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Wisconsin to Tahrir Square, A Song United

Music/Video Feb 26, 2011 No Comments

From the Dropkick Murphys to Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Wayne Kramer, Tim Mcilrath, and others, musicians unafraid of being in the frontlines for a more equal world are taking a stand. Drawing inspiration from the bravery seen in protests across the Middle East, the now full-on Union-backed protests and sit-in in Madison are gaining more and more support from musicians.

Yesterday afternoon I was on the phone with Matt Rothschild, ed. in chief of The Progressive, based out of Wisconsin, and with Eric Drooker, the ubiquitous artist behind numerous global justice posters, discussing the rise of people power and the excitement of Union involvement. If there’s one theme we have to elevate now, it’s that there IS a direct connection between what’s happening in #Wisconisn and #Egypt, #Yemen, #Iraq, #Libya and more. We have to make sure that the mainstream press cannot pigeon hole these as isolated events. This was the intention behind Egyptian organizers sending Pizza to Madison organizers.

This is NEXT  WORLD organizing. We know that a more equal world, not only in Egypt or the United States, but between all countries and working people, is imperative to the survival of our planet. Tahrir Square and Madison can and must be seen as small steps toward building a global movement for that more equal world. To get there, we have to be a generation of Ghandi’s and MLK Jr’s.

We are protesting FOR a world in which we live more equally across global borders so that job flight and brain drain don’t happen, and in which everyday people everywhere are educated enough to help our global society beat over-population, create a sustainable environment, overcome disease, and bring an end to conflict over resources and land before it’s too late. For that, we need teachers, and it means we need teacher’s and workers being paid livable wages with equal economic rights across the globe, not just in Madison or Tunis.

We have to join in a Song United. Steve, Tom, and everyone, while we support the Unions in Wisconsin, and the Democracy movements across MENA, this has to be the first step towards that big dream, a sustainable and integrated movement for real change in our human society.

the macrophone

Featured, News Sep 22, 2010 1 Comment

What do John Legend, the Roots, Nas, Damian Marley, the South Korean all-women group The Messenger Band, Brazil’s Afroreggae, Sudanese rap artist Emmanuel Jal, Alicia Keys, and Ghanaian hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambassador have in common?

They’re all using music in different ways to effect social change, writing songs expressing global realities, some building schools in Africa, representing and advocating for women’s rights, standing up against war and inequality, education reform, and for interfaith tolerance.

Until today, what they didn’t have in common was being in one place. The music’s industry’s practice of target-fomarketing has segregated musicians and audiences, making a generational movement hard to materialize.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, radio stations blasting James Brown, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix in the same playlist helped build a socially conscious identity that crossed boundaries. Today’s artists speaking up in rap, world, folk, and rock are like disintegrated voices in the

wilderness, screaming out from individually isolated cells in the never-ending commercial maze of the music industrial complex.

At the same time, the world of international development and human rights has been similarly disintegrated for reasons of specialization, hundreds of amazing organizations, initiatives and causes to get behind, each necessarily focused on their work to be effective.

Relegated to different genres, different organizations, and different causes, how can we create a soundtrack to the global movement for a more equal society we all know we need and want?

As of yesterday, on the United Nations International Day of Peace, numerous artists and organizations across genres and causes are coming together to launch something truly monumental, something difrent.

difrent: is a global platform to bring voices for social change together to create a soundtrack for our generation that crosses boundaries of race, country, age and genre. By creating a one-stop where people can get the music of our times that is advancing a more equal, peaceful, and sustainable world, we can give thrust to a movement that is just waiting to take off.

It’s been 8 years since The New York Times ran a feature on my song “The Bell,” helping it to become the first viral online release of an mp3 and music video for a social cause in history. But while the newspapers may have understood what was happening, the then mp3-shy and just pre-YouTube music industry was caught off-guard by a

post-genre single for a social cause that featured a folk legend, Pete Seeger, a alt-cult rocker Dean Ween, and hip-hop artists DJ Spooky and Mary Harris of the OK Player scene, Spearhead and Kelis.

The success of “The Bell” helped give birth to the global antiwar movement and set a precedent for online social change music releases. But after the Dixie Chicks off-handed quip about a fellow Texan led to a mass burning of their CD’s (ringing any Florida Church bells?), I could no longer get on tour. As an Iraqi-American singing for tolerance and peace post 9-11, I was seen as a potential threat to the sales of any artist associated with me.

A lot has changed since 2002. People all over the world realize we need voices of tolerance and social justice who can bridge cultures to mend a planet falling apart at the seams. More and more artists, from K’naan to Buraka Som Sistema, MIA and the Black Eyed Peas, are bending

genres to create a sound that’s different, one that intentionally blurs the lines between cultures and societies, one meant to inspire a wave of change-makers, a sound no longer satisfied by industry labels.

At the same time, more and more organizations are incorporating music and musicians in their campaigns, from Keep A Child Alive to Amnesty International, Oxfam, Peace One Day, Playing for Change and the United

Nations and Milennium Development Goals. Crisis responses to the tsunami, Haiti’s earthquake, and my friend Salman Ahmad’s coming release for Pakistan flood relief, prove that music can mobilize millions of dollars of needed support. Songs, after a 30 year silence, are a new currency in the age of corporate responsibility.

But we need more than disaster relief. We need a forward movement for peace, equality, and a sustainable environment to create the change we need to see. As Pete Seeger tells me, echoed by everyone from Jeff Sachs to Desmond Tutu, Nick Kristof and Queen Rania, change will come from thousands of small actions happening all over the world all the time. Music can empower and give voice to these efforts all the time.

We need a generation of youth making music and culture that is bringing us together across boundaries in communities all over the world. We need something difrent.