Libby Hoffman is the founder and President of Catalyst for Peace, a Portland, Maine based private foundation. She has been active in peacebuilding for 25 years in a variety of capacities – professor, trainer, facilitator, program director, consultant, and funder. A former Political Science professor at Principia College, she left academia to focus on the practice of peacebuilding with an emphasis on making the link between individual and community transformation. She has developed and led conflict resolution training programs in corporate, congregational, educational and community settings. She founded Catalyst for Peace in 2003, in order to mobilize and support locally rooted peacebuilding around the world, and to pioneer in communications to bring the stories of this work to the world.
It was through Catalyst for Peace that she first began working with photographer Sara Terry to document stories of forgiveness and reconciliation in post-conflict Africa. In the course of this work, she met John Caulker and they began the partnership that led to the founding of Fambul Tok in Sierra Leone in late 2007, alongside the commitment to document the process in film. Libby produced the award-winning documentary film, Fambul Tok (directed and produced by Terry) and is the lead author of the companion book of the same name (published by Umbrage Editions), both released in 2011. Her (and Catalyst for Peace’s) work now focuses on finding ways to help the world engage with the lessons of justice, forgiveness, and community restoration embodied by Fambul Tok.
Hoffman holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and a BA in Political Science from Williams College.
John Caulker founded and has led the implementation of the Fambul Tok program since its inception in 2007, initially through his position as the founding Executive Director of Sierra Leonean human rights NGO, Forum of Conscience, and currently as the Executive Director of Fambul Tok International – Sierra Leone.
Mr. Caulker became a human rights activist as a student leader during the initial years of the war in Sierra Leone. Risking his life to document wartime atrocities, he infiltrated rebel camps disguised as a rebel to gather information and stories to pass along to international organizations such as Amnesty International, Article 19, and Human Rights Watch. He founded Forum of Conscience as a human rights NGO in Sierra Leone in 1996.
With his leadership of Forum of Conscience, Mr. Caulker strove to prevent recurring violence by connecting the root causes of Sierra Leone’s brutal conflict to the need for rural community participation in the national decision making process and acknowledgement of wrong doing to victims through the reparations program. As the national chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Working Group, Mr. Caulker pressured the government of Sierra Leone to implement the recommendations of the TRC’s 2004 report. Specifically, he has fought to ensure that some of the revenues from the sale of Sierra Leone’s natural resources benefit Sierra Leoneans themselves in the form of a special fund for war victims. As part of this effort to raise awareness and guarantee protection for the rights of victims of the conflict, Mr. Caulker also mediated an agreement that allows members of the Amputees and War Wounded Association to participate in the TRC and Special Court process.
Through his leadership, Fambul Tok is now widely recognized as a groundbreaking example of truly community-owned reconciliation, inspiring restorative and community-based approaches not only in other parts of Africa, but around the world.
Abjee (aab.gee) is Persian slang for sister, and that’s just what they are – Safoura and Melody Safavi. Backed by a colorful crew of musicians, the two abjees present their own original brand of Persian world pop. Their lyrics, often humorous and sometimes rebellious, are written in Farsi, English, Spanish and Swedish. The expressive groove of the music and the abjees’ dramatic delivery break down all language barriers to create a new synthesis of cultures.
Born in Iran shortly after the revolution, Safoura and Melody moved to Sweden when they were 13 and 12 years old respectively. While it is illegal to buy the band’s CDs in Iran, much of the feedback they receive comes in the form of emails from Iranian fans explaining “how their favorite Abjeez songs have affected them personally and [in] their lives.” These dedicated fans sometimes ask for the notes and chords to songs and send their own music – asking Abjeez to listen to it and give them feedback. “They constantly encourage us to continue our work and they are our greatest inspiration.” The band’s dream is to someday perform a concert in Iran for these loyal fans.
Abjeez also wrote several songs in support of the freedom-seeking people of Iran in the aftermath of the 2009 Iranian presidential election: “Those songs raised a lot of attention among Iranians worldwide. One of them was frequently played in different Iranian rallies in support of the Iranian Green Movement and we [continue] receiving positive response for it, which makes us realize how important our role can be, as advocates of the peace-seeking people, especially the women and youth. We try to shed light on their issues and help spread their call for help wherever we perform.”
Abjeez believes music is an excellent tool for unifying people: “Most conflicts are based on a lack of understanding and communication. Music creates unanimity. Historically we can see that music has always played an important role in all great wars and major conflicts. In every single country in the world when people go out on the streets to demonstrate for or against something, they chant. There are revolutionary songs writers who have not only been the voice of their own country but the have turned to the voice of justice and freedom in the entire world (like for example the works of Victor Jara). Governments and different political groups around the world use artists and their music to incite people’s feelings and emotions in their political campaigns.”
