one to take a backseat, Lady Gaga announced plans yesterday to actually perform in space, in 2015.
Rolling Stone reports that the show is part of the Zero-G-Music Tech Festival- done in conjunction with the launch of NewMexico’s Spaceport America- and that Gaga will have to rehearse for a month to adjust to the change in atmosphere.
Speaking with Vanity Fair, space expert and managing editor of Space.com Tariq Malik weighed in on the acoustics of the future space show warning that “there will be a lot of background noise with the rocket engine and fans whirring”. Beyond that he also noted some of the complications that come with singing in space:
The most difficult part, for anyone, is going to be the launch. She will be in a rocket and will have to withstand the initial G-forces. Once she gets up into space, gravity drops away, and it can be really disorienting. I took a zero-G flight this summer, and it was a big surprise when we tried it out. She’ll have to prepare for space sickness because she won’t want to sing if she’s throwing up all of the time.
Gaga will be flying on a Virgin Galactic Flight, founded by Richard Branson.
Her announcement doesn’t come without some controversy. Today questions arose as to whether or not fellow Virgin Galactic ticket holders Beyoncé or Justin Bieber might manage to sing in space first. The celebrity race to space is fully underway 13 years after Brittney Spears performed on ‘Mars‘. Charity Space Auctions have also come into fashion as of late, with one super rich dude shelling out 1.5 million dollars to board a flight alongside Leonardo DiCaprio.
Verzilov has information that leads him to believe that Nadya has been moved to a Siberian prison as a sort of punishment stating:
“They do not have the ability to put on the usual psychological or physical pressure they can use with inmates because of the high profile of the case. So they have chosen this as the punishment instead.
As the New York Times reports, the initial hunger strike was called off after Nadya’s hospitalization ten days later, at which point she was under the belief that she would be transferred to a new prison. When the transfer didn’t take place she attempted another hunger strike and then disappeared. Her family has been told that she’s being transferred to a new prison and while it’s not unusual for inmates to go without contact during a prison transfer – Nadya’s family should be informed of her new whereabouts within ten days of her arriving – the nature of her case and fact that Russian authorities don’t take kindly to dissidents makes the past 19 days of silence particularly deafening.
The BBC reports that yesterday Amnesty International intervened to urge Russian authorities to allow Nadya contact with a lawyer and to give her family information on her whereabouts. Her lawyer Irinia Khrunova has filed an appeal with the Russian Supreme Court but also confirms that she has not been able to speak to Nadya because “they are hiding her.”
Speaking toThe Guardian, Russian human rights ombudsman Vladmir Lukin says that he’s been told by Russian officials that Nadya is in “satisfactory health” and was transferred to a new prison.
Still, those reports have not been confirmed by her actual family who is still frantically trying to contact her. Verzilov is continuing to post updates from Twitter through the handle @gruppa_voina.
Julian Assange made an appearance as the opening act for MIA at her New York City Terminal 5 show this past weekend.
Appearing via Skype and citing that he was there in support of “the most courageous woman working in western music,” Asange delivered a ten minute speech on topics ranging from privacy to freedom of the press, shouting out the reporters who were in exile as a result of their press coverage.
The audio to emerge from the event is a bit hard to hear but in it Asange regrets not being able to attend the event in person explaining that he’s been deterred “because your government sucks.”
Despite some chatter during his remarks– the crowd seemed attentive throughout, cheering him on as cameras and smart phones flashed throughout the arena from fans eager to broadcast his appearance through social media.
The artist is certainly no stranger to taking on the man. She’s currently being sued by the NFL for flipping the bird during her 2012 Super Bowl performance and this past August when her record label told her to “darken” up her album, warning that it was too positive- she took to Twitter and threatened to leak it saying;
“If interscope takes longer i can always leak this next week and make a new one by the time they are ready.”
Angel Haze is no stranger to leveraging her platform – and her art- to tackle uncomfortable subjects. She’s also no stranger to remixing previous works to say something totally new and necessary in a way that only she can.
Case and point: the artist’s remix of Macklemore’s hit single Same Love.
From The Heist, Macklemore’s incredibly successful second studio album, and collaboration with producer Ryan Lewis, the original song has a lot of heart. It’s received wide radio play and praise, including the VMAs for best video with a social message. In a recent blog post describing the importance of the song, Macklemore said:
Every song I’ve ever put out, I have believed in. But Same Love was different. It was a moment that was way bigger than us. Watching teenagers come up to me after shows, with tears in their eyes, gasping for breathe in attempts to find the right words to explain to me that they came out to their family after hearing the song…that reaffirms everything. That. Right there. That is the reason why I do this. That is no publicity stunt. That is no calculated move. That is art affecting the quality of people’s lives, the way that other artists influence mine.
Fan love and commercial acclaim aside, Macklemore has also received considerable grief for the song with some questioning the merits of a straight artist creating a gay rights ballad.
