Arab-American singer-songwriter and peace activist Stephan Said has just released a new version of the classic Egyptian civil rights anthem “Aheb Aisht Al Huriya” (“I Love the Life of Freedom”) in both YouTube video and MP3 formats.
The MP3 version, says Said, is free for use “by all those who are non-violently working to build the international movement for a more just society.” It can be downloaded at http://stephansaid.com/audio/aheb-aisht-al-huriyah.mp3.
Both the MP3 and YouTube video are accompanied by a taped statement by Said expressing hope and stressing nonviolence within the context of the current turmoil in the Middle East.
The lyrics to “Aheb Aisht Al Huriya” were written by the great Egyptian poet-laureate Ahmed Shawki, with music by the legendary singer-composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab.
“It’s an anthem to global unity and equality that I learned from my father,” says Said of the 1930s song. Reflecting on the current political climate, both in the Middle East and throughout the world, he states, “This is our moment — the moment when each of us must summon our highest, most poetic selves to courageously step into the brilliance of the next world, a world already in the making.”
Said had previously recorded “Aheb Aisht Al Huriya” for his forthcoming album difrent, which is produced by Hal Willner and will be released in September on the International Day of Peace.
“It’s bizarre to have recorded this renowned Egyptian freedom anthem from the ’30s and to see what’s happening now,” marvels Said. “I couldn’t have handpicked a song be more perfect: such high poetry, that’s absolutely apolitical but Kahlil Gibran-esque as an allegorical poem to freedom and global unity. So what else to do but give this expression as support to those people who are taking such a stand — and give a loving cultural voice to it that can help unify people’s emotions and spirits and lift them.”
Said sings the song in Arabic and, in the video, displays the English translation on handheld poster boards. The song played yesterday on Democracy Now! the daily TV/radio news program airing via public media, and has also been programmed on the U.S. government-financed Middle East news/information satellite TV channel Alhurra.
Meanwhile, difrent is slated for release via The Orchard Group, which will reissue Said’s entire back catalog this spring — including a previously unreleased album with John Alagia, who has produced John Mayer and Jason Mraz. The reissue conincides with Said’s residency at East Village world music club Drom, where he’ll perform the second Thursday of the month in March, April and May.
Difrent is Said’s first album to be released under his given name — which is pronounced sigh-EED. The Iraqi-American has gone by Stephan Smith, and won acclaim for his song “The Bell” — “the first major song against the war in Iraq,” according to The New York Times, and the first viral protest MP3 and music video, according to Billboard.
Later the title track of a 2003 EP, the song, which was recorded with Pete Seeger, Ween’s Dean Ween and hip-hop artist Mary Harris and backed by a viral video, was also hailed by The Guerilla News Network as the “anti-war anthem for our generation” and aired on over 100 public and college radio stations.
“My whole career direction is in using my music as much as possible as an agent for social change, and updating and pushing the envelope as to how much we can do for the global generation,” says Said, who’s using the new album to advance its namesake organization, difrent, which started up last year. He characterizes it as a global broadcasting platform for music for social change.
“More artists and organizations are using music as an agent for social change,” he says. “The political processes are failing, but the Internet is opening doors to bypass it and use our art to spearhead necessary change.”
He cites independent involvement by the likes of John Legend, the Roots, Nas, Damian Marley, South Korean female group The Messenger Band, Brazil’s Afroreggae, Sudanese rap artist Emmanuel Jal, Alicia Keys, and Ghanaian hip-hop artist Blitz the Ambassador, all of whom are likewise using music to express global realities and effect social change.
“We need a place to bring us all together to form a movement and build momentum instead of having one-offs that disappear,” says Said, who envisioned the difrent platform when his career began a decade ago — but technology wasn’t there to enable it.
“It was pre-YouTube and Facebook, but a lot has changed since then,” he continues, noting that organizations like Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Keep A Child Alive now incorporate music and musicians in their campaigns. “Right now the tools and organizations are there, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel in putting them together.”