According to Abjeez: “Music is a universal language that belongs to everybody. No matter what religious or political view we might have, music resonates in the very same way in our bodies. We often focus on our differences and therefore conflicts arise. When we instead focus on our similarities we don't need to be afraid, or to defend our ideas and ourselves. Tolerance arises and we allow ourselves to learn and grow. We try to use the power of music in such way by creating a loving and positive ambiance for our audience to shed light on cultural and social problems in an often humorous and direct way so that we [are] all in a relaxed state of mind [and] can see, recognize, heal and find the strength to change for the better.”
BAJAH + THE DRY EYE CREW
After packing the national stadium for performances in their home country of Sierra Leone and contributing music to the Academy Award–nominated film Blood Diamond, African superstars Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew are poised to conquer the global airwaves with their upcoming international debut album and their unique sound, which blends the swagger and funk of hip-hop, the passion and energy of dancehall, and the socially conscious vibe of reggae. The group has generated so much buzz in the hip-hop world that major stars including ?uestlove and Black Thought of the Roots, Talib Kweli, K’Naan, Res, and El-P have contributed their vocal and/or production talents to the upcoming release, helmed by the production team Fyre Department (whose credits include 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, GZA, Talib Kweli, Justin Timberlake). With this great collection of creatives, Bajah’s own star is rising as the Sean Paul of West Africa with the social conscience of Bob Marley and Fela Kuti.
So much more than just another hip-hop outfit, Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew have been likened to another band renowned internationally for speaking out against political and social injustices: U2. In Sierra Leone, now emerging from the throes of a brutal 10-year civil war, Bajah + the Dry Eye Crew are hailed as “the voice of the voiceless,” speaking truths on behalf of those people who have no political power, spreading messages of peace and reconciliation, outing corrupt politicians, and inspiring the disenfranchised youth to pursue their dreams. “We always speak about real stuff, like the suffering, what is going on,” says the group’s frontman, Bajah. “So most of the youth, the fans, are going crazy over it, because they think it’s the reality—that’s how it is. So they show mad love at times.”
Love is another theme of their music, and the joy and love their legions of fans have shown them comes through in their energetic, powerful live performances. The Crew—which consists of Bajah, A-Klazz, and Dovy Dovy in the U.S. and the Jungle Leaders (Funky Fred, Dell, and Sly) back in Sierra Leone—started writing, recording, and performing together in 2000, and quickly rose to the heights of fame in their home country, where everyone from young schoolchildren to village elders have come out to support Dry Eye’s music and message—often going to extremes to show these national heroes love and respect.
Bajah + The Dry Eye Crew see their music as a tool for helping to unify the divisions caused by the Civil War because it is a “way to tell stories, share history, unify people and help them focus on something positive.” Their goal is to “unify the masses, preach non-violence, and stand for change and development within Sierra Leone.” They feel the most important issues Sierra Leone is currently dealing with are encouraging peaceful elections, building towards better infrastructure to develop their economy, education of the youth, health education and sanitation. The songs "Ease di Tension," "Salone," "Batta Dae Nak" (As The Beat Goes Down....) were written in anticipation of the upcoming national election to “encourage everyone to vote peacefully like one Family.”
Bhi Bhiman is an American singer/songwriter of Sri Lankan Tamil descent, born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He writes songs soaked in the grand folk tradition, penning both passionate protest songs and tender love songs with style. His skill is in stitching his music with a subtle sort of political consciousness that doesn't feel like homework to the listener. His love songs are always sweet with a touch of sad, while his protest songs range from laugh-out-loud funny to quiet-a-chatty-bar chilling. But so what? There are tens of thousands of singer-songwriters in America attempting just that – but they can’t sing like Bhi Bhiman. He belts out his songs with a voice that’s more sixties soul and Nina Simone than the semi-precious singing often associated with modern folk.
Bhiman addresses multiple social issues in his music ranging from race, class inequality, politics, love, greed, and heartbreak. His songs endeavor to open listeners’ minds to subjects that they may not otherwise be accustomed. Bhi explains: “I tend to talk about a darker side of life – people's trials and tribulations. Sometimes my characters ultimately triumph; sometimes they live to see their downfall. I try to walk and talk as the characters in my songs, and I try to put the listener into their shoes as best as possible with lines that are universal and relatable. I feel it’s my job to make you see the characters’ side of the story, whether they are right or wrong. I ultimately want people to look at the world from all angles and viewpoints. The good and the evil and the grey in between.”