I can’t count myself among those kind of critics. I was introduced to Same Love by a gay solider whose sincere and pure appreciation of the song was evident when she asked me if it’d be okay if she replayed it during a car ride that we shared last spring. She was a friend of a friend and I didn’t know her but in her explanation of the song I knew that the song had impacted her.
Musician Lou Reed has died at age 71. Reed, a founding member of the Velvet Underground, shaped modern rock music, influencing punk rock, art and rock & roll. The Velvet Underground were a vital part of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable (Warhol produced the band’s debut album), and gained a cult following in the 1980s.
Named after a salacious 1960′s book exposing the underground S&M scene, the Velvet Underground’s avant-garde music combining raw energy and desperate themes cemented their mark on 50 years of music.
Reed who suffered from Hepatitis C underwent a liver transplant earlier this year. He was married to musician Laurie Anderson at the time of his death.
Reed’s ambiguous sexual persona and drug use made him a hero to the disaffected, while his musical explorations from the VU to “Transformer” “Metal Machine Music” and “Sally Can’t Dance” showed the range of his musical courage and talent. Reed famously said
My bullshit is worth more than other people’s diamonds.
In an epic 10 minute interview on BBC’s Newsnight – Russell Brand calmly and meticulously addresses everything from income inequality to corruption to corporate interests to revolution while explaining how his opinions render it impossible for him to cast a ballot in good conscious.
The clip begins with reporter Jeremy Paxman condescendingly questioning Brand’s ability to [guest] edit a political magazine (Russell Brand on revolution: “We no longer have the luxury of tradition”) given that Brand has never voted. Brand’s subsequent takedown sets the tone for an interview where one party continues to ask fluff questions to another party who’s providing his thoughtful, respectful and passionately articulated thoughts on the world.
Nothing that Brand says is that original. What’s noteworthy – and in fact buzz worthy- is that his words are being spoken by someone with his level of influence on the BBC.
The revolution that he ultimately predicts is not his anymore than it’s Madonna’s or anyone else’s for that matter. He’s just able to talk about it and have millions hear what he’s saying.
Say what you will about celebrities getting political but I think those who are inclined to agree with Brand– to agree with the notion that the status quo is unsustainable and that there must be alternative means of getting things done that don’t result in an underclass, would be wise not to dismiss the performer outright. That said, it’s just as wise not to elevate him into something he’s not.
Natasha Lennard makes a similar point over at Salonwhen she says:
But the point of rethinking new political and social spaces together — as was felt profoundly by many of us engaged in Occupy’s headiest, fiercest days — was that we don’t need to align with, elevate, celebrate (nor indeed wholly reject or detest) any one person. Yes, we will continue struggle against vanguardism and sexism and so many co-constitutive problems within ourselves and each other. We will fail and fail better and fail. We will struggle to know and reconstitute what “we” even really means. And I take Russell Brand at his word that he wants to fight too. This is no referendum on the comedian or his intentions. But this is no time to forgo feminism in the celebration of that which we truly don’t need — another god, or another master.
I completely agree with her.
That said: Don’t shoot the messenger.
It’s a trap and it happens all the time.
Every time an artist or someone of influence embarks on the lonely endeavor of speaking truth to power we eviscerate them. There must be something wrong with them! Even when there isn’t, our society creates a reason to take them less seriously. Russell Brand has a funny accent. He’s a comedian. He’s said some problematic things in the past. I’m not electing him President, or marrying him, or even befriending him. I’m just saying that for ten straight minutes he said shit about shit- on the BBC no less!- and it was real and our collective first instinct- and if it wasn’t the first it would have been the second- is to talk about Russell Brand as opposed to what he said.
We do this all the time.
Bob Marley was a stoner. Tupac was a thug. Lauryn Hill was a racist. George Carlin was Anti-American. The Beatles were Anti-Religion. Bob Dylan sold his soul to the devil.
The list goes on and on and I could find more dismissive throwaways about contemporary artists/ celebrities who try to use some of their influence to say and do real shit, but there’s more important shit to do.
We focus on the “celebrity” – we focus on the controversies and the personal lives. The media perpetuates it, and you know what? – if we’re focusing on the superficial bullshit that the media perpetuates then we’re not listening to any of what’s actually being said.
Lauryn Hill once posited “music is supposed to inspire… how come we aint getting no higher.”
I think it’s because we’re so anchored to the illusion that in order to speak your mind you must be pure, you must embrace a pre-assigned label and be an activist or a revolutionary or something besides being an artist and a human being to justify your ability to say things that are real. Bob Dylan ran from the notion of being an activist or the voice of a generation because he’d already decided he was a songwriter. That’s what he was doing. The rush to turn him into something else, to make him explain himself, took the emphasis off the things he’d made which speak for themselves. What you gather from them is up to you- but I don’t think he owed anybody anything besides making those things.
Art is a means of speaking your mind– and yet now we’re so focused on the implications of what’s spoken and whether or not the person speaking is with us or against us or a sell out or all these other things that aren’t real that we keep running in circles. Music is supposed to inspire… but in mainstream culture it’s not about the music. It’s about the album artwork.
