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.

what’s difrent:?

Featured, News Sep 22, 2010 1 Comment

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

music or social change, or both?

Featured, News Sep 22, 2010 20 Comments

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