In addition to his brilliant songwriting, Bhi is an advocate for his parents’ homeland of Sri Lanka, which he calls “one of the most beautiful destinations on earth.” When reflecting on the violent and complicated history between the Sinhalese and Tamil people Bhi points out: “While the majority of [Sri Lankans] are innately peaceful and tolerant, it’s the intolerant that end up being the most outspoken and violent.” Bhi is “not a proponent of the Tamil Tigers and the violent tactics they used,” but he feels that “there was (and is) no one else speaking as the voice of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.” His main concern, as an outsider, is the transparency and accountability of the Sri Lankan government. He is concerned about the “alleged war crimes that the U.N. is failing to investigate and the large numbers of Tamils still kept in internment camps, who are unable to communicate with loved ones on the outside.” As well as the fact that: “the government does not seem to be in a hurry to relocate them to their homeland – mainly because they do not see it as their homeland. Much of their centuries-old land in the north and east has already been ceded by the government to Sinhala citizens. I do believe that Sri Lanka will be a safer, more secure country in the future, but whether the ends justify the means in this case is debatable."
Omara “Bombino” Moctar is known as one of the great guitar players and performers in the Sahel and Sahara regions and has a wide following there. He was born in 1980 into a family of nomadic Tuareg herders living in the region of Agadez, Niger at the edge of the Sahara. Following the outbreak of the Tuareg Rebellion in 1990, Bombino, along with his father and grandmother, were forced to flee to neighboring Algeria for safety. By 1997, Bombino had returned to Agadez and began life as a professional musician.
In 2007 tensions grew again in Niger and ultimately erupted into another Tuareg Rebellion. The government, hoping to thwart the rebellion in all its forms, banned guitars for the Tuareg, as the instrument was seen as a symbol of rebellion. Additionally, two of Bombino's fellow musicians were executed, thus forcing him into exile.
While Bombino lived in exile in Burkina Faso, filmmaker Ron Wyman, having heard cassette recordings of his music, decided to track him down. Wyman encouraged Bombino to properly record his music. Bombino agreed, and the two of them produced an album together in Agadez. The recordings culminated in his album Agadez, released in April, 2011 which debuted at the top of the iTunes World Chart.
In January 2010 Bombino was able to return to his home in Agadez. So as to celebrate the end of the conflict, a large concert was organized at the base of the Grand Mosque in Agadez, having received the blessing of the Sultan. Bombino and his band played to over a thousand people at the concert, all dancing and celebrating the end of their struggle.
Bombino explains that Niger’s problems stem from “the arbitrary African borders drawn by the colonial countries at the end of the colonization period in the middle of the 20th century.” These borders did not take into account different ethnic groups and there has been a constant struggle to achieve national unity within Niger. Despite having the largest uranium supply in the world (located in the Tuareg’s Agadez region), Niger ranks 167 of 169 on the United Nation’s Human Development Index. Bombino blames this in part on an unnecessary and expensive military convoy that is used to protect the transportation of the materials in the region. Bombino identifies finding a way to share the profits from the sale of uranium and employing local residents in the mines (instead of hiring people from others areas) as extremely important issues within Niger.
For Bombino, music provides an opportunity “to speak about [the Tuareg’s] problems and propose solutions to resolve them according to what I see and what I have experienced… I also sing about the war and its consequences on our life in order to contribute to the peace process.” Bombino’s popularity is a source of pride for both the Tuaregs and the entire country, which Bombino thinks will eventually help the Tuareg community gain political power – and ultimately allow them to collaborate with the government and create solutions for the community’s problems (for example, limited water supplies, medical infrastructure and quality schools.)
Bombino explains: “The Tuareg music is like Tamasheq (our language) or Tifinagh (our alphabet) because they are the most important elements shared by the Tuareg in all countries. They are our identity, [which creates] a strong link. Our music is the same because it brings all the Tuareg together. After the second rebellion in Niger, we played music at weddings for people of other ethnicities. All these peoples loved the music, they danced together and renewed their relations by accepting each other in spite of their differences.”
Bombino wants his audience to understand that, “the desert is the most beautiful and peaceful place in the world. I invite anyone to discover it. [The Tuareg] are one of the most open cultures and we are ready to share it with the world through music.”
Even when you consider the cultural cross-pollination that goes on in large metropolitan areas, Los Angeles’s Dengue Fever had perhaps the strangest genesis of any band in recent memory. It's odd enough for a group of white musicians to cover psychedelic rock oldies from Cambodia, but finding a bona fide Cambodian pop star to front the band -- and sing in Khmer, no less -- is the kind of providence that could only touch a select few places on Earth. Formed in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood in 2001, Dengue Fever traced their roots to organist Ethan Holtzman's 1997 trip to Cambodia with a friend. That friend contracted the tropical disease (transmitted via mosquito) that later gave the band its name, and it also introduced Holtzman to the sound of '60s-era Cambodian rock, which still dominated radios and jukeboxes around the country.
Since their inception, the band’s unique take on 1960s Cambodian pop and American surf rock has garnered praise and attention from fans and critics alike. True Blood named an entire episode after one of their songs and featured the band’s music throughout the show, Spin highlighted the band in their ‘Breaking Out’ section, and profiles on the group have appeared in the New York Times, Magnet, Wired, and NPR’s “Fresh Air” and Radio Australia. Ray Davies from the Kinks called them "a cross between Led Zeppelin and Blondie.”