Beyond that it’s worth noting that every social hero that we idolize is a human being with their own set of vices and a million reasons to not elevate them as examples to be followed. In many painful cases, the messengers were actual shot.
If history teaches us anything- it’s that while you can kill a human, you can’t kill a vision.
That shared vision is very much at the heart of the defiance we feel when we hear someone say that things are wrong and we know that they’re right.
Things are wrong and they’ve been wrong and the way things work is fucked and in our hearts we know that not only can we make it better, but also it’s our responsibility to do so.
Historically, saying as much was enough to get you killed. Those messengers knew that their plight wasn’t about them and so they said things out loud anyways with the hope that some day their contributions would help lead us all to the promise land.
In today’s world we lament the lack of cultural icons and substantive artists in one breath and then in the next breath we chastise those who do try to do real shit for not being professional policy makers or theorists or philosophers or radicals or geniuses.
All the while we direct heat at them and if it’s not them it’s at each other. One group of people’s failings- historical or otherwise- results in reasons not to work with “those kind” of people. We’re defensive in all the ways that don’t matter and we’re the ones who suffer for it. Those who are profiting from the system’s failings don’t care if we scapegoat each other. It’s better for them if we do because then we’re not going after them. As Brand himself said during this interview;
The burden of proof is on the people with the power.
It’s not but it should be.
Don’t shoot the messenger.
Russell Brand is not a political leader or a movement leader and he acknowledges as much. He’s an artist and comedy is his art form- words and wit are his weapons and they were on full display in this interview.
At one point during the exchange, he confronts Paxman saying “You’re having a go at me because I’m not poor anymore.” Paxman replies by insisting “I’m not having a go at you about that. I’m just asking why we should take you seriously when you’re so unspecific.” To which Brand replies:
You don’t have to take- firstly, I don’t mind if you take me seriously. I’m here just to draw attention to a few ideas. I just want to have a little bit of a laugh. I’m saying there are people with alternative ideas that are far better then I am and far better qualified more importantly then the people that are currently doing that job because they’re not attempting to solve these problems. They’re not. They’re attempting to placate the population.
Doesn’t sound like he’s trying to lead the troops to me…
In truth, Russell Brand is as human as you and I. He’s operating from his experiences and leveraging his art, and his platform, to shed light on what he knows. If he says something problematic- there’s a chance he’s an asshole… but there’s also a chance that he just doesn’t know better; that he hasn’t come across better and that he doesn’t understand how something he says can be interpreted as hurtful and problematic. If that’s the case, then it’s worth giving him the benefit of the doubt. That goes for everybody. We all tiptoe around conversations of privilege and race and class and gender – we shouldn’t be terrified of saying the wrong things because our perspectives are shaped by a world that is wrong. I don’t think we’re at fault for our influences– nobody’s born bad but if you’ve grown up around bad then your perspectives will be shaped accordingly. There should be room for growth and redemption. In the meantime– the absolute focus on the messenger has to stop.
Russell Brand doesn’t matter. I don’t want to talk about the messenger. I want to talk about the message.
Below are some excerpts from the interview that stuck out to me. It’s worth listening to and thinking about and debating. What he says is right– things aren’t working, the planet is fucked and there’s an underclass that’s not being served by the systems that are currently in place. What we do about that is not Russell Brand’s decision. I was annoyed by how much the interviewer focused on having him offer up some 30 second plan to change the world. (more…)
His latest video features an acoustic version of the song “Wake Me”. His vocals are at the heart of Avicii’s electronic version which has been wildly and internationally successful this year.
While the original video features a pair of outcast sisters living in a rural town who ultimately relocate to New York City where they find like-minded companions at a concert– Blacc’s version has a more political bent.
Sure enough- the video depicts an immigrant family’s failed attempt to cross the border complete with a police officer confiscating a baby only to find himself face to face with the Dream Activist she grew up to be years later. The song is hauntingly beautiful. The video’s focused on revealing the humanity behind the “immigration debate” as well as the crass terms that often get tossed around as a substitute for political discourse. There are no “illegals” or stereotypes in this video. Just people.
As they go through their struggles the 34 year old artists croons “All this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know that I was lost” and it just make sense. I’m not sure what I even mean by that but it does. We’re all just people getting lost and found and lost again in a search for some sense of belonging. If you can relate to the words of this wildly successful song that’s on the radio all the time- then it’s not that much of a stretch to imagine relating to that family trying to cross the border.
The video, directed by Alex Rivera, ends by noting that several of the actors in the video are themselves actually causalities of our broken immigration policy.
Head over to Wendy Carillo’s- the host of KPRW Los Angeles, Power 106 – blog for more background on their stories.
Blacc’s seen previous success with songs like “I Need a Dollar” which was featured in the opening credits of the HBO show How to Make it in America. Prior to that he was a member of hip hop group Emanon in the late 90s.