Difrent is based in New York, “but really, it’s global by nature, involved with schools and partnering with groups all over,” says Said. “The main thing is the partnership with thousands of Model elementary, high school and university UN schools worldwide [Model UN schools simulate the United Nations bodies like the General Assembly and Security Council] and the Millenium Development Goals Awards [the New York-based ceremony honors governments and individuals who strive to meet such goals as eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and achieving universal primary education] and a growing number of interfaith and youth organizations to develop and distribute curriculum that engages youth worldwide in making their own music and culture for a more equal and sustainable world.”
Said headlined the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Awards gala last fall, where he announced the launch of difrent. In December, he received the 2010 Meyer Risk Taker’s Award from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, the organization that organized Jewish support for Nelson Mandela in the early 1990s.
Concludes Said, “The movement begins with us.”
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Hi everyone, we want to celebrate the great news that Stephan is being awarded Jews for Racial and Economic Justice’s (JFREJ) annual Award, the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Risk Taker Award, for his career at the forefront music and social change today! Please join us to celebrate with Stephan and co-honorees Adrienne Cooper and Si Kahn, tomorrow, Wed. Dec. 8, 2010, at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, 88th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue in NYC. 6 – 7 Reception, 7 – 9 Program! For more information and to purchase tickets, go to www.jfrej.org. JFERJ is fantastic organization that’s been on the frontlines of racial and economic justice since it’s founding over 20 years ago, instrumental in this year’s legislative victory passing the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and courageously spearheading the Jewish support for the Park 51 Community Center.
By awarding Stephan, an Iraqi American with both Christian and Muslim heritage, JFREJ’s honor is a strong statement of Interfaith Unity at it’s most potent, the kind the whole world needs to trumpet and increase right now. Please join us tomorrow night or send Stephan a note of congrats and check out JFREJ’s site and support their courageous work crossing boundaries for the good of all.
JFREJ’s is honoring Stephan for his consistent use of songs, video and new technology to reinvent music as an agent for social change for the global generation, from his migrant farm working to his first breakthrough songs about housing rights and Police Brutality such as The Ballad of Abner Louima (with Patti Smith), his debut album on Rounder Records which announced the Seattle demonstrations, breaking through the global media silence on the Iraq war with the first viral protest song and video of the internet era “The Bell,” to his current Interfaith and peace work including the launch of difrent:, the one stop for music for social change, and his prominent stance in support of the Park 51 Community Center in New York City. With his rap, pop, rock, world, and folk music, Stephan’s border-breaking sound and dedication to community based organizing are an inspiration to people of all walks and ages who believe another world is possible. We, and Stephan especially, are so grateful to JFREJ for their support and hope that you’ll support their work, too!
Thanks JFREJ from Stephan and the whole team!
September 21, Stephan Said spoke on difrent, John Legend, Alicia Keys, The Roots, Nas, Damian Marley, youth empowerment, and building a global movement for social change through music. He voices a very populist affirmation of the proposed Mosque in Downtown New York as a means to elevate voices of all faiths and cultural differences coming together to create world peace.
On September 20, Stephan Said launched difrent: and performed “Take A Stand” at the Millennium Development Goals Awards 2010. Watch the video on YouTube.
To me difrent.org is a forum to connect. To connect with others who feel the way I feel. We don’t have to agree, but the idea that things could be different and that if they were things might be better. The difrent.org launch party was a great reminder for me that difrent is also about the music. The power of music to condense a message and transmit it across cultures and generations. It reminded me how important the messages we send out are. I feel so privileged to get to work with some great artists who are sensitive to the messages they release to the world.
The concert opened with Stephan Said viral hit “The Bell” and continued with some of his other amazing songs like his new single , “Take a Stand”, which transmit a message of hope and community. He mixed English, French and Arabic, reminding us that warmth and peace exists in all cultures in an effective transmission of love from the Middle East. The concert broke the standard structure of sets, interweaving Stephan’s rock, the big band sound of the Saturday Night Live horns, African drumming, Morley’s vocal styling’s, and freestyleings of Blitz the Ambassador in both English and his native tongue.