Dengue Fever is comprised of Cambodian songstress Chhom Nimol, Zac Holtzman (guitar/vocals), Ethan Holtzman (keyboards), Senon Williams (bass), Paul Smith (drums) and David Ralicke (horns). They have released three albums, Dengue Fever, Escape From Dragon House Venus On Earth and the DVD/CD soundtrack to the band’s documentary Sleepwalking Through The Mekong, in addition to a collection of lost Cambodian classics, Dengue Fever Presents: Electric Cambodia. Their debut release on Fantasy Records, a division of Concord Music Group was released in April 2011.
The band is very much inspired by the political climate that spawned 1960’s Cambodian pop-music: “These original musicians were killed for playing music. By shining more light on this incredible body of work, it allows more people to learn what happened when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. It must never happen again.”
Eccodek is Canadian producer, remixer and multi-instrumentalist, Andrew McPherson. But more than that, it is the tapestry of sound created when a producer working with inspired singers and gifted multi-instrumentalists from the four corners of the globe find a common love for dub, funk, jazz and cinematic electronics. Eccodek is the sound of cultures mingling, borders dissolving. It is the sound of the dub chamber, the goatskin drum and decaying vintage synths. It is the sound of Mali, Turkey, Fiji, Nigeria, India, Canada and beyond.
Eccodek’s albums More Africa In Us (2003), Voices Have Eyes (2005), Shivaboom (2008) and their latest Remixtasy (2011) are built on a foundation of global beats, soaring melodies and textured electronica that has firmly established the project as a leader on the global fusion stage.
Eccodek uses his music “in a kind of subversive way, but not in anyway manipulative or with a secret agenda. Music IS a universal language, so I try to send a message of cultural inclusion, tolerance, multiculturalism and open mindedness by collaborating, fusing cultural traditions and opening ourselves to new musical vocabularies. By doing so, [the music] sends a message of peace, harmony and borderlessness. My music isn't about preaching a belief system, other than the one that can be found in the landscape of my recordings and remixes. I welcome any and all collaborative instincts, if they serve the song, and hopefully others will pick up on that good intention. When they feel that, I’d like to believe that social change happens each and every time [Eccodek] records are played, without people even realizing they're contributing to that dialogue.”
For Eccodek, “the power of song is a potent thing.” He explains: “I always say to people that when the grid shuts down and the basic human resources become scarce in times of natural disaster, war or any upheaval, we turn to song to raise our spirits and give us guidance. We saw this in Nazi Germany, when they attempted to wipe out the cultural traditions and voices of the people, that the people find a way to express themselves that can never be suppressed.”
By representing and celebrating so many unrelated cultural traditions in his music, he feels the message sent out is a very clear one of 'we are one'. “There is no hierarchy of style in my recordings, but more a fearlessness to weave in whatever sound or musical tradition that feels right.”
Idan Raichel is broadly recognized as one of the most innovative and popular musicians in Israel today. He was recently voted Israel’s Musician of the Decade in polls conducted by Israeli news media. In 2002, his group, The Idan Raichel Project burst onto Israel’s music scene, changing the face of Israeli popular music and offering a message of love and tolerance that resonated strongly in a region of the world where headlines are too often dominated by conflict. With an enchanting blend of African, Latin American, Caribbean and Middle Eastern sounds coupled with sophisticated production techniques and a spectacular live show, the Idan Raichel Project has become one of the most unexpected success stories in Israeli music history.
The Project has collaborated with over one hundred artists ranging from Colombian singer Marta Gómez, silken-voiced Somi of Rwandan and Ugandan descent and Cape Verdean diva Mayra Andrade. Idan has toured Europe, Asia, the United States, Australia, South Africa and Latin America. In 2006, his concert in Addis Abba, Ethiopia marked the first time an Israeli artist performed in Ethiopia and the first time two of The Projects lead singers were able to return to the land of their birth. “Black Over White,” a documentary film by Tomer Heymann, captures the events leading up to the concert and highlights the racism in Israel faced by some African immigrants. Idan explains: “It makes great headlines to talk about racism in Israel or the clash between black and white…But you really need to go a lot deeper than that to understand the problems. Racism is a completely human reaction when you lack knowledge. Those who teach racism are bad people, but not those who don’t have sufficient education to understand what they are hearing.”
Idan’s highly collaborative music is inspired by the belief that lasting peace in the Middle East “will not be reached by signing a peace treaty between our great leaders and their great leaders. Ultimately, it will be achieved through knowing people from other countries as neighbors – because a neighbor is not your enemy.” To achieve this sense of community, Idan explains, “Children in Israel should learn about Palestinian poetry and Syrian music in school.”