One of the most moving parts of the concert for me was when Morley sang her song “Women of Hope” which quotes Aung San Suu Kyi’s recommendation “if you are feeling helpless help someone.” I remembered that there are messages of empowerment out there, instructions for how to make our world better. I feel very privileged to have received such a moving reference which will be a continuing source of inspiration and I work for human rights and advocacy. Another reminder that music inspires change and gives us tools to understand and describe our world.
Bliz the Ambassador, who is featured in our music/video page, freestyled with the band and Stephan and really got everyone engaged. He wowed everyone with his positive message and great showmanship. He also performed his song “something to believe in” with great interaction with the band, conducting fanfare and rock sounds into a cohesive backdrop to his hip hop vocals. He stayed on stage, adding percussion, to Stephan’s closing song “Love on High” a final reminder that songs can world changing with simple, down-to-earth messages about love and human connection.
The concert was magnificent, with messages of love, inspiration, and peace. I’m indebted to all the artists for their work. I feel a renewed commitment to the power of music and the power of difrent. I can’t wait to see the submissions for the video contest for the “Take a Stand” video . More information is available on the difrent YouTube channel. I’m sure I’ll be even more inspired and reminded of the power of creativity and global youth.”
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.
Hi social change activists! Welcome to difrent.org. Inspired by musician Stephan Said, the goal of difrent: is to provide a platform through which musicians, organizations, and social change believers alike no matter where they are can spread the idea of using music as an agent for change.
Like most of you I was searching for a change from the music we’ve been subjected to, the last ten years. We’ve seen a steady decline in music that focused on changing the world and an increase in the music telling us to just have a good time. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to dance, I happen to be a big fan of Reggae, Dancehall, house, and a bit of hip hop. On my ipod you will find everything from Chaka Khan to 2Pac with a little Bob Dylan and Elton John circa 1970, mixed in.
However, I find that the music today is just too simple. Most artists, if you can call them that, send the same message and basically sing the same songs, music has become all about the catchy hook. Now, I don’t want to take away from what some artists have done in raising the bar for their genre. If you are a Hip Hop fan you cannot deny the talent or skill of a Jay-Z or Talib Kweli. Although very different, both artists have successfully created their own style in an industry filled with copycats.
At difrent.org you will find artists who share Stephan’s vision of making music matter. Music is universal, and it can move us to action and serve as the soundtrack to our lives. In the sixties and seventies music defined a generation. When we look back on these last ten years, how will our generation be defined musically? Will the music accurately described a generation that witnessed school shootings, 9/11/01, overcrowded schools, and the first Black President, or will it simply be a reflection of a generation desperate for escape?
For those of you who are interested in learning more about difrent: we are having a launch party on September 20th the evening before the International Day of Peace at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. The party will have representatives from a variety of international organizations; along with musicians who believe in the our message. Find out more details at our Events page or buy tickets directly at http://lepoissonrouge.com/events/view/1556. I hope to see many of you there! Tyisha
I’ve been asking friends lately, what their first thoughts are when I mention music and social change? For me the first thought is artists from my parents generation: The Beatles, Peete Seeger, James Brown, Joni Mitchell and the slew of other artists from that era that clearly identified themselves as agents of social change through music. One friend of mine said that she thinks of hip hop as the genre that represents social change and immediately started ranting to me about some documentary film she had seen where hip hop had started an underground revolution in Brazil. Another friend told me she thought of how certain pop artists negatively affect the social climate by emphasizing materialism or body image or violence. A third friend half sarcastically told me that he simply thought of Green Day. Interesting and varied reactions, I mused, while at the same time maintaining an awareness of the fact that I was asking the opinion of people from very similar backgrounds; All white, all in their twenties, all liberal arts school educated and all products of small town New England living. I began to wonder what if I offered this same question to people of different cultures, race and age? What would be their immediate reaction? Is a music festival dedicated to a social message an outdated hippy dippy concept, or an effective way to reach people? Have social issues been lost on today’s music culture, or is it simply presented in a different package? Is the globalization of music and musical genres creating international understanding, or international misunderstanding through a lack of context and tradition? What do you associate with music and social change? I present these questions in hopes of receiving a varied and global response that will help difrent: in our mission to modernize the face of music as an agent of social change. Allegra