Idan points out that the political environment in the Middle East changes extremely quickly, but when asked about what the most important issue Israelis are dealing with in the summer of 2011, Idan states: “we need to look across borders and appreciate the brave people that are willing to create democracies in countries such as Syria and Egypt – and to support them in any way possible. At the end of the day all people just want to live in peace, dignity and prosperity.”
He feels music can be a successful tool in helping to unify divisions, citing the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra lead by conductor Daniel Barenboim as an example. In December 2010, Idan performed at the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo, Norway.
“What most people know about Israel is from news” and Idan invites people “to come to Israel and see it with their own eyes.”
Later this year he will release an album with popular singer India.Arie called Open Door, and he is at work on an album with Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré.
King by name, King by nature; King Britt is a truly pioneering musician who is widely recognized a member of the royal elite of the Dance Music world. Based in Philadelphia, King Britt has been breaking the traditional boundaries and forging a unique path as a producer, musician, DJ, label boss and media revolutionary for over 20 years.
King has always found a way to escape the strictures of any single category of music by working across genres such deep house, hip-hop, broken beat, nu-jazz, funk and afro-tech. Releasing his first record (E-Culture – ‘Tribal Confusion’) in 1990, King went on to tour worldwide with Digable Planets – the Grammy award winning hip-hop fusion band – whilst continuing to develop his love of Dance Music culture and laying the foundations for his prodigal solo career.
In 1994, alongside Josh Wink he launched Ovum Recordings and also formed Sylk130 – a collective of Philadelphia’s finest musical talent including Lady Alma, Alison Crockette and Ursula Rucker. He produced Sylk130′s first album (‘When The Funk Hits The Fan’), which went onto sell over 500,000 copies and essentially provided the blueprint for the Philly Neo-Soul resurgence.
In addition to these achievements, King is one of the world’s most respected remixers. He has added his unique touch to hugely diverse range of artists such from Miles Davis, The O’Jays and Curtis Mayfield through to Macy Gray, Solange, Femi Kuti and Everything But The Girl. King has also scored and underscored music for films, TV series and commercials. In 2007 he became the first DJ to be awarded the prestigious Pew Fellowship. King is also a Creative Cultural Ambassador for his hometown of Philadelphia.
As a DJ, King Britt is hugely versatile – a chameleon behind the decks. He has toured extensively across and throughout Europe, the U.S. and the Far East as well as rocking premier nightspots throughout the world.
Most recently King Britt has just released Yesterday’s Machine by Saturn Never Sleeps, a collaboration with science fiction singer Rucyl Mill. The Saturn Never Sleeps project which incorporates, primarily, a unique live show fusing audio and visuals into a thought provoking world of sight and sound, and is also an independent record label. King has also recently produced the new Bedouin Soundclash LP, a track for the new King Sunny Ade album and a number of remixes for the likes of Preservation Hall Jazz Ensemble featuring Mos Def, Glitch Mobb, Jay Haze and Dilouya.
While King does not consciously use his music to bring about social change, he instead feels “just the act of creating is a form of social change. Music has been my vehicle to travel and be a storyteller through djing and performing… We see [conflict] daily in our own lives, close to us. Everyone seems to either be at war with themselves or their environments. Music seems to bring the people together for a purpose and allows interaction and reaction.”
When asked to define his political philosophy, Britt responded: “I really stopped thinking about politics in the structured sense and I try to think about frequency and resonating with people's inner voice instead of the outer. As soon as you begin to think in a structured political sense, you start to lose purity in purpose.”
Britt sees himself as “just a messenger that is a conduit for divine intervention.... I am sending sound from a higher place. I think it is important for everyone to remain open, you will be surprised at what you will discover about yourself and others.”
Formed in 2008, Mashrou' Leila (Arabic: مشروع ليلى sometimes transliterated as "Mashrou3 Leila", meaning "night project") has quickly emerged as one of the most exciting, original and successful bands in Lebanon today – if not all of the Middle East. The group began without any preconceived expectations when American University of Beirut students Haig Papazian (violin) and Omaya Malaeb (keyboards) posted an open invitation to musicians, looking to jam. The group’s lineup was solidified with the addition of guitarists Firas Abou Fakher and Andre Chedid, bassist Ibrahim Badr, drummer Carl Gerges, and vocalist Hamed Sinno. The overnight jam sessions (from which the group got its name) served as an outlet for the musicians to vent the stress of college and the unstable Lebanese political situation.
From these late-night jam sessions Mashrou' Leila developed their unique brand of Middle Eastern rock that draws on the influences of traditional Lebanese and Armenian music, fused with Western rock music. The group’s 2009 self-titled debut album's nine songs wittily discuss war, politics, security and political assassination, materialism, lost love, immigration and homosexuality. Now a major fixture on the Middle Eastern festival touring circuit Mashrou' Leila has given concerts in Egypt, The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. In the summer of 2011, Mashrou’ Leila released the 7al Romancy E.P., five songs of new material recorded in the abandoned concrete dome in the Tripoli world Fair.
Mashrou' Leila has taken an active role in promoting causes through their live performances. For example, in December 2010 to commemorate World Aids Day the band played at a sold-out benefit concert that raised over $20,000 for the HIV/AIDS fund at AUB-Medical Center Out Patient Department.
The band members were all born during the end of the brutal Lebanese Civil War and therefore it is hard for them to fully grasp how the civil war has affected Lebanon. In regard to the current state of the country, the band explains: “While the civil war has had a tremendous impact on the economy, the damage is secondary when compared to the effect it has had on the average Lebanese citizen's way of thinking. The civil war has left most of the Lebanese extremely wary of fellow citizens from other sects/political groups. On the other hand, the country remains notorious for it's party scene, night life and tourist destinations, a somewhat hypocritical curiosity that serves as a testimony to the population's yearn for life and happiness.”
Mashrou' Leila sees their music as a first step in helping to unify the divisions caused by the war and the subsequent “decades of turmoil.” They feel most of Lebanese society's problems are due to their way of thinking and they hope that “simply bringing some of these issues up will force people to come to terms with the problem.” So far their message seems to be getting across. The band proudly declared: “fans are identifying with the situations we describe, the images our lyrics create – and for the first time, they feel that there’s something within their culture that represents them, and their thoughts.” However, at the same time Mashrou' Leila is confronted with conservative people that are “bothered by the honesty of our words – and would like to keep these issues not discussed.” This “silent treatment” is similar to how they feel the Lebanese media refuses to address certain issues. “We swear in some songs, we sing about intimate sexual details, we talk about unconventional love – people need to come to terms with the real world – it’s not perfect.”
When asked what they thought was important for audiences outside Lebanon to understand they explained: “While people living in North America might be familiar with Lebanon's political problems, it is important to keep in mind the Lebanese people's diversity in terms of both lifestyle and way of thinking.”
Comprised of vocalists Jahdan Blakkamoore, Delie RedX and guitarist/producer Diego “Fuego” Campo the hip-hop/ reggae group Noble Society was recently named by the Huffington Post as one of the Top 10 artists to check out.
Front-man Jahdan Blakkamoore brings fire to the stage with his brand of soulful vocals and provocative lyrics. Jahdan has recorded and performed with the likes of Branford Marsalis's Buckshot LeFonque, Smif & Wesson, Dead Prez, Matisyahu, and Lee Scratch Perry.
Founder and producer Diego “Fuego” Campo studied under the tutelage of Flamenco guitar master El Entri in Spain and also studied Jazz composition in the United States. He has produced and worked with artists, including Sizzla, Midnite, Bajah + Dry Eye Crew, and reggae artists Pressure Buss Pipe, Lutan Fyah, Yami Bolo, Natty King, Norrisman, Khari Kill, Marlon Asher, and Abijah. He has worked with hip-hop artists, including David Banner, M1 of Dead Prez and Steele of Smif & Wesson.
Delie is a lyrical expert who brings a hip-hop element to Noble Society. Being the M.C., he is responsible for the streetwise direction of the group. Delie has collaborated with eminent producers like Tony Touch, 77Klash, Adam Deitch and is currently spearheading Spiritual Warfare, a multi-talented, Brooklyn-based hip-hop project.
Jahdan left Guyana when he was seven years old in 1980. This was a complicated period for Guyana, as the People’s National Congress (PNC) dominated Guyanese politics and instability and violence within the country led to the loss of numerous innocent lives. Jahdan explains, “fortunately a new party, the People's Progressive Party (PPP), emerged – which gained a lot of foreign support. The PPP fostered a lot of social changes that helped the country in areas ranging from health care, agriculture, housing and education.”
For Jahdan, “music has always been a form of self expression. I use music as a vehicle to convey my thoughts and ideas about a variety of things – personal as well as social. In expressing myself I call others to listen and relate, this creates awareness about whatever the subject is that I am addressing. When people are made aware of things they are then able to make changes.”
Noble Society addresses a variety of issues through their music, “mainly self awareness, self love, social awareness and political injustice.” Jahdan also loves to write “motivational songs and affirmations to promote self confidence in the youth.” Jahdan has seen many instances where music was instrumental in promoting unity, for example Michael Jackson and U2’s efforts to help heal the people of South Africa following apartheid, and Bob Marley using music to help encourage the people of Zimbabwe during their struggle for independence.
Noble Society’s upcoming album “PPM” will be released in _____. Jahdan jokes “PPM is not some new political party – on the contrary we are a massive musical party that will be hitting the world by storm soon enough! Stay Focused and Stay Tuned!”
Saba Saba, Ugandan hip hop/Lugaflow artist & cultural activist, has been performing since 1994. Performing as Krazy Native he was a founding member of the Bataka Squad, a Ugandan hip-hop group that originated the use of the Luganda language in hip hop music (Lugaflow). Saba Saba established himself as a solo artist with 2005 release of Tujja-Babya, a song on his album by the same name. Tujja-babya (meaning “to breakthrough” in Luganda) earned him a nomination for best hip-hop artist and song in the 2006 Pearl of Africa Music Awards. His music addresses daily struggles and triumphs of African life, while honoring his African culture through the use of his native language and musical references to traditional music and drumming. He co-founded the Ugandan Hip Hop Foundation and since 2003 has organized a yearly hip-hop summit in Kampala Uganda.
Saba Saba has been a guest artist and speaker at numerous events in Africa and the United States representing Uganda through his music and lectures on African culture and music. Highlights include his 2005 participation as a representative of Uganda at the UN’s first African Global Hip Hop Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, his 2007 performance alongside Michael Franti and a crowd of 70,000 at the Power to the Peaceful festival in San Francisco and most recently in March 2008 he performed and served as a panelist for Harvard University’s Conference “African Youth Development through Art and Technology – The Role of African Hip Hop.”
Saba Saba sees corruption as the most important issue Uganda is facing and directly confronts the issue in his music. He encourages people to “come visit Uganda and experience everything his homeland has to offer, including his homeland’s rich musical heritage, not to mentions its wonderful weather.”
His current music projects include a solo album titled “Cup of Coffee With Idi Amin” and a collaboration with the internationally recognized artist DJ Spooky.
SIERRA LEONE'S REFUGEE ALL STARS
As they languished in a squalid refugee camp in Guinea during the brutal civil was in Sierra Leone of the 1990s, the members of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, could not have imagined what the future would hold for them. In just five whirlwind years, the group has been the subject of an acclaimed documentary film, toured the world to support a critically revered album, appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, had their music featured in a major Leonardo DiCaprio film, and shared the stage and studio with Aerosmith, Keith Richards and other international stars. SLRAS have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of war and have captivated fans across the globe with their uplifting songs and pure energy live shows. The band is a tangible example of the redeeming power of music and the ability of the human spirit to persevere through unimaginable hardship and emerge with optimism intact.
In the mid 1990s, band-leader Reuben Koroma and his wife Grace found themselves in the Kalia refugee camp near the border with Sierra Leone, and joined up with Francis John Langba (aka Franco), another musician in the camp, to entertain their fellow refugees. Even the refugee camps were not safe havens, however, as they were attacked by the Guinean military and civilian militias who believed the camps were being used as staging ground for cross border attacks by the Sierra Leonean rebels. Eventually, Reuben, Grace and Franco ended up in the more stable Sembakounya Refugee Camp, and there they put the call out for musicians to audition to form a band. After a Canadian relief agency donated two beat up electric guitars, a single microphone and a meager sound system, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars were born. The next three years saw the fledgling band being relocated from camp to camp, bringing much needed joy to fellow refugees with their heartfelt performances (The award winning eponymous documentary film chronicles this period).
The war in Sierra Leone came to an end in 2001, and over time the All Stars returned to Freetown, where they met other returning musicians who eventually joined the band’s rotating membership. It was there in the tin-roofed shacks of Freetown’s ghettos that SLRAS recorded tracks that ended up, along with unplugged recordings made in the refugee camps, being the basis for their debut album, Living Like a Refugee, which was released on Anti-Records in 2006.
Despite their success, back home in Sierra Leone it was becoming clear that even though the war was over, there were still difficult challenges to overcome the world’s third poorest country – this has only strengthened the resolve SLRAS to do what they can to turn their country around. Their weapon in this struggle is music, and their message, while offering critique and condemnation of wrongdoing, remains positive and hopeful. Optimism in the face of obstacles, and the eternal hope for a better future motivates their lives and music.
“It’s been a long struggle out of the war, out of miserable conditions,” notes Koroma, “So now we are trying to develop ourselves as a band and be based in our country. We are really moving towards finding ways of elevating ourselves somehow. But we do not just think about ourselves alone, we try to bring out sensitive issues that are affecting the world. It is all of our responsibility that the masses are suffering. We bring our positive messages into the world so we can expect a positive change in the world. And, most importantly, bring about peace.”
Their sophomore album “Rise & Shine” displays how much SLRAS have grown since their early days jamming around campfires in isolated refugee camps. The title of the album reflects the band’s desire to remain positive in the face of struggle, always greeting a new day with a spirit of excitement over what the future holds. Their third album, Radio Salone, will be released in spring of 2012.
VIEUX FARKA TOURE
Since releasing his debut album in 2006, Malian guitarist/ singer Vieux Farka Toure has been one of the fastest rising stars in African music. The son of the legendary, Ali Farka Toure, Vieux has built upon the sound of his father’s “Saharan Blues.” Despite multiple world tours – including a performance before a televised audience of over one billion at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – Vieux has not forgotten his roots and has been a constant champion of African humanitarian causes.
Malaria prevention has always been one of the most pressing issues to Vieux and he launched his own “Fight Malaria Campaign.” The campaign’s launch coincided with the release of his debut album and his first United States tour, which was billed as the “Fight Malaria Tour.” The “Fight Malaria Campaign” donates money (through album and t-shirt sales) toward the import and distribution of insecticide treated mosquito nets to pregnant women and to children in the Niafunke region of Mali where Vieux was born.
In 2010, Vieux contributed music to the 25th anniversary re-release of “We Are The World: United Support of Artists for Africa (USA for Africa)” album that also included music by Michael Franti & Spearhead, Aurelio Martinez with Youssou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Lila Downs and Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.
For Most of Vieux’s life Mali has been a peaceful country, but resistance movements (people fighting for freedom from the government) frequently emerge in the North of Mali where his family lives. Vieux explains: “I think that this makes people in Mali aware that peace is precious and that we must work to protect it. It is rare and beautiful and not something we should take for granted. We are very lucky in Mali to have peace at this moment and we must always be vigilant to defend it.”
Vieux believes music can be a powerful tool for helping to heal the fractions in society caused by political conflicts: “Since music is a universal language, it can be the first thing that bridges gaps between cultures that may not agree about other things. For example, the music of Tinariwen, and other groups in the North of Mali, has made a strong impact in the relationship between the Tuaregs and the other ethnic groups.”
Vieux’s third studio album, The Secret, produced by Soulive's Eric Krasno was release in May 2011. The critically acclaimed album features Dave Matthews, John Scofield, Derek Trucks, and Vieux's final collaboration with his late father.
Vusi Mahlasela, is simply known as ‘The Voice’ in his home-country, South Africa, celebrated for his distinct, powerful voice and his poetic, optimistic lyrics. His songs of hope connect Apartheid-scarred South Africa with its promise for a better future. Raised in the Mamelodi Township, where he still resides, Vusi became a singer-songwriter and poet-activist at an early age teaching himself how to play guitar and later joining the Congress of South African Writers. After his popular debut on BMG Africa, When You Come Back,Vusi was asked to perform at Mandela’s inauguration in 1994 and continues to spread Mandela’s message as an official ambassador to Mandela’s HIV/AIDS initiative, 46664.
After world-wide touring and international acclaim, Americans first caught a glimpse of Vusi in the lauded documentary film Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, and the accompanying soundtrack. After the release of the film, long-time admirer and fellow South African, Dave Matthews, signed Vusi to his own ATO Records label and released The Voice (2003)¸ a collection of the best songs from Vusi’s catalog. In 2007, ATO released his latest album, Guiding Star, his first full-length release in the States. ATO Records will release the highly anticipated follow-up record to Guiding Star on January 18, 2011. The new album, Say Africa, produced by Taj Mahal and recorded at
Dave Matthews’ studio in Charlottesville, VA, captures Vusi’s hope for the future of Africa: ‘Let all those who share in Mandela’s greatest wish—to one day see an Africa that is at peace with herself—SAYAFRICA.’
After recording the album in the States this spring, Vusi returned to his home in South Africa and was honored to help ring in the World Cup at FIFA’s Kick Off Concert at Orlando Stadium. The concert was broadcast internationally to an estimated one billion viewers. Following his performance, Vusi proudly introduced fellow South African, Archbishop Desmond Tutu on stage. Vusi’s anthemic song ‘When You Come Back’ was ITV’s official theme song for the World Cup in the UK. Other recent highlights include performing at Mandela Day to honor Mandela’s birthday, touring with Bela Fleck behind the release of his Grammy-winning album ‘Throw Down Your Heart,’ which features a live track from Vusi and Bela, two appearances at the TED conference and performing with Paul Simon.
In the midst of a busy international touring schedule, Vusi remains dedicated to his social activism and partnerships with non-profits, including his own Vusi Mahlasela Music Development Foundation, committed to the promotion of and preservation of African music. Other organizations that Vusi actively supports are OXFAM, The Acumen Fund,
The African Leadership Academy and the ONE campaign.
Over a musically and socially consequential career, South African singer-songwriter and poet-activist Vusi Mahlasela has successfully followed his muse and continued to give back to his country. As he puts it, he knows that ‘musicians have to be like watchdogs, just by seeing and speaking out, directly to the youth as well, because we need some kind of Cultural Revolution to remove ignorance.”
When asked why the music from the struggle against apartheid still has so much appeal outside of South Africa, Vusi explains: “I think it was [because] our struggle had so much passion. We are all part of the same human family, and when you see your family suffering, your heart responds. Many people in the world found their hearts opening when they heard these songs.”
Another theme that permeates his music is the importance of forgiveness: “I learned from [Nelson] Mandela and [Desmond] Tutu that forgiveness is within you…If you don’t forgive, you are the one who suffers the most.”